Hyaluronic Acid 101: The Basics of the Superstar Skin-Care Ingredient

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Hyaluronic acid is one of those skin care ingredients that we all just know we need. After all, this buzzy word is slapped on the packaging of many top skin-care products, and if you ask any expert about it, theyʼll often speak about it with a fervor comparable to video game fanatics talking about the latest Playstation console drop.

Truth be told, hyaluronic acid–based products really are that good. And in honor of National Hyaluronic Acid Day, we decided it was the perfect time to break down exactly why you need to incorporate this ingredient into your skin-care routine. Here, we tapped two top dermatologists to help explain everything you need to know about this superstar ingredient.

What is hyaluronic acid?

“Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a sugar molecule that acts as a potent humectant,” says Nanuet, NY dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, MD. Hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in the body and decreases as we age. Dr. Waldorf adds the ingredient holds up to 1,000 times its weight in water, drawing in water at the skinʼs surface. Translation: Itʼs a mega-hydrator thatʼll give your complexion that sought-after plump and dewy appearance. Plus, because of its major skin-plumping power, it can also soften the appearance of fine lines.

“Hyaluronic acid plays a critical role in optimizing the hydration in the skin,” adds New York dermatologist Michelle Henry, MD. “Skin looks and feels best when it is well hydrated which is also why hyaluronic acid is such an important ingredient in skin care.”

Why is hyaluronic acid important for the skin?

“With time our natural hyaluronic reserves are reduced and we’re less capable of hydrating our skin naturally,” explains Dr. Henry. As these levels decrease, the skin begins to appear dehydrated, less supple and fine lines may appear more prominent. “I often recommend hyaluronic acid-containing products during the winter months when our skin is further compromised by the dry cold air and the dry heat indoors,” says Dr. Henry.

“By absorbing and holding on to water both from external and internal sources, hyaluronic acid helps to maintain skin hydration, which in turn helps maintain a healthy skin barrier,” says Dr. Waldorf. By adding hyaluronic acid into your routine, youʼll help lock in water deep into the dermis, leaving skin hydrated, visibly smoother and glowing.

How should you incorporate hyaluronic acid into your routine?

Unlike many other active ingredients, Dr. Henry notes hyaluronic acid is safe for all skin types. “Anyone can use it, it is very well-tolerated and there are many formulations to accommodate all skin types,” says the expert.

While hyaluronic acid is found in various skin care products—cleansers, moisturizers, and eye creams included—our favorite way to incorporate it into our routine is through potent serums. “Serums are an easy way of getting actives into the skin while layering products because they donʼt include occlusive (sealing) ingredients,” Dr. Waldorf explains, noting that applying a serum first allows products applied over it to be absorbed. “This also means that a cream or lotion should be applied over it to maintain moisturization.”

The La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum ($30) is an optimal serum choice as it combines pure hyaluronic acid with vitamin B5 and glycerin to soothe and nourish the skin more effectively. As Dr. Henry notes, “it has a high concentration of hyaluronic acid making it quite effective at drawing in hydration to the skin.”

As an added bonus, itʼs dermatologist-tested, suitable for sensitive skin, and oil-free, meaning it wonʼt clog pores or cause breakouts. Dr. Waldorf is also a fan of the serum: “Itʼs light and can be applied before other products both prescription and over-the-counter to add moisture without weight,” she says.

“As with all serums, I like to apply them first to clean skin,” explains Dr. Henry. “The order of application in skin care should be thinnest to thickest: cleanser, toner, serum, and then moisturizer to lock in the hydration that the hyaluronic acid is providing.”

To use, simply apply three to four drops to your skin every morning and night before slathering on your usual moisturizer. For an even bigger hydration boost, follow up the serum with the La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Facial Moisturizer with SPF ($20). Not only will your skin feel moisturized, but it will also be protected from skin damaging UV rays throughout the day. Talk about a win-win.

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