|December 7, 2023

Hyaluronic Acid: The Anti-Aging Elixir That Keeps Skin Smooth & Supple

By Mary Squillace
Reviewed for Scientific Accuracy

Hyaluronic Acid: The Anti-Aging Elixir That Keeps Skin Smooth & Supple

  •      Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a sugar molecule naturally found in our skin and joints.
  •      HA helps our skin attract and retain moisture, which can combat signs of aging.
  •      Topical hyaluronic acid serums have been shown to diminish wrinkles, improve skin elasticity, and boost skin firmness in just two weeks.
  •      Hyaluronic acid supplements also help alleviate dry skin, and may have other benefits for your bones and joints as well.

Hyaluronic acid probably isn’t what you think it is. After all, when you hear the word “acid” in the context of skin care, you think of products that chemically slough off skin, leaving you raw and red before you see any sign of their anti-aging benefits. Hyaluronic acid is different. Think of it as the kinder, gentler, more nourishing cousin. Yes, it will turn back the clock, but it won’t break down your skin. Hyaluronic acid plumps it up by restoring your skin’s moisture barrier — giving you a youthful complexion in the process.

What is hyaluronic acid?

what is hyaluronic acidHyaluronic acid is a molecule made up of sugars that our bodies naturally produce. One role this hardworking molecule plays is to lubricate our joints, but about 50 percent of the hyaluronic acid in our bodies lives in our skin, where it binds to water to help attract and retain moisture. (Each molecule of hyaluronic acid can hold up to a whopping thousand times its weight in water.)[1]

Related: How to Get More Collagen, and Why Your Skin Needs It to Stay Young

How does hyaluronic acid work?

what is hyaluronic acidHyaluronic acid owes its age-defying powers to its water-loving properties. By essentially giving your skin a big drink of H2O, hyaluronic acid doesn’t simply keep dry, flaky skin at bay, it helps keep skin looking firm, smooth, and plump. As we age, our skin loses moisture and hyaluronic acid, leading to the loose, saggy, wrinkly skin. When you put hyaluronic acid back into your skin — either via serum or supplement — you’re not only helping to replenish your skin’s natural HA stores, you’re keeping your skin better moisturized, which helps keep skin tight, supple and diminishes the appearance of fine lines. It’s basically the fountain-of-youth in molecule form. But don’t be sworn off if you have naturally oily or pimple-prone skin. In fact, it’s a must-have antidote for dry, flaky skin brought on by a bout of drying acne products.

Where has hyaluronic acid been all your life? The one hiccup initially was that hyaluronic acid molecules are — by molecule standards — enormous, which made it impossible to penetrate the skin topically. However, in 2002 a Japanese scientist developed a Nobel-Prize-worthy method (literally, he won for this) that could reduce hyaluronic acid molecules to nano size so they were small enough to be able to cross the skin barrier.[2]

Researchers have found that when nano-ized hyaluronic acid is applied to skin topically, it improves skin in a number of ways. In fact, one 2014 study found that after just two weeks of treatment, hyaluronic acid decreased the depth of wrinkles, made skin more firm and elastic, and reduced skin roughness.[3]

Related: The Only Natural Retinol Alternative That Reverses Wrinkles, According to Experts

How to use hyaluronic acid topically

hyaluronic acid skin careYou’ll find HA in topical skin care products, like moisturizers and cleansers, as well as hyaluronic acid serums. Because it’s a naturally derived substance, hyaluronic acid shouldn’t pose any risks to to users, so it’s safe to use even on sensitive skin — and to apply morning and night. In skin care products, hyaluronic acid might come from plant oils or be created synthetically, via microbial fermentation. It is sometimes derived from the umbilical cord, joints of animals, or chicken combs. If vegan, cruelty-free products are a priority for you, be sure to check the label.[4]

Best hyaluronic acid serums to try

best hyaluronic acid serumsReady to load up your skin with HA? These serums pack the hydrating power of hyaluronic acid and they have the approval of the Environmental Working Group — so you don’t have to second-guess what you’re slathering all over your skin.

Goldfaden MD Needle-Less Line Smoothing Concentrate, $115

Seaweed extract and hyaluronic acid pair together for this tightening, lifting, and smoothing Botox alternative. Gluten- and paraben-free.

Be Natural Organics Hyaluronic Serum, $24

This serum features three different weights of hyaluronic acid molecules, which allows it to penetrate multiple layers of your skin. Good for sensitive skin, and won’t clog pores.

MyChelle Dermaceuticals Ultra Hyaluronic Hydrating Serum, $44

Moisturizing rosehip oil and anti-inflammatory squalene round out this hydrating serum.

How to use hyaluronic acid supplements

hyaluronic acid supplementsYou can also reap the benefits of hyaluronic acid by using an oral supplement. A double-blind Japanese study found that hyaluronic acid effectively boosted moisture and helped relieve dry skin when it was ingested daily for three or six weeks. Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that hyaluronic acid supplements gave people more supple, radiant skin, and diminished their wrinkles over 12 weeks.[5][6]

As a bonus, hyaluronic acid supplements may have benefits that go beyond skin deep. While hyaluronic acid is found in abundance in our skin, one of its primary purposes is lubricating our joints as well. So, it’s not surprising that research has found that hyaluronic acid supplements promote joint and bone health. For example, several studies indicate hyaluronic acid supplements may reduce knee pain related to osteoarthritis.[7][8] More surprising is that hyaluronic acid supplements may also help alleviate acid reflux symptoms. One study indicated that acid reflux medications were more effective at reducing symptoms when used along with a hyaluronic acid supplement.[9] 

Consider hyaluronic acid a booster for your daily collagen powder. Because HA enhances the body’s ability to produce and use collagen, it’ll help your collagen protein supplement work doubly hard to give you the radiant, smooth, supple skin you’re after.

Read Next: How Do Collagen Supplements Work? What the Science Says

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