What does hyaluronic acid do?

In the world of skincare, trending ingredients come and go, but research shows that hyaluronic acid is not just a trend. In fact, it’s one of the best ingredients you can use to replenish and hydrate the skin.

As we age, our skin’s natural content of hyaluronic acid drops dramatically. People between the ages of 19 and 47 have twice as much hyaluronic acid in their skin as those in their 50s and 60s and as we age into our 70s, that amount drops even further.

What you can expect:

  • What is hyaluronic acid?
  • What does hyaluronic acid do for the skin?
  • How does hyaluronic acid work?
  • Hyaluronic acid benefits
  • Sodium hyaluronate vs. hyaluronic acid
  • Who should use hyaluronic acid?
  • How to use hyaluronic acid in your skincare routine
  • What not to mix with hyaluronic acid
  • What are the side effects of hyaluronic acid?
  • Hyaluronic acid skincare formulas

What is hyaluronic acid?

Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring substance in the skin. It is a glycosaminoglycan, which is a fancy name for a vital naturally occurring substance that’s part of the skin’s youth-supporting matrix. As the chief glycosaminoglycan in skin, hyaluronic acid works to keep every aspect of skin stable, hydrated and renewed.

What does hyaluronic acid do for the skin?

Hyaluronic acid is so integral because of its capacity to attract and hold onto 1,000 times its weight in moisture. It’s a humectant, a category of skincare ingredients that are hygroscopic, meaning they draw and can trap moisture from their surroundings. Humectants are often found in water-based moisturisers, serums and other leave-on skincare products because of their ability to help boost hydration for all skin types. They’re especially beneficial for dry and dehydrated skin.

Hyaluronic acid is also a postbiotic, which is an ingredient that naturally occurs as probiotics found in the skin's microbiome break down. Researchers believe that this synergy with skin is another reason application of hyaluronic acid leads to healthier, younger-looking skin – because it strengthens and helps rebuild the unique microbiome on your skin.

How does hyaluronic acid work?

Hyaluronic acid has the ability to replenish incredible amounts of moisture: one gram of hyaluronic acid can hold up to six LITRES of water. Talk about mind-blowing! What’s even more impressive is that hyaluronic acid can do this without tipping the scales and giving your skin too much water (which would otherwise pose a problem because it’d break down key substances that would normally hold the skin’s surface intact).

Hyaluronic acid benefits

This ingredient powerfully enhances moisture content, leaving skin radiantly hydrated and expertly revitalises the skin’s outer surface layers, so they look and feel softer and smoother. This “plumping” effect instantly improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Hyaluronic acid’s moisture-binding characteristic is exceptionally important when it comes to skin ageing. When we’re young, our skin can retain a balanced amount of water, but it loses this ability as we age, which in turn affects moisture-binding substances in skin such as sodium PCA and amino acids. This deficiency results in a visible loss of firmness, pliability and a diminished appearance of plumpness and suppleness. All making way for… wrinkles.

Unprotected sun exposure and environmental assault weakens the skin’s surface and causes premature ageing. Hopefully, you already know that daily use of broad spectrum SPF moisturiser and avoiding harsh skincare ingredients is a must for combatting unwanted signs of ageing, but you might not know that hyaluronic acid’s antioxidant and skin-replenishing properties go a long way toward mitigating those issues too. It’s especially effective when used as part of a complete anti-ageing skincare routine that includes other research-backed ingredients. Now that’s what we call a multitasking ingredient!

Sodium hyaluronate vs. hyaluronic acid

In addition to hyaluronic acid, you may have seen the similarly named sodium hyaluronate on an ingredient list. Unsurprisingly, these two ingredients are related. Sodium hyaluronate is a skin-beneficial salt that’s derived from hyaluronic acid. Sodium hyaluronate is helpful in the same way that hyaluronic acid is but with one extra advantage – because of its lower molecular weight, it is more bioavailable so skin absorbs it more easily than hyaluronic acid.

Does that mean that sodium hyaluronate is better than hyaluronic acid? No. In fact, it’s great if products such as hyaluronic acid moisturisers and creams contain both hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate, as your skin can reap benefits on multiple levels.

Note: Some companies use what’s called “low molecular weight" hyaluronic acid, which has a smaller molecule size than regular hyaluronic acid. Molecules of “regular” hyaluronic acid are larger which explains why they remain on the skin’s surface. Making hyaluronic acid smaller helps it reach a bit further into the skin’s uppermost layers for visibly enhanced results. There are many types of hyaluronic acid and these two are just the stars of the set! To date, substantiated research hasn’t proven there’s a single best type of hyaluronic acid to use in skincare products.

Who should use hyaluronic acid?

