Hyaluronic acid is a moisturizing ingredient widely used in cosmetics. It has many qualities indeed and is well tolerated by the skin. However, not all hyaluronic acids are equal. So let’s have a little chat about this supposedly magic hydrating ingredient!
A cosmetic ingredient that can retain up to 1000 times its weight in water, not very expensive to produce, that is already naturally present in the skin (hence it being well tolerated by the skin), it seems to be the perfect moisturizing ingredient!
In reality, as often, it’s a bit more complex than that, as you’ll see… wink
◊ Nota bene:
In this article, I only talk about hyaluronic acid used in cosmetics, not hyaluronic acid injections like fillers (I never tried them, so I don’t feel very legitimate to talk about them wink ).
What is hyaluronic acid?
Hyaluronic acid is a molecule naturally present in the skin (from 50 to 70%). It’s usually more present in the deep layers of the skin.
It’s a sugar derivative, a glycosaminoglycan, and it’s one of the most important elements of the extracellular matrix. This matrix, which also includes proteins such as collagen and elastin, forms the support structure of the skin and is responsible for its smooth and firm appearance.
The production of hyaluronic acid is constant, and it has a high turnover, it’s synthesized as quickly as it’s degraded. As you age, the process accelerates, and the amount of hyaluronic acid in the skin decreases. This decrease is responsible, among other things, for the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines and the loss of firmness of the skin.
It also has the property of attracting and retaining a large amount of water (up to 1000 times its weight in water) by forming an elastic gel. It’s this ability which, among other things, gives volume and elasticity to young skin. As you get older (after 25), the amount of hyaluronic acid in the skin decreases and the skin gradually loses its plumpy appearance.
Hyaluronic acid in cosmetics:
In cosmetics, hyaluronic acid is mostly used as a moisturizing ingredient. It moisturizes the skin and plumps it, both on the surface and in the deeper layers.
Indeed, depending on the size of its molecules (= different molecular weights), it’s able to penetrate the more or less deep layers of the skin, and its effects will also vary.
There are indeed several hyaluronic acids, and they are differentiated by the size of their molecules (yep, size matters wink ).
– The larger molecules of hyaluronic acid (= with a high molecular weight) will form a film on the surface of the skin that will maintain its hydration. This film also has a tightening and smoothing effect on the surface of the skin and the wrinkles. Be aware though, this anti-wrinkle effect is temporary, it doesn’t repair the skin deeply.
In a cosmetic product list of ingredients, you can find them under the name “Hyaluronic Acid“.
– Medium-sized hyaluronic acid molecules (= with a medium molecular weight) penetrate the upper layers of the skin to attract and retain water, moisturizing it more deeply. This plumping effect also reduces the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
In the list of ingredients, they’re called “Sodium Hyaluronate“.
– Smaller molecules of hyaluronic acid (= with a low molecular weight) also penetrate the upper layers of the skin to moisturize deeply and plump it, but they also have a repairing and regenerating effect on the support fibers of the skin. These smaller molecules have a more anti-aging effect. These are fairly recent molecules, and few brands use them for the moment.
In an INCI formula, this ingredient is known as “Hydrolyzed Sodium Hyaluronate“.
Ideally, it’s better to use a product that contains several hyaluronic acids or more precisely several molecular weights of hyaluronic acid, in order to moisturize and plump the skin on the surface and deeper.
One of the big advantages of hyaluronic acid is that it’s suitable for all skin types. Indeed, no matter if your skin is dry, oily, sensitive, acne-prone or mature, it always needs to be hydrated. And hyaluronic acid is not an “oily” ingredient, it really affects the ability of the skin to retain water (it prevents water from evaporating from the skin). This effect is called a “humectant” effect.
♦ Using hyaluronic acid in a dry environment:
I wanted to talk about a problem I often heard about recently. Over the past few weeks I have frequently read that using a hyaluronic acid product in a dry environment (like my place at the moment, with the constant air conditioning) can dry out the skin.
