Hyaluronic acid: what it is, how it affects your skin and the best products

Posted by for Beauty

It’s one of the most hydrating ingredients, but if misused, hyaluronic acid can actually dry out your skin. Here’s what you need to know.

There’s no doubt about the efficacy of hyaluronic acid; hailed as a skincare hero by experts and dermatologists alike, it’s a humectant (meaning it helps reduce the loss of moisture) that can hold up to 1000x its own weight in water.

Hyaluronic acid is a naturally-occuring substance that works to help retain the much-needed moisture that both skin and joints need, but as we get older levels tend to deplete which can lead to dullness and loss of elasticity along with fine lines and wrinkles.

Found in a whole load of products, its primary function is restoring and retaining moisture and is suitable for all skin types, including those with sensitive, acne-prone skin.

But despite being a miracle-worker, hyaluronic acid could end up drying out your skin if you’re not careful. Here’s the lowdown on the most effective way to use it…

What is hyaluronic acid and how does it work?

As Dr Sam Bunting, Harley Street dermatologist and founder of Dr Sam Skincare Club, explains: “It’s a water-holding gel with the ability to hold 1000 times its own weight in moisture. When it’s applied topically, skin acts as a highly-effective barrier and those hyaluronic acid molecules are too big to squeeze through the dermis (the layer of skin beneath the epidermis), which is where it needs to be to help plump lines and wrinkles.”

So instead, it sits on the skin’s surface and acts as a moisturiser through its humectant (water-attracting) properties.

“That means it draws water into skin to keep it hydrated, supple and makes sure it keeps it functioning effectively as a barrier,” says Dr Bunting.

Why could hyaluronic acid dry skin out?

If you’re applying hyaluronic acid to a very dry face, it can actually end up drawing moisture from the deeper levels of your skin, which in turn will cause more harm than good and leave your complexion feeling tight and uncomfortable.

It’s a problem that usually occurs when humidity levels are extremely low – meaning there’s a lack of moisture in the air. 

What’s the best way to use hyaluronic acid?

To counteract that issue, Sonia Deasy, founder of skincare brand Pestle & Mortar, always recommends layering hyaluronic acid serum with a moisturiser.

“It helps seal it into your skin and provides a barrier against moisture loss,” she explains.

Deasy also advises applying serum to damp – not completely dry – skin for better results. 

The best hyaluronic acid serums:

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Main image: Getty

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Lucy Partington

Lucy Partington is Stylist’s beauty editor. She’s obsessed with all things skincare, collecting eyeshadow palettes that she’ll probably never use, and is constantly on the hunt for the ultimate glowy foundation.

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