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Understanding hyaluronic acid

Understanding hyaluronic acid

Adding hyaluronic acid to your skincare regime can help to reduce fine lines and wrinkles
woman applying serum on face
Representational image | Shutterstock

Of late, there seems to be a buzz around hyaluronic acid (HA). Hard to pronounce as it may be, it creeps up in almost every conversation around skincare and on almost every shop shelf. It is a key ingredient in serums, moisturisers, cleansers and creams, and all products that emphasise skin hydration.

What is hyaluronic acid?

HA is a lubricating agent that is naturally produced by the human body. It is found throughout the body, especially in the joints, eyes, and skin. While its oil-like property prevents bones from rubbing against each other, its hydrating property keeps the eyes and skin moisturised.

Calling it the best polymer for absorbing water, the Cleveland Clinic says, a quarter teaspoon of HA can hold about one and a half gallons of water.

For skincare nerds: Polymers are naturally occurring or synthetic substances composed of very large molecules that are units of smaller molecules called monomers linked together. The complicated chain-like structure of polymers has plenty of bonding sites where other chemical compounds, like water, can latch on to. The same structure can act like a protective layer allowing tissues to grow, which helps to heal wounds.

Dr Mikki Singh, founder and head dermatologist at Bodycraft Clinic, Bengaluru, lists out these key benefits of HA:

  • It hydrates and moisturises our skin
  • It also helps tighten the skin and increase its elasticity thereby, reducing fine lines and wrinkles
  • It is known to help reduce scars and heal wounds faster
  • It helps in reducing skin irritation and dermatitis

Bengaluru-based cosmetologist and dermatologist, Dr Kisalay Saurav Jha, agrees, “Products containing HA not only keep the skin moisturised but also help to reduce fine lines and wrinkles.” They are used to arrest skin ageing.

An answer to plump skin?

Dr Bansari Davda, consultant dermatologist, and cosmetologist based in Chennai, says , “HA acts like a sponge for dry or dehydrated skin cells. It attracts 1,000 times its weight in water and hence acts as an effective moisturiser to the skin.”

Studies have shown that the presence of HA on the skin starts reducing with age, which hampers the skin’s ability to absorb and retain water. Dr Davda explains: “With age and sun exposure, naturally occurring HA decreases in the skin. Hence, incorporating products with the acid helps in improving skin hydration, skin firmness, elasticity, decreasing fine lines and wrinkles over time after regular usage,” explains Dr Davda.

Can everyone use HA?

“HA is suitable for all skin types – oily, acne-prone, sensitive skin,” adds Dr Davda. According to her, individuals with oily skin can opt for lightweight serums, and those with dry skin can go for thicker cream variants.

Explaining the right way to use products with HA, she says, “HA is a ‘humectant’ and attracts water from its surroundings to keep the skin hydrated and supple. So, if there isn’t enough moisture in your environment or your skin is already dry, HA can make your skin more dehydrated if applied directly. The correct way to apply HA is on damp skin followed by a moisturiser.” HA serums also need to be locked in by a moisturiser for best results.

Can HA be layered with other actives?

Generally, it is safe enough to be layered with active ingredients such as retinol, Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA), Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA), and salicylic acid. But for those with sensitive or severe skin conditions, it is advisable to always consult a medical professional before layering different ingredients.

Any side effects?

Since HA is naturally produced by the human body, using its external derivatives or products cannot cause any side effects when applied topically on the skin, say experts. “HA is generally a safe ingredient. But as a rule of thumb, always do a patch test while trying out new products for the first time,” says Dr Singh.

Dr Davda suggests some effective ways to use HA

  • Creams and moisturisers with HA should be applied after cleansing the face properly
  • HA serums should be applied on damp and clean skin. Always wash the face before applying the serum
  • Always layer the serum with a moisturiser afterward for best results
  • Not using a moisturiser after an HA serum can cause dryness

Products containing HA

  • It is mostly found in moisturisers or lotions/creams. These products help to moisturise the skin, and improve elasticity, thereby decreasing the depth of wrinkles
  • HA serums are extremely effective for those with dry skin, if it is followed by a moisturiser
  • HA face masks provide the skin with a fresh glow and reduce irritation and redness. These tend to be lighter than other face masks which can be too much for people with oily or sensitive skin
  • Sunscreens containing HA help to maintain firmer skin, and protect it from UV radiation
  • Cleansers with HA are good for those with dry and combination skin as it does not strip off excess oils, and provide better hydration to the skin

Study on Advantages of Hyaluronic Acid and Its Combination with Other Bioactive Ingredients in Cosmeceuticals, Published July 2021

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