Despite its popularity, hyaluronic acid is one of the most misunderstood and misused ingredients in skin care. It’s often confused with alpha hydroxy (AHA) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA) since they all do wonders for the skin. AHAs and BHAs exfoliate the topmost layers of your skin. Hyaluronic acid, on the other hand, is a great pick for anyone looking for a serious boost of skin moisture, no matter your skin type. It is one of the most commonly buzzed-about beauty ingredients because of its incredible ability to hold up to 1,000x its weight in water. It’s also something that your body makes naturally, so its chemical composition absorbs easily into your skin. That makes hyaluronic acid serums particularly amazing for dry and mature complexions or anyone who wants to plump away fine lines and wrinkles.
Curious? We talked to Dr. Ashley Magovern, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Manhattan Beach, Calif. and Dermstore’s medical director, to find out more.
What Is Hyaluronic Acid?
To understand how hyaluronic acid works, we need to understand what it is. According to Dr. Magovern, hyaluronic acid is a glycosaminoglycan, which is technically a protein, which is found naturally in the skin. It’s also found in the eyes, connective tissue and joints. “Think of hyaluronic acid as a powerful hydrator. It has an amazing ability to attract and hold water in the skin, and in the rest of the body where it is found. It lubricates the joints and helps to repair damage to the body after injury,” she explains.
Why Use a Hyaluronic Acid Serum
So if hyaluronic acid is already in our skin and body, why do we need to use a hyaluronic acid serum? Dr. Magovern explains, “As we age and go through life, our skin becomes increasingly dry and loses moisture. Aging skin loses its firmness, becomes less supple and often looks dehydrated. A product that contains hyaluronic acid can replenish the moisture that aging skin is lacking and improve the appearance of fine lines and make the skin looks more smooth.”
Dr. Magovern adds that everyone can and should be using a product containing hyaluronic acid, regardless of age, skin type or concern. “The great thing about hyaluronic acid is that it can be used on all skin types, even sensitive and acne- and rosacea-prone patients. There is nothing better at almost instantly giving a refreshed, hydrated, smooth appearance to the skin. My patients absolutely love it.”
How to Choose the Right One for You
If you’re using a serum or a cream marketed toward plumping and hydrating, chances are you’re already using a product with hyaluronic acid. However, to get the most out of this ingredient, Dr. Magovern recommends looking closely at your product’s ingredient list. “Some formulations claim that they contain hyaluronic acid even though the amount is very small,” she warns.
To be sure, she says to “look for the ingredient ‘sodium hyaluronate’ early in the ingredient list.” She adds: “Hyaluronic acid is a big molecule, and if not formulated well, it may just sit on the skin’s surface. I would also look for other ingredients along with the hyaluronic acid. For example, look for other things like ceramides, peptides, niacinamide or other antioxidants. I also prefer products that are paraben-free, fragrance-free and propylene glycol–free.”
How to Use It for Best Results
“I recommend adding it twice a day as the last treatment step in your daily routine, and using a moisturizer immediately over it,” says Dr. Magovern. “If you are using it during the day, add a sunscreen as the final step. Hyaluronic acid serums and creams act as a fantastic makeup primer after morning application, and I love the idea of allowing your skin to hydrate as you sleep.”
However, if you have oily skin and are already using a moisturizer, Dr. Magovern says you may not need both a hydrating serum and a moisturizer. “I enjoy layering a hyaluronic serum with my usual day and nighttime moisturizer. Those that have more oily skin may prefer the serum alone.”
More Tips for Keeping Skin Hydrated
Adding a hyaluronic acid serum to your skin care routine is one of the best and easiest ways to boost your skin’s hydration levels, especially if you’re struggling with skin that often feels tight and dry. But that’s not the only thing you can do to help your skin get as much moisture as it needs. Here are some more tips from Dr. Magovern:
- Avoiding over-washing and scrubbing your skin. “This type of mechanical exfoliation damages the skin barrier and makes it harder for the skin to hold on to moisture. Mild exfoliation is key, in my opinion, and chemical exfoliation is my preferred way to do this. This will gently remove the old, surface skin layers. By removing these layers, your moisturizer and/or hyaluronic acid serum will be more effective.”
- Amp up hydration through your diet. “Not necessarily drinking a ton of water, which is also critical. Certain foods may increase the production of hyaluronic acid, like green leafy and root vegetables, citrus fruits and soy-based foods.”
- Be consistent with your skin care routine. “Skin care is like exercise, try not to miss a day.”
Ready to try this powerhouse ingredient? Here are the bestselling and most reviewed hyaluronic acid serums on Dermstore: