Ingredient Spotlight: Hyaluronic Acid

Ingredient Spotlight: Hyaluronic Acid

Hello and welcome to our blog!

This week, we’re covering hyaluronic acid. Now, we know this is a very trendy ingredient right now and you may have heard a lot about this one already. But don’t click away yet because this is not your typical look at this popular humectant.

Keep reading to explore what this molecule is and its role in our skin. We will also be chatting about how to improve skin hydration over time instead of the temporary results that hyaluronic acid serums deliver.

What Is Hyaluronic Acid?

Found in countless skincare formulations, hyaluronic acid has been getting a lot of buzz the last few years. Typically seen in its salt form - sodium hyaluronate - this humectant can attract and bind moisture. However, that is really the only established benefit as far as topical hyaluronic acid goes… despite some of the marketing you may have seen. 


In skincare, hyaluronic acid is more of a supporting cast member. Or it should be at least. Look for it combined with other hydrating or emollient ingredients as well as more proven active ingredients like pigment inhibitors or antioxidants. But we will get more into that in a bit. Hyaluronic acid also occurs naturally in our skin and it’s so much more than “just a humectant” there.

Hyaluronic Acid in the Body

Hyaluronic acid is a polysaccharide, a type of carbohydrate made from repeating smaller sugars called monosaccharide units. In the case of HA, it’s made up of N-Acetyl Glucosamine and Glucuronic Acid.

It has many other definitions and roles too though depending on location and function:


It’s a glycosaminoglycan (also called a mucopolysaccharide), a type of complex polysaccharide found in most tissues that play  important biological roles - like the one HA does in wound healing. 


It’s an example of a biopolymer, a natural polymer occurring in living organisms and made up of repeating monomers. Hyaluronic acid is also a component of our Natural Moisturizing Factor, the endogenous humectants located inside the skin cells that make up our skin barrier.


When found in the body, it’s often just called “hyaluron” or “hyaluronate.” We will be focusing on the role of this humectant within our skin.

Molecular Weight and HA

Now, you may have heard of molecular weight referenced in regards to hyaluronic acid in skincare products. The skin barrier is designed to keep things out - particularly water soluble ingredients above a certain size like HA.


Low molecular weight hyaluronic acid (LMW-HA) is believed to penetrate a little more into the skin barrier than high molecular weight but neither are getting very deep when applied topically. They both have their benefits though.


High molecular weight hyaluronic acid (HMW-HA)  is typically going to be that large polysaccharide chain we discussed, made up of smaller units. Because it’s a biopolymer, it’s both a film-forming agent and humectant. Typically, humectants bind and attract moisture from various sources (like the moisture rich dermis) but can also evaporate from the skin surface and worsen dehydration if not used properly. HMW HA can form a film and you’ll typically see less trans epidermal water loss (TEWL) observed.


LMW-HA, on the other hand, has been chemically chopped up into HA fragments. Without an occlusive moisturizer, it’s going to evaporate from the skin surface and worsen TEWL. Interestingly enough, even topically it appears to stimulate the skin’s innate immunity. Preliminary research showed improvement for both seborrheic dermatitis and rosacea when a LMW-HA gel is used.


In the skin itself, the molecular weight serves as an even more important distinction. HMW-HA has anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties. It’s believed that in the presence of injury, it splinters into HA fragments. LMW-HA plays a key role in inflammatory processes and even has antioxidant properties.


It’s important not to fall into the trap of thinking “anti-inflammatory is good” while “pro-inflammatory is bad.” This is an argument we’ve seen in regards to HA and molecular weight. As shown in the topical studies, LMW-HA actually showed beneficial results in inflammatory skin disorders and in the body, inflammatory processes are vital. It’s only chronic or excessive inflammation that is of concern typically. 


Hopefully this section on hyaluronic acid has helped highlight its importance. We don’t want to put you to sleep so before we wrap things up, let’s discuss skincare formulations and increasing hyaluronic acid synthesis in the skin.

Hyaluronic Acid in Skincare 

If you’ve been in Sephora, a drugstore, or just follow a beauty influencer online then chances are you’ve seen the many hyaluronic acid serums on the market. Many brands are capitalizing on the trend and adding this ingredient to their products.


The drawback with a product that contains only hyaluronic acid is that the hydration it imparts is only temporary. And while hydration has several benefits from improving skin appearance to aiding in desquamation (the skin’s exfoliation process), it won’t have the results of some of the more proven skincare ingredients like retinoids or Vitamin C.


Here is what we suggest looking for in the ingredient deck of your products alongside that hyaluronic acid:


  • Other humectants like glycerin, peptides, amino acids, and sodium PCA to boost the hydration that product offers 
  • Ingredients like niacinamide, ceramides, cholesterol, urea, and alpha hydroxy acids that can improve skin hydration long term 
  • HA precursors glucuronic acid and N-acetyl glucosamine could potentially help HA levels in the skin 
  • Proven ingredients like Vitamin C, retinoids, and niacinamide as the star ingredient and hyaluronic acid and other humectants as the supporting cost 

TIP: Our NEWA Liquid Gold serum not only features multiple humectants but features ingredients shown to enhance radio frequency results 

Now, the formulation is important but so is how you use it. Water based hydrators like serums should be applied on damp skin immediately after cleansing (or after your NEWA treatment) and then locked in with a moisturizer. That way moisture is drawn to the epidermis where we want it - but doesn’t evaporate.

Lastly, don’t forget that our NEWA devices don’t just trigger new collagen and elastin formation. Your NEWA treatments help increase the synthesis of glycosaminoglycans like hyaluronic acid.

So what’s the takeaway here?

Hyaluronic acid is a vital component in our skin, one that is affected by the aging process. But don’t let all the buzz fool you, this doesn’t automatically apply to the topical hyaluronic acid you’re putting on your face. Be a smart consumer and pick solid formulations that will do more than just temporarily hydrate. And don’t forget to stay consistent with your NEWA!

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