Easily one of the most well-known ingredients in skincare, hyaluronic acid is a powerhouse ingredient that in recent years has become a holy grail of skincare. From serums to moisturizers, hyaluronic acid is the gold standard for hydrating and plumping the skin.
Chances are you’ve already used a hyaluronic acid serum, and if you haven’t yet, you should! After all, it’s safe for all skin types and a naturally occurring molecule within our skin. Applying it is only half the battle, however, and just because you’re using a serum that contains hyaluronic acid doesn’t mean you’re getting its benefits if you don’t know how to apply a hyaluronic acid serum.
Let’s get to know this ingredient a bit better, shall we?
What is hyaluronic acid?
Hyaluronic acid, also known as sodium hyaluronate, is a type of humectant that is naturally found in many areas of the human body, including the skin, eyes, and joints. Humectants retain and bind moisture by attracting water from either the air or deeper within the skin, and in the case of hyaluronic acid, can bind over one thousand times its weight in water.
Our bodies produce the hyaluronic acid found within our skin, but it’s also available in synthetic forms found in beauty products and cosmetic fillers. It’s a common ingredient in serums, moisturizers, and lip products thanks to its ability to bind moisture to the skin and increase hydration where it’s applied. Cosmetic fillers containing hyaluronic acid can be injected into the skin to help replace lost facial elasticity in areas such as the lips and cheeks where they plump the skin by filling in fine lines and adding volume.
Unfortunately, production levels of hyaluronic acid decrease as we get older, and since it helps retain moisture and plump the skin, its loss can increase the usual signs of aging such as fine lines, wrinkles, and crepey skin. This leads many of us to conclude that if it naturally occurs in the skin, it should work well on the skin, and so we turn to hyaluronic acid serums to make up for its loss. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Hyaluronic acid is a large molecule, in fact, much too large to be absorbed into the skin when applied topically. It does, however, do a good job of absorbing moisture from the atmosphere to help give skin a moist, plumped-up appearance. But if you live in a dry climate and don’t apply moisturizer on top of a hyaluronic acid serum, it tends to pull the moisture from the skin instead of the atmosphere and evaporates into the air, which is the last thing you want to happen. Many companies try to combat this by offering different weights or the size of hyaluronic acid and some of the smaller size offerings have a chance to be absorbed by the epidermis, or uppermost layer of our skin. Even this can be a tricky solution, though, as some people show sensitivity or irritation from this smaller form of hyaluronic acid.
If you’re using a moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid, this isn’t so much of a problem, since these are formulated with other moisturizing ingredients like occlusives and emollients that lock everything in to prevent evaporation and moisture loss. Serums, on the other hand, are a different story, since these are generally water-based and not always formulated with occlusive and emollient ingredients and are intended to be layered underneath other products.
Many of us, especially those of us with skin that leans towards oily, fall into the trap of thinking if we’re using a serum with hyaluronic acid, we don’t need a moisturizer. It’s not our fault, either! Marketing campaigns have done an excellent job at pushing hyaluronic acid as a one-and-done moisturizing ingredient. This gives the impression that unless you have dry skin, you can get away with skipping out on a separate moisturizer altogether so long as you’re incorporating hyaluronic acid somewhere in your routine.
The problem, however, is that there is a huge difference between dry skin and dehydrated skin. Even those of us with oily skin can (and often do!) have dehydrated skin despite all the oil sitting on the skin’s surface that leaves us feeling greasy and slick. It’s very common, for instance, to have dehydrated skin if you live in a semi-arid climate that receives little rain like California or mountainous regions, like Colorado. Lastly, you can have neither dry nor dehydrated skin, but if you live in a dry climate as we discussed above, your skin can end up more dehydrated than it was to begin with if you apply hyaluronic acid to your skin without sealing it in with other ingredients!
