Ingredient Spotlight: Hyaluronic Acid
Tips & Tricks | 8.5.2022
Name a more ubiquitous ingredient than hyaluronic acid. Go ahead, I'll wait. Not only do we see it on virtually every skincare INCI list these days, but we can also find it in (or between) practically every cell of in our bodies. Nearly half of this naturally occurring hyaluronic acid is held in our skin, where it plays a role in everything from wound healing to protection against environmental stressors like pollution and UV exposure. But what is hyaluronic acid, exactly?
SWEET LIKE SUGAR
Hyaluronic acid is a polysaccharide—a long chain of sugar molecules. Polysaccharides are no stranger to skincare, and you may recognize ingredients like beta-glucan or marine algae/seaweeds in some of your favorite skincare formulas. These polysaccharides share a common trait: they’re humectants.
Humectants attract water, trapping it in the skin for improved hydration. This moisture-binding capability isn't unique to hyaluronic acid, but HA does it particularly well.
If we distill all this down to a single word, it would be juicy. Humectants = juicy skin.
Who can use hyaluronic acid? Pretty much everybody! It’s suitable for nearly all skin types and conditions, from ultra-dry to oily and acne-prone. It quenches without clogging, it's effective in low concentrations, and even sensitive skins tend to tolerate it quite well. It sits at a happy medium between gentleness and effectiveness.
You may have heard the term “molecular weight” when the topic of hyaluronic acid comes up. It simply refers to the size of the HA molecule. In skincare, the highest molecular weights of HA can be 250x larger than ultra-low molecular weight HA. That variation in size determines how deeply the hyaluronic acid is absorbed.
A high molecular weight hyaluronic acid (abbreviated as HMW HA) has a larger molecular size, allowing it to sit closer to skin’s surface. Surface dehydration is a common concern across many skin types, so a product with HMW HA can help deliver hydration to the skin's uppermost layers where you need it most. Improved surface hydration provides a bouncy effect that enhances the feel of skin's firmness and elasticity. HMW HA makes an appearance in Hydrate the Mist, along with a supporting cast of other humectants.
Most of the hyaluronic acid innately occurring in our skin has a high molecular weight, but can be metabolized into smaller pieces. Low molecular weight hyaluronic acid (or LMW HA) is identical to HMW HA, just reduced in size. These tiny molecules can penetrate deeper into the epidermal layers, giving LMW HA a kind of plumping effect. However, it’s important to remember that even the smallest hyaluronic acid molecules used in skincare are still only operating at the epidermis—skin’s uppermost layer.
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING?
If a little is good, then more must be better, right? Not so much. Higher concentrations and lower molecular weights seem appealing and advantageous, but sometimes more isn't better—it's just more. Hyaluronic acid on its own is pretty tame, and low molecular weights used in low concentrations can be beneficial. But the ultra-low molecular weights could also act as a carrier for irritants, making their improved penetration a double-edged sword. For this reason, we use a higher molecular weight, but LMW and HMW hyaluronic acids work exceptionally well in tandem. That way, you gain the benefits of both!
Sodium hyaluronate, AKA the salt form of hyaluronic acid, is HA's more stable cousin. We use it in both Hydrate Facial Serum and The Performance Cream. Just like hyaluronic acid, sodium hyaluronate can come in a variety of molecular weights. When added to a solution (such as a water-based skincare product), sodium hyaluronate splits into sodium and hyaluronic acid. Once it’s on your skin, it bears no functional difference from hyaluronic acid. All the same benefits, but with more stability and bioavailability!
No matter which of its many forms you choose, hyaluronic acid can enrich your skincare routine. Use it morning, night, or any time in between to replenish your skin’s moisture reserves and enhance your glow!
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