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How to Choose the Best Hyaluronic Acid Serum

Written by: Jack Levinson

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Time to read 7 min

The words "hyaluronic acid" have been on the rise in recent years, appearing in a huge variety of skincare products, from creams and masks to toners and even lip balms. But what does this star ingredient actually do, and is it worth the hype? 


The former question requires some explanation. The latter can be answered succinctly: yes, it is worth the hype, though it requires correct usage and the right products to really extend its benefits. The ingredient appears in a wide variety of serums, creams, and lotions with varying concentrations of the product, and not all are equally effective. 


So how does one know what to look for in a hyaluronic acid product? This article will make you an expert, walking you through the benefits and effects of different products so that you can find the right serum for your skincare routine. 

What is Hyaluronic Acid, and Why Should I Be Using It?

Though you may have only heard of hyaluronic acid recently, in fact, it's anything but new. Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring substance known as a humectant that provides hydration to the skin. It is revered by dermatologists and other scientists for its remarkable ability to bind water molecules at one thousand times its weight. This in turn hydrates and plumps your skin. Hyaluronic acid levels in the skin decline markedly with age, leading to some of the most visible signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, and can also be a reason why many suffer from dry skin.


Until recently, the only way to add hyaluronic acid to the skin was through injections. However, innovations in science now make it possible to apply it topically. This is by breaking down hyaluronic acid to be more easily absorbed by the skin. There are three molecular weights of hyaluronic acid that you can find in skin care products:


  • Low molecular weight hyaluronic acid penetrates the skin deeply, and is therefore provides moisture retention in the long term.
  • Medium molecular weight hyaluronic acid¬†absorbs slightly below the skin surface, helping it retain moisture and lasting a decent amount of time, though less than lower weight varieties.
  • High molecular weight hyaluronic acid¬†stays on the surface of the skin, with perhaps the most immediate effects, though they are not absorbed into the skin deeply.

The best products combine hyaluronic acids at different molecular weights to provide benefits at multiple levels simultaneously. This will allow the ingredient to absorb through the skin while providing immediate benefits to the skin's surface, providing a satisfying boost that will keep you coming back. Over time, this will translate to a stronger, healthier, smoother skin barrier that will be better protected from environmental damage. 

best hyaluronic acid serum

Hyaluronic Acid Benefits

So how can hyaluronic acid help you? Its remarkable ability to hydrate the skin means its benefits are numerous. 

Hyaluronic Acid as an Anti-Aging Ingredient

Hyaluronic acid works as a humectant that acts to hydrate the skin. This means it has significant anti-aging benefits, from reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles to enhancing your skin's natural glow. These benefits also help improve skin texture, plumping the skin and making it look healthier in the long term. 

Hyaluronic Acid and Acne Scarring

Because hyaluronic acid helps the skin retain moisture, topical products have also been found to help reduce the appearance of acne scars. It does this by improving the skin barrier, which protects our skin from damage from the elements such as sun exposure. This in turn can prevent the spread of acne in the future. 

Does Hyaluronic Acid Have Side Effects?

There are no known side effects of topical hyaluronic acid products, meaning you should be able to experiment with new products without significant concern. However, it's always worth consulting with a dermatologist or health care professional before starting a new product. It's also worth proceeding with slight caution to be sure you don't have any allergies to your product of choice. 

How to Choose the Best Hyaluronic Acid Serum

Though many products simply advertise themselves to contain hyaluronic acid, in fact, there is a range of types out there, and not all are equally effective. This means it's important to pick your product carefully and do diligent homework to make sure you're getting all the benefits you're looking for. 


The very most effective products containing hyaluronic acid will be serums, since they contain the highest concentrations of the substance. 


The secret to an effective hyaluronic acid serum is a well-balanced concentration of the substance that allows the water in the product to absorb into your skin. These serums typically feature a concentration of just over 2%. Those with a higher concentration are likely to extract moisture from your skin, while those with lower concentrations are unlikely to have a noticeable effect. 


It's important to also consider your skin type as you choose from available products. Hyaluronic acid works well for those with either oily or dry skin, but the other ingredients in your serum may be more advantageous for one group than another. Keep this in mind to ensure you don't pick a serum that will create other problems for you.

Ingredients to Look For

In addition to hyaluronic acid, look for products with the following ingredients, which can help maximize its effects:


  • Vitamin C
  • Niacinamide
  • Retinol
  • White tea leaf extract

It's important to look closely at whatever additional ingredients are in your product of choice, as your skin may be sensitive to some of them. Some ingredients, like retinol, require gradual use at the beginning to allow your skin to acclimate to the product. Keep this in mind as you make your choices. 

Ingredients to Avoid

Some ingredients found in skincare products have been found to cause allergic reactions, while some have been found to be carcinogenic. These are, perhaps needless to say, worth avoiding; after all, you're likely to apply your hydrating serum of choice quite regularly and do not want to risk exposure to anything that could cause long-term harm. 


Ingredients to avoid include the following:


  • methyl and propyl parabens
  • formaldehyde
  • phthalates

Make sure to keep an eye on the ingredient list on the label as you pick your product. 

How to Use Hyaluronic Acid

Most hyaluronic acid serums can be used daily, if not twice a day. However, it is important to use them correctly. Here are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind:


  • Apply when your face is still damp.¬†If your face is dry, your serum will not have any water to pull through the skin barrier, meaning it will have the opposite of its intended effect, pulling moisture from the skin.
  • Only a few drops should suffice. You can use your palms to rub in your serum, avoiding the eyes of course.¬†
  • Use a moisturizer after to lock in your product benefits.¬†This will ensure that there is enough moisture on the skin's surface to sustain hydration over time.

You can use your serum with a variety of other products, including ones that feature the ingredients that pair well with hyaluronic acid. In 2023, there are many options out there that combine complementary ingredients in a single product.

How Long Should I Wait to See Results?

Because of the different molecular weights of hyaluronic acid, you will see benefits at different times. Some products offer more instantaneous benefits that are also shorter-term, while others are less immediate but more lasting. In the latter cases, you are likely to start seeing results with extended use, most likely after four to six weeks of maintaining a regular skin care routine. 

Summary

Now that you've learned the fundamentals of hyaluronic acid, you have the information you need to find the best serum to address your concerns. Be sure to read all labels carefully and proceed with caution as you try new products, and when in doubt, consult with a medical professional to be sure you've chosen something that will work for you with regular use. 


Once you get started, be sure to use your serum regularly to unlock its long-term benefits. Your skin will look healthier, plumper, and fresher in no time!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most effective hyaluronic acid serum?

The most effective serums contain all three molecular forms, optimally balanced with water. This will allow the ingredient to absorb through the skin, providing a satisfying boost that will keep you coming back.

How do I know if my hyaluronic acid serum is good?

It may take some time to determine if your product is effective. It's worth sticking it out for about six weeks to see if your serum is having its intended effect. 

What percentage of hyaluronic acid serum is best? 

The most effective products contain a little over 2% of hyaluronic acid, which is the optimal amount to absorb its benefits fully. 

Written by:


 

Jack Levinson

Jack Levinson is a writer born and raised in Los Angeles. He received his bachelor’s degree from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. When not writing, his interests include the arts, cooking, and exploring the California coast.

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Reviewed by:


 

Felipe Partarrieu-Mejías, MD IFAAD

Felipe is a hardworking and self-motivated dermatologist with a great passion for skin diseases and therapeutics. He has experience in specialised clinical care, researching scientific literature, and writing scientific articles.

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