Indeed, hyaluronic acid, with its humectant effect, acts a bit like a sponge, and it absorbs the hydration of the air to retain it in the skin. But if the surrounding air is too dry, it sucks up the water contained… in the skin!
To fight this undesirable effect, thankfully it’s not very complicated, it’s better to use a hyaluronic acid based product in the form of a serum, an essence or a lotion rather than a cream, and to apply it on a slightly wet skin and to “seal” the hydration provided by hyaluronic acid with an oil or even just a moisturizing cream over it. If you do this in a humid environment, like your bathroom after you had your shower, it’s even better! wink
And I can assure you that I had no dehydration problem with my hyaluronic acid products with this method (I remind you that living in Dubai, I have literally survived thanks to air conditioning for months ^^).
♦ Where does the hyaluronic acid used in cosmetics come from?
A few years ago, the hyaluronic acid molecule was often derived from a source of animal origin (vitreous humor of the ox eye, shark skin or cockerel crests) (yummy! uneasy ).
It is now obtained through biotechnology, thanks to bacterial fermentation. This new molecule is therefore adapted to the vegan lifestyle, and is also cruelty-free.
How to add hyaluronic acid in your skincare routine?
Personally, I prefer to use more concentrated formulas, with several molecular weights of hyaluronic acid and as I explained above, ideally in the form of serums or essences, to be able to seal all this hydration with an oil or a moisturizing cream underneath.
Hyaluronic acid is very simple to incorporate into a skincare routine. You can use it in the morning, in the evening also, all year round if you want without it becoming an issue.
It is also suitable for all ages and all skin types. It’s not greasy, doesn’t clog pores. In short, it’s really a very easy ingredient! smile
The hyaluronic acid based products I use at the moment:
♦ Hada Labo Gokujyun Hyaluronic Acid Lotion (Light):
This Japanese lotion is more like an “essence” (a product between a toner and a serum) and is a cult product in Asia. Tons of this lotion are sold every year in Japan, and Asian beauty lovers know it very well.
There are several versions of this lotion, and it was quite complicated to understand the differences between them. Especially as I have the impression that the same product is known under several names. I saw it under the brand name Hada Labo, but also Hadalabo and also Rohto Hada Labo. Even the name of the product may vary: Hyaluronic Lotion or Hyaluronic Acid Lotion. It was not easy to be sure I got the right product!
From what I understand, this lotion exists in 3 (or 4?) versions (yes, I told you it was complicated lol):
– the Light version for combination skins (the one I have). Its packaging is blue and green.
– the Classic version for all skin types. Its packaging is blue and red.
(- the Moist version. I have a doubt about this one because I didn’t understand if it was the same version as the Classic version reformulated or if it was a completely different lotion.) (I even saw a Milky version with a blue and pink packaging ???) (if you have any information, feel free to leave me a comment smile )
– the Premium version: richer in texture, it’s suitable for mature and/or very dry skin. Its packaging is yellow and blue.
A more detailed presentation is on my new website, btyaly.com smile
I hesitated a lot between the Light and the Classic versions because, according to some websites, the list of ingredients indicated the presence of alcohol (which I try to avoid) in the ingredient list of the Light version. But I finally came across a website that is a reference in Japanese cosmetics (ratzillacosme.com) which explained that the Light version had been reformulated in 2013 and that alcohol was no longer part of the ingredients.
Obviously, when I received the product, impossible to check if it was the case or not as all the inscriptions on the product are in Japanese… -_-
Well, considering what I read here or there, I do think that the Light version doesn’t contain alcohol anymore. And when I use it, it doesn’t feel like there is any alcohol in it.
Here is the complete ingredient list of the Hada Labo Gokujyun Hyaluronic Acid Lotion (Light):
Water, Dipropylene Glycol Dimethyl Ether, Glycerin, Disodium Succinate, Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid, Methylparaben, PPG-20 Methyl Glucose Ether, Sodium Acetylated Hyaluronate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Succinic Acid.
