What exactly is Hyaluronic Acid?

What exactly is Hyaluronic Acid?

Hyaluronic Acid (HA) is a big name in the aesthetics marketplace primarily due to the evolving dermal filler market. Medically injected Hyaluronic Acid has been used now for over 20 years. Hyaluronic Acid has been used in skincare products for decades as well. So, why now has the ingredient become so popular? And, should you be using an HA product in your skincare regimen? As with most skincare questions, there is no easy answer, and the science behind Hyaluronic Acid has been debated among skincare scientists for decades.

However, here are a few things we do know to be true about HA's:

1. Hyaluronic Acid is a “hydrator” not a “moisturizer”. Think of it as a drink of water for your skin. Or imagine adding water to a shriveled up sponge. Immediately the water plumps and expands the sponge (your skin), but over time the sponge will ultimately dry up if not watered regularly. The “sponge” cannot water itself but relies on continuous watering to keep it moist. Your skin reacts to Hyaluronic Acid similarly. Daily application of a simple HA product will make your skin appear smoother and plumper, but will not continue to reap the same benefits once you discontinue use of the product. However, there are some new forms of Hyaluronic Acid that are precursors and are said to stimulate your body to make more of its own HA. We will discuss these forms later.

2. Hyaluronic Acid molecules are too large to penetrate the skin. Therefore they sit on top of the skin and form a hydrophilic film. Some companies now are attempting to chop up and hydrolyze Hyaluronic Acid molecules to a lower molecular weight. The idea is to break down the molecule in hope to give it better odds of penetrating your skin, but almost all forms of HA do not enter the skin at all. This doesn’t mean that the product “doesn’t work”; it just has more of a superficial (but beneficial) result. Think of a Hyaluronic Acid product as a daily enhancer, similar to makeup.

3. Hyaluronic Acid is a humectant that can hold up to 1000x its weight in water. Which means that HA can attract water from outside sources and draw it into your skin. This is meaningful for a couple different reasons. First, you want to remember to apply your HA product prior to a typical moisturizer because the HA can pull and trap the moisture for other products into the skin. Second, the hydrophilic HA molecule can attract water from the air (humidity) and draw it into your skin. However, there are studies that show if you live in an extremely dry climate, the HA will actually draw moisture out of the deep skin layers to the HA barrier, which will ultimately cause your skin to be dryer. One study states that humidity must be greater than 70% in order for Hyaluronic Acid to pull moisture from the air.

4. Hyaluronic Acid is actually not a true “acid”. When we think of acids we think of our BHA and AHA products. HAs are quite the opposite of typical exfoliating acids. In fact, only Hyaluronic Acid in its true form is an acid at all, meaning it is the only form of HA that has a lower, acidic pH.


For most HA serums and products you will see the ingredient Sodium Hyaluronate (SH), which has been the most commonly used form of Hyaluronic Acid for many reasons. First, it has a smaller molecular weight which allows it to penetrate deeper (but still pretty superficial as discussed earlier). Secondly, SH has a more basic pH which makes it mix better with other ingredients.
Hyaluronic Acid in its true form can be hard to work with. It has a low pH hence the “acid” part of its name, and can be unstable when mixed with other ingredients. Furthermore, Hyaluronic Acid is an expensive ingredient that might not be worth the price tag if not formulated correctly. However, when actual Hyaluronic Acid is formulated correctly, it can reap major benefits that Sodium Hyaluronate cannot, like producing collagen production and hyaluronic acid synthesis. We know this mainly due to the studies on in-office injectable hyaluronic acid fillers.

Now, there have been many other forms of HA that have been introduced to the market. These are HA derivatives, precursors, salts, and cross polymers. Scientists are chopping up hyaluronic acid in attempts to drive the product deeper. Also, these different Hyaluronic Acid derivatives have varying molecular weight which seem to synchronize harmoniously with one another, creating a higher quality product


Well, the easy answer is anyone who wants to look great that day. Since Hyaluronic Acid causes the skin to look immediately smoother and plumper, most people use it everyday that put on makeup and get dressed. Really the only people who shouldn’t use a hyaluronic acid product are people who have extremely dry skin, live in an extremely dry climate, or is always outside. Acne prone skin can really benefit from HA products as well since it hydrates the surface of the skin signals the body to produce less oil. Treating oily and acneic skin with an HA serum can be a great first step to building confidence in “moisturizing” these skin types.

In conclusion, EVERY skin type can benefit from a Hyaluronic Acid serum. There should be no breakouts or side effects from using an HA product.

Comments on this post (1)

  • Oct 14, 2021

    Hi, nice article. I have a question on how to use it when layering with other serums. Many blogs has suggested to use serums in increasing order of ph , with 5 minutes gap in between. Since HA is a humectant, Minimalist has mentioned to use HA before Vit C or other serums. But their HA has ph of 6.0 to 7.0 while their other serums have low ph than HA. So, question is should we ignore the ph order and use HA before other serums ( like Vit C which has very low ph compared to HA) becoz it’s a humectant? Or layer serums in the increasing order of ph value?

    — Nivedita

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