If you’ve been hearing a lot about hyaluronic acid these days, that’s because the ingredient is seemingly everywhere, from your TikTok feed to the skincare aisle. Many beauty and skincare products are using hyaluronic acid in more of their formulas, from the best facial serums to eye creams and moisturizers, so you’re probably wondering what the hyaluronic acid hype is all about. And, moreover, is it actually legit? Read on to find out everything you need to know about hyaluronic acid and its soothing benefits, along with the products that dermatologists recommend for every skin type.
What is hyaluronic acid?
Hyaluronic acid already exists in your skin. “Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring carbohydrate produced and found in our bodies,” explains Lian Mack, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Glam Derm in New York City. “It is the molecule responsible for pulling and retaining water in the skin. Hyaluronic acid is found primarily in the eye and connective tissue, where it acts as a lubricant and cushioning agent.”
Hyaluronic acid is a humectant and can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. But not all hyaluronic acid molecules are identical, and hyaluronic acid can vary in strength and size. In terms of concentration, most over-the-counter formulations have an HA concentration of 2% or less. Various molecular forms of hyaluronic acid (low and high molecular weight) in small amounts are best to ensure continuous and optimal hydration.
- Hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid works at the surface level to smooth and hydrate.
- Sodium acetylated hyaluronate, compared to traditional hyaluronic acid, has a higher ability to bind moisture, improve skin’s elasticity, and repair skin barrier.
- Sodium hyaluronate has a lower molecular weight than hydrolyzed HA, which means it goes deeper into the skin. Low molecular weight hyaluronic acid can have a pro-inflammatory effect on the skin, so some may develop irritation and rashes as a result.
What does hyaluronic acid do?
Although hylauronic acid isn’t an anti-aging ingredient on its own, the plumping effect that can happen when a hyaluronic acid product is applied to skin may make fine lines and wrinkles less noticeable. “Hyaluronic acid acts as a moisture magnet for the skin,” Dr. Mack says. “It creates an effective barrier allowing the skin to retain moisture. The added moisture results in a smooth plump appearance. When used as a filler, it can add volume to areas that are volume depleted.”
The benefits of hyaluronic acid serum
Generally, the main benefits of hyaluronic acid serum include increased hydration and skin elasticity by forming a barrier to prevent transepidermal water loss. You’ll be able to feel a difference in your skin’s moisture levels pretty quickly after applying, and even more so if you suffer from dry skin, it won’t feel nearly as taut as before. It also continues to work over time behind the scenes to strengthen the barrier, leaving your skin softer and hydrated for longer stretches of time.
“Because it helps the skin retain water, hyaluronic acid is also an effective active ingredient in treating or preventing eczema,” Dr. Mack says. “Since it is a naturally occurring substance, it is well tolerated by all skin types and is non-irritating.”
Now, you can find hyaluronic acid in hair products, too. Since HA has moisture-binding properties, it can work wonders on the scalp to help it retain the moisture it needs to produce a head of healthy locks.
Top Hyaluronic Acid Serums of 2022
- Best K-Beauty Serum: Elizavecca Hyaluronic Acid 100% Face Serum
- Best Serum for Acne: The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 Hydrating Serum
- Best Budget Serum: Catrice Hydroplumping Serum
- Best Serum for Dry Skin: Paula’s Choice Hyaluronic Acid Booster
- Best Anti-Aging Serum: Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C Serum
- Best Drugstore Serum: L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Serum
- Best for Sensitive Skin: SkinCeuticals Retexuring Activator
- Best for Mature Skin: Glow Recipe Plum Plump Hyaluronic Acid Serum
- Best Serum for Fillers: SkinCeuticals Hyaluronic Acid Intensifier
- Best Kept Secret Serum: VivierSkin Ultimage Hydrating Gel
- Best Serum with Vitamin C: CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum
- Best Retinol + HA Serum: RoC Correxion Deep Wrinkle Filler
- Best Everyday Serum: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel
- Best Hyaluronic Acid Serum for Oily Skin: Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum
- Best Splurge: Amala Skin Plumping Hyaluronic Serum
- Best Fragrance-Free Serum: Olay Regenerist Max Hydration Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
- Best Serum for Brightening Skin: Dermalogica BioLumin-C Vitamin C Serum
- Best-Rated Serum: Vichy Mineral 89 Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum
- Best Serum for Microneedling: Monat Hydration Booster
- Best Organic Serum: AlumierMD Ultimate Boost Serum
Are there any side effects to using hyaluronic acid serum?
Side effects are often due to overuse of hyaluronic acid, says Azadeh Shirazi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in La Jolla, California, who says that using too many hyaluronic acid products will start to draw water from your skin cells, thereby dehydrating them. “It’s like when your lips are chapped and you lick them, and it feels hydrated for a second only to be even drier minutes later,” Dr. Shirazi says of the tell-tale sensation that serves as a red flag. “Over application can have a compounding effect as it starts to look for water from the closest source, the skin.”
What to look for in the best hyaluronic acid serums
Dr. Shirazi favors hyaluronic acid formulated with other ingredients, such as vitamin C or niacinamide, rather than purely on its own. “Chances are, many of your products already have hyaluronic acid in them, so opt for moisturizers without HA to prevent throwing your skin off balance and disrupting your natural microbiome,” she advises. “Those with oily skin have better responses to hyaluronic acid since oil inhibits the HA from disrupting the microbiome and protects it from inflammation.”
Also, be sure to identify just how much hyaluronic acid is in the serum by giving the ingredients label a careful read, cautions Kemunto Mokaya, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Houston. “Look at the ingredients to see what type of hyaluronic acid is used,” Dr. Mokaya says. “Some products use both sodium hyaluronate and sodium acetylated hyaluronate.”
How to use hyaluronic acid serum
Apply it on clean skin right after washing, says Lily Talakoub, a board-certified dermatologist and founder and CEO of Derm to Door. “Because it needs to penetrate into the skin and have water to hold onto, the skin must be damp,” she says. “Also, applying a moisturizer on top allows the hydration to be trapped into the skin. If used on dry skin, it will not have any water to bind and will not help lubricate the skin.”
Below, check out the best 20 hyaluronic acid serums for every skin type and skin care routine.
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