Dermatologist, Shereen Idriss, M.D. weighs in on this topic at length. Click here to learn more
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with information, don’t worry! Just remember to always follow up any serum with hyaluronic acid with a moisturizer appropriate for your skin type. The important thing to keep in mind is that no matter what type of hyaluronic serum or product you use, especially if you have a compromised skin barrier, you will experience transepidermal water loss and possibly more dehydration than you started with if you don’t apply a good moisturizer or other occlusive product over the top of it to help keep that moisture locked into the skin where it’s needed.
What else is your hyaluronic acid serum doing for your skin?
Most of us don’t like having to apply multiple serums before we even get to the moisturizer and sunscreen step of our skincare routine. Too many products clutter up the bathroom and cost a lot, on top of getting overly complicated. The solution is to look for a hyaluronic acid serum that’s formulated to deliver multiple benefits that nourish, moisturize and support the skin all in one step. This is why we’ve formulated our very own Hyaluronic Acid Serum with a wide variety of ingredients to offer several benefits at once.
For starters, it’s formulated with a complex of high, medium, and low molecular weight hyaluronic acid to give skin the maximum benefits of this humectant. We’ve also added propanediol and sodium lactate, two other humectants that together with hyaluronic acid make the ultimate moisture-binding trio that hydrates the skin. Next up is algae extract, a natural antioxidant that soothes and nourishes the skin while protecting against environmental stressors like sun damage and pollution.
Lastly, we’ve incorporated a ceramide complex that nourishes and strengthens the skin’s natural protective barrier and helps reduce signs of aging. This ceramide complex features ceramides III, IIIB, and VI (2.5%), cholesterol (0.5%), free fatty acid, and phytosphingosine (1%). We topped everything off with a skin-firming peptide called palmitoyl dipeptide-5 diaminobutyroyl which helps restore a youthful bounce to the skin.
With the application of one product, you get hydration from three humectants, a soothing and nourishing antioxidant that protects the skin, rejuvenating ceramides that rebuild the skin barrier, and anti-aging peptides all in one step. Does your current hyaluronic acid serum do all of that?
Other types of humectants and hydrating ingredients
With the huge influx of hyaluronic acid products available, it’s easy to see why most of us are convinced that hyaluronic acid is the end-all-be-all when it comes to hydration. You may be surprised, however, to learn that there are many other equally hydrating ingredients that are just as useful as hyaluronic acid.
Here are some of the ingredients you should look for on product labels:
These humectants attract and bind moisture to the skin and are commonly found in most skincare products in one or more of the following ingredients:
- Hyaluronic acid aka sodium hyaluronate
- Glycols caprylyl glycol
- Sodium PCA
- Sodium Lactate
Ceramides are fats or lipids and are another humectant naturally found in the skin. Ceramides are important for retaining hydration and maintaining our skin’s natural barrier. They also prevent germs from entering the body and ward off external pollution and toxins.
- Ceramide NP, AP, EOP, I, III, IIIB, IV, 6 II,
- Free-fatty acids
Antioxidants help protect the skin’s surface from oxidative damage caused by free radicals and environmental aggressors such as UV exposure and pollution. Different antioxidants have their own properties and can do everything from helping fade hyperpigmentation to preventing signs of aging.
- Laminaria (algae) extract
- Aloe Vera
- Beta Glucan
- Vitamins E
- Vitamin B3 (also known as Niacinamide)
- Beta Carotene
Peptides are amino acids and the building blocks of proteins needed by the skin to rebuild and repair skin cells. Two of these proteins are collagen and elastin, which serve as the foundation for smooth, plump, and bouncy skin. Peptides in skincare products help firm the skin and aid in the prevention of signs of aging.
- Palmitoyl dipeptide-5 diaminobutyroyl hydroxythreonine (tetrapeptide), palmitoyl dipeptide-5 diaminohydroxybutyrate (tripeptide)
- Nannochloropsis oculata (microalgae) extract, pullulan
- Hydrolyzed rice bran protein, glycine soja (soybean) protein, oxidoreductases
The Bottom Line
Remember, no matter what type of hyaluronic acid serum you use, be sure to apply a good moisturizer AND sunscreen immediately after to lock in all those terrific ingredients and achieve dewy, healthy, luscious-looking skin!
Want to read more about hydrating products and how to best use them?