Hyaluronic acid is incredibly gentle and helpful for all skin types; everyone can reap the benefits of hyaluronic acid for the skin! Since it is naturally present in the body, it’s suitable for everyone, even those prone to eczema, rosacea and acne.

Dry or sensitive skin types will experience the most improvement after incorporating hyaluronic acid into their routine, as the ingredient works to hydrate and boost skin barrier health.

How to use hyaluronic acid in your skincare routine

Hyaluronic acid isn’t a finnicky ingredient. Adding this humectant to your skincare routine is as easy as finding your favourite product and slotting it in.

You can use topical hyaluronic acid formulas twice a day, morning and night. Apply your hyaluronic acid product format of choice (toner, serum, treatment, moisturiser) after cleansing and remember to follow the thinnest to thickest texture guideline.

What not to mix with hyaluronic acid?

Hyaluronic acid is a welcome addition to most skincare routines. For one, our skin already loves, and responds positively, to this hydrating ingredient. On top of this, hyaluronic acid is gentle, meaning that usage alongside retinol and BHA (salicylic acid) isn’t just tolerated, but encouraged.

If you’re looking for optimal hydration and barrier support, mix emollient and occlusive ingredients with humectants like hyaluronic acid.

What are the side effects of hyaluronic acid?

Hyaluronic acid is considered non-irritating as a topical skincare product, with no major side effects reported. In fact, its ability to help regulate the skin’s microbiome helps visibly reduce redness and sensitivity. Its natural calming benefit means it is also suitable for breakout-prone skin. Hyaluronic acid (in all forms) is not known to clog pores or worsen acne.

There have been reports of adverse reactions in some cases when it comes to dermal fillers using hyaluronic acid, including swelling and infection, though those cases are considered rare – and are unrelated to the topical use of skincare products containing hyaluronic acid or its derivatives.

Hyaluronic acid skincare formulas

Now that you know how hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate benefit the skin, you might be wondering how we’ve chosen to incorporate these research-backed ingredients into our products. Paula’s Choice Skincare often includes both forms of these hero humectants in moisturiser, serum, toner and face mask formulations, so you have a variety of ways to add hyaluronic acid to your routine.

Paula's Choice hyaluronic acid skincare formulas are tested for irritancy and safety and contain redness-reducing, hydrating and antioxidant ingredients that make the skin soft and smooth. They’re also gentle enough for those with eczema-prone and rosacea-prone skin.

With a silky, lightweight texture that’s perfect for all skin types, our Hyaluronic Acid Booster is indispensable for its hydrating, line-smoothing formula supported by ceramides to reinforce the skin’s natural barrier. Apply directly to the skin after cleansing, toning and exfoliating, or mix into your favourite serum or moisturiser.

Those with dry to very dry skin will find our RESIST Anti-Aging Intensive Repair Moisturizer’s rich, retinol-spiked formula ideal for a daily (or nightly) dose of wrinkle-softening hydration supported by sodium hyaluronate, ceramides and peptides.

If achieving radiant, glowing skin overnight is one of your goals, you’ll appreciate our RADIANCE Renewal Mask’s lush gel texture and innovative formula. This overnight renewing mask features skin-plumping sodium hyaluronate plus brightening antioxidants, niacinamide and vitamin C, as well as extensively researched hydrating ingredients.

If you struggle with acne and are on the hunt for the best moisturiser for acne-prone skin, look no further than our CLEAR Oil-Free Moisturizer. Its sheer lotion texture features sodium hyaluronate, ceramides and blueberry extract to provide hydration and soothe redness that often accompanies breakouts.

Our RESIST Barrier Repair Advanced Moisturizer is a great pick for those looking to nourish the skin’s barrier and fight signs of premature ageing. This light lotion taps into the power of sodium hyaluronate, ceramides, peptides and watermelon seed oil.

Our C5 Super Boost Eye Cream is a great way to bring back radiance to the under-eye area. Simply apply this multifaceted light, lotion formula, packed with peptides, hyaluronic acid and vitamin C to brighten and hydrate a dry, dull under-eye during your morning or nighttime routine.

Don't forget your lips! Our Hyaluronic Acid + Peptide Lip Booster visibly enhances lip fullness thanks to its blend of hyaluronic acid filling spheres that keep their natural moisture from escaping. In doing so, water that would normally evaporate remains within your lips instead, helping to maintain a smooth, youthful and line-free appearance.

References for this information:

1. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, December 2018, pages 1682-1695
2. BMC Microbiology, November 2013, ePublication
3. Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, August 2017, pages 311-315
4. Dermato-endocrinology, July 2012, pages 253-258
5. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, September 2011, pages 990-1000
6. International Journal of Toxicology, July-August 2009, pages 5-67
7. Advances in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, April-June 2021, ePublication
8. Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, July 2017, pages 267-273

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