What is Hyaluronic Acid: Uses, Side Effects, and Risks
Time to read 7 min
Your cart is empty
Time to read 7 min
Anyone who is invested in their skin health is likely to have heard of hyaluronic acid, a skin care ingredient that appears in a large number of topical products. But do you know what hyaluronic acid actually does?
Indeed, there are many benefits to using a hyaluronic acid serum. Read on to learn more about how hyaluronic acid works, the variety of hyaluronic acid products on the market, and how to incorporate hyaluronic acid into your skin care routine.
Though you've likely heard of hyaluronic acid in the context of dietary supplements, it is actually a naturally occurring molecule that our bodies produce. It is a slippery substance that is found throughout the body, in particular in the skin, joints, and eyes, with the chief function of providing hydration. You can think of it as a sort of lubricant that keeps things running smoothly.
As we age, our bodies naturally produce less hyaluronic acid, in a process that begins around the age of 20 years old. Because of this, skin hydration begins to decline as we age. This is when hyaluronic acid supplements can be game-changing for those looking to restore skin elasticity and maintain a more youthful appearance.
Hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in the body in a variety of places, from connective tissue to the synovial fluid in joints to our eyes. In the skin, it exists between the skin cells in the dermis and epidermis, contributing to cell turnover and helping to keep the skin hydrated.
Hyaluronic acid has so many skin benefits because it attracts and binds moisture to the skin. Each HA molecule has the exceptional ability to retain water molecules, which the human skin barrier needs in order to maintain suppleness and an even complexion. Indeed, if you are suffering from skin roughness or declining elasticity, it is likely your skin isn't retaining moisture. Adding hyaluronic acid to your skin care regimen allows you to hydrate skin efficiently, restoring water molecules to improve your skin moisture levels.
HA molecules are indispensable to the anti-aging process, fighting wrinkles and strengthening sensitive skin. As our skin loses its natural ability to retain moisture, many decide to take hyaluronic acid products such as anti-wrinkle creams and serums designed to fight dry skin. These are also used in wound healing contexts to help those suffering from burns, epithelial surgical wounds, and chronic wounds.
Hyaluronic acid is a natural substance, but some products – in particular those related to helping wounds heal – use hyaluronic acid derivatives, which have also been shown to be effective. There are also some HA products designed to specifically target particular skin care symptoms, such as tricky tear troughs (also known as bags under the eyes).
Some supplements that provide hyaluronic acid feature sodium acetylated hyaluronate, a salt form of the substance that lends itself well to skincare products. (Some products allegedly containing hyaluronic acid actually feature the key ingredient of sodium hyaluronate, though the two are technically different.) Sodium hyaluronate also appears in dermal fillers, which some may know as hyaluronic acid injections or hyaluronic acid fillers. These have been shown to be effective by studies using randomized controlled trials.
It's worth noting that different hyaluronic acid products have different molecular weights, making some better disposed to treat certain conditions than others. Many topical products intended to be applied directly to the skin's surface feature hyaluronic acid, which has a higher molecular weight than sodium hyaluronate and will be more immediate in their effects on a compromised skin barrier. The lower molecular weight of sodium acetylated hyaluronate, meanwhile, means products featuring the substance will reach deeper layers to provide skin hydration. There are also products containing hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid, which lowers the molecular weight of HA to go deeper into the skin.
Hyaluronic acid is considered safe to use in the context of over-the-counter face creams and oral hyaluronic acid supplements for a variety of skin types.
There are also prescription forms of hyaluronic acid used to treat particular skin conditions, though these require direct consultation with a medical professional. These feature a higher hyaluronic acid content than over-the-counter products.
In rare cases, users of hyaluronic acid have reported allergic reactions, particularly in the case of dermal fillers. This is why it is important to begin using skin care products gradually to be sure you are getting the benefits of hyaluronic acid.
Lastly, it is always a good idea to speak to a medical professional or nutritionist before beginning the use of hyaluronic acid, even in over-the-counter forms.
You can add hyaluronic acid to a variety of skin care combinations, and it has not been shown to have adverse interactions with other substances. That said, it's important to consult with a doctor before using hyaluronic acid if you are taking other medications to be sure you are getting up-to-the-minute scientific information.
Hyaluronic acid is often recommended in combination with vitamin C; in fact, the two often are featured in products together. Together, they serve a two-pronged effect: vitamin C protects the skin from harmful UV rays, while hyaluronic acid provides direct moisture to the skin barrier. You are even more likely to see the benefits of hyaluronic acid if you are also using topical vitamin C.
Hyaluronic acid is available in a variety of forms, including:
Most skin hyaluronic acid treatments come in topical or injectable form, while oral supplements are primarily intended to help those with osteoarthritis. For skin care purposes, you are encouraged to use hyaluronic acid in its over-the-counter topical form before trying other methods, which are more extreme.
Some argue that oral hyaluronan relieves wrinkles as well, though this is a less common method for skin care applications.
Hyaluronic acid is a type of molecule called a polymer, which allows other molecules to attach themselves to it. HA molecules have room to attach to water molecules, even those containing significantly higher volumes of water than they themselves contain of hyaluronic acid. We need this water in order to maintain high moisture levels in the skin, joints, and eyes, as well as to promote tissue growth.
Because of its ability to store water, hyaluronic acid is a vital ingredient in our overall health, whether to serve the functions of wound healing, skin hydration, joint mobility, or other key functions that make our lives comfortable.
When used properly, hyaluronic acid is quite effective. Due to the many uses of hyaluronic acid, there are numerous significant studies underway to study how to even better harness the properties of HA to support better skin, joint, and eye health.
A placebo controlled study from 2012 reported these to have few to no side effects. This means that you can use over the counter face creams and other products containing hyaluronic acid with confidence.
If for whatever reason you do begin experiencing any adverse symptoms after using hyaluronic acid, discontinue use immediately and consult with a medical professional. Stopping treatment is likely to halt any unwanted effects of the product.
Hyaluronic acid is frequently found in acne-related products, as its hydrating and wound-healing properties can be beneficial to those with scarring from acne. A 2017 report suggests that hyaluronic acid can help regulate sebum production, improving the conditions that lead to acne.
If you're looking for a safe, efficient, and scientifically verified skin treatment, look no further than hyaluronic acid. Easy to obtain and simple to incorporate into your daily maintenance, it is a low-risk, high-reward form of skin care that will help your skin look and feel its very best.
When choosing your hyaluronic acid product, be sure to take into account your skin care needs, the method by which you will most reliably use or apply your treatment, and the other medications and products you are using. It's never a bad idea to consult with a medical professional about your chosen method of hyaluronic acid supplementation, as our understanding of HA is evolving constantly.
Taking hyaluronic acid through external means can help restore dehydrated skin to a more youthful texture and appearance. Many use hyaluronic acid as an anti-wrinkle treatment or to provide hydration for those suffering from a skin condition.
Many dermatologists recommend hyaluronic acid as part of a comprehensive skin care regimen, usually in the form of over-the-counter topical creams and serums.
It depends on the product you are using. Most over the counter hyaluronic acid serums and creams are designed to be used once or twice per day, but it's important to look closely at the label to be sure.
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.
Dr. Sanober Doctor is a dual-board certified dermatologist, & a leading expert in Integrative and holistic Dermatology. She is a proactive, compassionate medical practitioner with a thorough understanding of mind-body-spiritual wellness.