The truth about hyaluronic acid

Is this beauty ingredient everything it's hyped up to be?

Imagine the effects of soaking a sultana in water overnight – that’s how beauty gurus say hyaluronic acid benefits your skin. HA’s game-changing plumping effect is all thanks to this teeny molecule’s ability to do some seriously heavy lifting (try holding 1000 times your weight in water).

“Hyaluronic acid is an instant hydrator, plumping and binding moisture to the skin, making it look and feel better,” says Gina Cook, the National Training Manager at Ella Baché.

So why does confusion rival excitement about this moisture magnet? Well, there’s its name for a start. Despite being an ‘acid’ it’s not related to the skin stripping kind, so don’t be put off by the label. In fact, hyaluronic acid is basically a sugary carb that occurs naturally in your skin (and joints and eyes for that matter) where it serves to bind water to collagen, effectively functioning as a moisture trap. 

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The benefits of hyaluronic acid for ageing

“Hyaluronic acid is such an important ingredient as skin does get drier and have a weakened moisture barrier as we get older,” says Ida Wong, Vice President of Global Product Development at Clinique. “As we age, supplies of hyaluronic acid diminish so replenishing your skin’s reservoir helps maintain a plump, dewy, and healthy condition.” It’s so good at plumping, cosmetic surgeons use it as an injectable face filler. 

According to Gina, oily skin benefits from the added moisture shot as much as dry. “Hyaluronic acid is actually attracted to your own naturally occurring HA so it essentially enhances your skin’s own moisture content,” she says. Experts recommend ‘sandwiching’ HA for maximum effect – applying it to damp skin after cleansing, and speedily following with a moisturiser. 

TRY: Frank Body hydrating hyaluronic acid face serum – $25

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So popular is this hydrating ingredient that formulators are adding it to absolutely everything, from cleansers to hair conditioners. “Differently structured HA can be used in skincare in different molecular weights,” says Gina. “For example, a hydration mist is a quick fix so uses a higher weight HA molecule, meaning it sits on the surface of the skin. For long-term effects, different molecular weights can be used to penetrate the skin at different levels and build that moisture content in the skin back up.” 

At some point you’ll probably want to build more than just moisture levels, but even then HA can’t be faulted – it’s a team player as it doesn’t clash with other skincare actives, even softening their sometimes-intense impact. 

“Hyaluronic acid is an excellent plumper to visibly smooth fine, dry lines,” says Ida. “However, for deeper lines and wrinkles due to collagen degradation with age, it’s critical to rebuild the skin’s dermal matrix from the bottom up.” If pigmentation is a concern, HA marries well with vitamin C and B, while for skin sagging it happily works in tandem with peptides, which help boost collagen levels. No product can work miracles but, should your skin ever feel a little sultana-like thirsty, a good drink of hyaluronic acid will help plump it right back up. 

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