The Master Molecule
Did you know that an essential anti-aging ingredient is already deep within your skin? Naturally found in the skin's extracellular matrix where collagen is located, hyaluronic acid is like your own personal fountain of youth—responsible for keeping skin plump, firm, and youthful-looking.
Don’t be fooled: hyaluronic acid isn’t actually an acid—it’s a glycosaminoglycan, or a longer, more complicated version of a sugar. A water-binding, jello-like substance, hyaluronic acid attracts water and expands it up to 1,000 times—like a saturated sponge underneath your skin, giving it a long, steady drink of water throughout the day. With it, innovative chemists and dermatologists are discovering unprecedented ways to make skin look firmer, dewier, and ageless. No wonder it’s the perfect choice for skincare formulators, professional estheticians, doctors, and savvy consumers.
From Baking Ingredient to Arthritis Medicine
Hyaluronic acid was officially discovered in 1880 by the French chemist Portes, who called it “hyalomucine.” Decades later in the ophthalmology lab at Columbia University, German biochemist Karl Meyer coined the name “hyaluronic acid” or “hyaluronan” for this substance with an extremely high molecular weight. In 1942, due to its naturally viscous nature, Hungarian doctor Endre Balazs initially filed a patent to use hyaluronic acid commercially as an egg white substitute for baking purposes. Hyaluronic acid then became increasingly recognized as having an important role in overall bodily health. For the next seventy years, Balazs became an expert on the therapeutic effects of hyaluronic acid on the human body, and made countless groundbreaking discoveries. Initially used in medicine as a treatment to reduce swelling and pain in arthritic joints, the large molecular size of hyaluronic acid helped the body resist stress to the joints, tissues, and skin due to its viscous, lubricating effect.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Hyaluronic acid is present in almost every tissue and organ in the body. In fact, almost 50% of the body’s hyaluronic acid is found in skin tissue and helps keep skin plump, supple, and smooth. However, as we age, the body creates less and less hyaluronic acid. When cells crave moisture, collagen fibers dry out and deteriorate, like aging rubber bands. Skin loses elasticity, dries out more easily, becomes thinner, and takes longer to repair itself. Collagen fibers become brittle and break down, causing sagging, wrinkles, and other visible signs of aging.
Moisture Booster and Wrinkle Eraser
So, how can you prevent your body’s fountain of youth from drying up? Although hyaluronic acid can be used in an injectable form to fill out wrinkles, topically applied medium or low molecular weight forms can also help plump away wrinkles and firm up sagging skin. Due to its hydrophilic, or water-loving properties, hyaluronic acid binds with water, saturating skin with moisture and locking it in, and keeping collagen fibers moist. High, medium, and low molecular weights of hyaluronic acid offer the perfect solution for restoring moisture to aging skin as well as helping prevent dehydration due to seasonal changes or cold, dry environmental conditions.
Bonus: Damage Control
The anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties of hyaluronic acid play an essential role in cell metabolism, supporting the skin’s ability to naturally heal and repair itself. It is often utilized to help skin recover following procedures that include chemical peels, laser treatments, resurfacing, or micro-needling. Hyaluronic acid also helps fight free radicals that break down collagen and elastin, which make wrinkles, sagging and other signs of aging more evident.
Yes, Size Matters
Not all hyaluronic acid is the same. Size matters. Be on the lookout for the different types of hyaluronic acid now on the market. Traditional hyaluronic acid is made up of large molecular chains with a heavy weight (1,000 kilodaltons and above), which are the key to restoring moisture and plumping wrinkles on the surface of the skin. But why stop at traditional hyaluronic acid?
Thanks to advanced technology, hyaluronic acid has undergone a metamorphosis. Low and medium molecular weights of hyaluronic acid (between 50-1,000 kilodaltons) are small enough for the skin to absorb down into the extracellular matrix, without causing irritation to the skin . There, hyaluronic acid bathes collagen and elastin fibers, keeping them moist and supple and preventing the brittleness that results in wrinkles and sagging. Multiple molecular weights of hyaluronic acid work together to prevent loss of moisture on the surface of the skin, while maintaining skin suppleness and elasticity deep within the extracellular matrix.
HA and Friends
Differing forms of hyaluronic acid are also becoming more well-known in topical skin care. For example, hyaluronate refers to the base of hyaluronic acid, while sodium hyaluronate is the salt form of HA, which is added in a powder form to formulations to help reduce trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). Hyaluronan is known as a polyanionic form of hyaluronic acid, a polysaccharide also synthesized by cells as a salt instead of an acid. HMW HA, or high molecular weight hyaluronic acid, provides surface moisturization.
MMW HA, or medium molecular weight, mimics hyaluronic acid in the natural skin structure to help promote skin elasticity. LMW HA, or low molecular weight, improves absorption and skin functioning. Fermentation-derived hyaluronic acid contributes to an increase in skin elasticity and a reduction in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. If you prefer botanical-derived ingredients, look for a form of hyaluronic acid that is derived from cassia angustifolia, a plant with polysaccharides that have been shown to mimic the moisturizing and film-forming benefits of hyaluronic acid.
No Needles, Please
How can you use hyaluronic acid to renew your skin and restore a more youthful appearance, without resorting to injectable hyaluronic acid to fill out sagging, wrinkled skin? The more hyaluronic acid you can apply onto skin, the better. Check the ingredients lists on the back of your products. Is water the main ingredient? Instead, look for skin care products that contain hyaluronic acid as a base, instead of water, because water can actually dry out skin and dilute the activity of the ingredients. Ingredient declarations on product labels may list different forms of hyaluronic acid, but all forms should be located at the beginning of the list, which indicates that the concentration is high enough to make a difference in the skin.
A Solution for Every Skin Condition
For mature skin, use products that contain multiple molecular weights of hyaluronic acid: high molecular weight hyaluronic acid to restore moisture and plump wrinkled, sagging skin, and low molecular weight to regulate inflammatory response, promote skin renewal, treat photo-damaged skin, and prevent further oxidative damage.
For dry, irritated, or eczema-prone skin, high molecular weight hyaluronic acid adds moisture to skin, then seals it in. Low molecular weight helps prevent collagen and elastin fibers in the extracellular matrix from drying out and breaking down.
For blemish-prone skin, high molecular weight hyaluronic acid is a highly recommended moisturizer to alleviate the dryness that acne medication often causes. Plus, hyaluronic acid will not clog pores. Low molecular weight helps relieve skin irritation and inflammation.
The takeaway? Hyaluronic acid is the master molecule in any skin care regimen. Hyaluronic acid in skin care benefits countless skin types and conditions, especially at multiple molecular weights. Plus, hyaluronic acid plays well with other anti-aging ingredients, such as growth factors, stem cells, peptides, and antioxidants.
→ Check out the best SERUMS with multi-molecular weight hyaluronic acid as the base.
→ Discover the best MOISTURIZERS with multi-molecular weight hyaluronic acid as the base.
→ Unlock the best MASKS with multi-molecular weight hyaluronic acid as the base.