I see the term hyaluronic acid (HA) and my mind immediately goes to the L’Oréal Paris commercial with Eva Longoria, in which she teaches everyone how to pronounce the ingredient correctly. But just as hyaluronic acid becomes a mainstay, another ingredient pops into the skin-care universe and captures our attention all the same: polyglutamic acid, or PGA. However, the two aren’t necessarily interchangeable. Here’s the scoop.
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“Polyglutamic acid is a water-soluble peptide molecule found in the bacteria of fermented soybeans and can potentially hold four to five times more moisture than hyaluronic acid,” explains Dallas dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD. “The concept that a peptide can be hydrophilic enough to replace HA is intriguing, but PGA is small molecular weight, so likely it can,” adds New Orleans dermatologist Mary Lupo, MD.
Germantown, TN dermatologist Purvisha Patel, MD says that like HA, polyglutamic acid is a humectant with excellent water-binding capabilities. “It plumps surface skin cells and helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”
It also has a very low pH, which Santa Monica, CA dermatologist Ava Shamban, MD says allows it to absorb more moisture. “Absorption capacity increases with decrease in pH—1 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. PGA comes in at about 2.” Another factor that makes it a more effective moisture magnet than HA is its greater ability to inhibit hyaluronidase, the enzyme that actually breaks down hyaluronic acid in skin cells, causing moisture loss. (It’s also the solution used to dissolve hyaluronic acid-based facial fillers when a patient is overfilled or wants to reverse their treatment.)
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Experts agree the greatest benefits may come from combining the two ingredients in one formula, or using both an HA product and PGA product together. “Conventional wisdom and medicine would indicate that the enzyme [hyaluronidase] blocking is in and of itself a benefit both cellularly and transdermally to support any hyaluronic acid products,” says Dr. Shamban. “When HA is used alone on the skin, inevitably some moisture escapes and evaporates—PGA is like the extra insurance policy that acts as the ‘lock on the safe’ once the moisture is captured. Ultimately, we may see more hybrid versions combining both PGA and HA in the near future rather than one replacing the other.”
So why aren’t we seeing PGA in more skin-care products? Dr. Shamban says we will eventually, but it hasn’t received mainstream attention yet. It’s also more expensive than HA, notes Dr. Patel. “It is the both R&D, production, and overall, the consumer ‘adoption process’ that holds companies back from transitioning to a new hyped ingredient,” Dr. Shamban explains. “It took time, education, a considerable spend on marketing and other factors to get the consuming public to understand and embrace hyaluronic acid as their go-to for moisture, cellular hydration and skin plumping, so replacing it with a shiny new ingredient is not probable quickly. But expect PGA on the rise, and a hybrid of HA and PGA to become a very popular pairing as the next big round of products releases.”
One big product release that just debuted this week is Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Serum Crystal Elixir ($80), which contains PGA. Others include Kate Somerville’s Wrinkle Warrior ($95) and The Inkey List Polyglutamic Acid Hydrating Serum ($15).
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