This lotion contains the three different molecular weights of hyaluronic acid for a surface and deep hydration. This product is a real hydrator, closer to a serum than a toner.
It is fragrance-free, colorless, silicone free, mineral oil free and its pH is close to the skin pH (I talked about the importance of pH in my last article on face cleansers if you want to know more about this topic wink ). However, it contains paraben. I don’t have any problem with that, but still, I prefer pointing it out.
I apply it every morning on my face and neck, after my toner and before my serum. Its texture looks like a kind of liquid jelly. I take a few drops in my hand, I spread it quickly between my palms, and I apply it on the face and neck in patting motions (I don’t really massage, patting is better with this type of texture).
You can apply it morning and evening, but I use another product in the evening (The Ordinary one I speak about below).
I’ve been using it for almost two months now, and I love it! It’s a light texture, but I feel its effectiveness, it helped me plump my skin, and I find it already more dense than before. My makeup lasts better too, and it doesn’t make me look shiny, on the contrary. In short, it’s a great discovery! When I finish the bottle, I think I’ll try the Classic version to see if there is any difference. smile
You can find the Hada Labo Gokujyun Hyaluronic Acid Lotion on Amazon for a price around $12 (yes, it’s quite affordable).
◊ Nota bene:
I did some research to see if this product was cruelty-free and I’m not sure at all, the information on it isn’t very clear. So if it’s an important topic for you, maybe you’ll be more interested in the product below which is vegan and cruelty-free
♦ The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5:
The Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 concentrate is one of the most popular products of the brand The Ordinary. I will kill the suspense right away, among all of the The Ordinary products I tried, it’s not necessarily my favorite. It’s not a bad product, far from it really, but for an equivalent action, there are other products that I prefer. However, the other options are more expensive! The Ordinary is definitely one with the best value for money in the market.
It’s a serum, you usually apply it before your moisturizer (day and/or night). It’s a gel texture, rather viscous and a little sticky when you apply it. It penetrates very quickly on the skin, but I try not to massage it too much, I also prefer to pat it into the skin.
Composition wise, it contains three different weights of hyaluronic acid and a crosspolymer of hyaluronic acid for hydration at the surface and in the deeper layers of the skin. These various hyaluronic acids are also paired with vitamin B5, a repairing and anti-inflammatory ingredient and also some hydrating glycerin.
It’s silicone-free, fragrance-free, alcohol-free, cruelty-free and vegan.
Here is the full ingredient list:
Aqua (Water), Sodium Hyaluronate, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Panthenol, Ahnfeltia Concinna Extract, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Propanediol, Polyacrylate Crosspolymer-6, PPG-26-Buteth-26, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Citric Acid, Ethoxydiglycol, Caprylyl Glycol, Hexylene Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin.
I have been using it every night for a little less than two months, and although I find the results rather convincing (my skin is well hydrated and plumpier), the texture is not the nicest to use. The gel is fairly viscous and a bit sticky. If I had to choose, I prefer the lotion Hada Labo which has exactly the same action but has a more “elegant” texture and is nicer to use.
Now, I spotted (OK, maybe I already bought it! ^^)(but I haven’t tried it yet) the serum Niod Multi Molecular Hyaluronic Complex, another brand from the Deciem company, which is also a moisturizing concentrate based on hyaluronic acids, but it contains 12 different HA (!). Well, clearly, it’s not the same price at all (around $50), but all this exciting technology when you’re a skincare geek like me is too hard to resist! wink
The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 is available on Deciem’s website for $6.80.
And you, do you use hyaluronic acid in your skincare routine? Tempted?
Photo credit: bonnie-garner.com
EDIT 04/05/18: I won’t review products from the group Deciem (The Ordinary, Hylamide, Niod etc) anymore here and on my new website. I completely stopped buying them because I don’t support the behavior of their CEO, Brandon Truaxe. If you’re not aware of the situation, just go have a look at Deciem’s Instagram account, you’ll see what I’m talking about.