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Why Hyaluronic Acid Is in Every Skincare Product Lately

It’s the most hardworking ingredient there is.

A tub of light green cream. Photo: Instagram @youthtothepeople

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It’s really easy to get overwhelmed shopping for skincare. Between the bizarre-sounding ingredients (“vital energies”?), neologisms, and lofty promises that never deliver, it’s hard to know what to slap on your face. Lately, though, hyaluronic acid has been the hottest skincare ingredient this side of Sephora. It’s not sexy. It’s not derived from a rare plant that only grows in the Himalayas for three weeks out of the year. It’s cheap. Dermatologists love it. And darn it, it actually does things. (This product is a Racked favorite.)

So what is it?

Hyaluronic acid (HA) occurs naturally in your joints, eyes, and deeper in the skin. It cushions joints and is important for keeping moisture in your skin, protecting it, and assisting in healing. HA is actually a polysaccharide, a sugar compound. It’s not an acid-y acid in the sense that it will burn and exfoliate like glycolic acid, for example. You’ll sometimes see it on ingredient lists as sodium hyaluronate, a version of HA that is a smaller molecule size.

How does it work?

It’s a humectant, which means as a skincare ingredient, it sits on top of the skin and attracts water to itself, much like Rihanna with admirers anytime she goes anywhere. (Hyaluronic acid is also the ingredient in injectable fillers like Restylane and Juvederm.) The most famous stat associated with HA is that it can hold 1,000 times its weight in water. It’s basically a molecular sponge, pulling water from the environment.

What does that mean for your face?

When your skin is parched, that can manifest in more visible fine lines, sagging skin, and dullness. You know that plumping effect that everyone is always after? Hyaluronic acid can give that to you, albeit temporarily. The HA molecules swell up and temporarily fill in lines, make skin look more supple, and get rid of dry patches.

How do you use it?

Hyaluronic acid is really watery, so it is generally available in non-oily serums, in lighter weight gel creams, and as one ingredient in thicker emollient creams. (While humectants attract water, emollients seal moisture in.)

Does it have any side effects?

Not really! Like anything, it can cause allergic reactions, but it’s rare. Some people report that in really dry climates where there’s not much environmental moisture, HA can actually make your skin feel drier. Experiment with adding an emollient cream on top to seal moisture in.

What are some serums I can try?

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 ($6.80): The most basic of all the formulas here, this a great entry-level serum to try from a brand that is blowing up in popularity due to its formulas and ridiculously low price point.

Hanskin Hyaluron Skin Essence ($46): This Korean brand is a bit more elegant. Apply it like a toner with a cotton round — it dries down without any residue.

Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Serum ($56): This is a more heavy-duty serum with a higher concentration of HA.

Skinceuticals HA Intensifier ($98): Anything this brand makes is hardcore, and this product is no exception. It contains HA and also claims to have ingredients that help your skin to make its own.

What about creams?

Olay Age Defying Advanced Gel Cream Moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid for Dry Skin ($19.99): Olay’s products are consistently great, and this gel version is perfect for people who hate heavy creams but want more than a serum.

Fresh Rose Deep Hydration Face Cream ($40): This combination of hyaluronic acid and emollients is a more protective cream, plus it smells really good.

Youth to the People Kale + Spinach Green Tea Hyaluronic Acid Age Prevention Cream ($48): This is another heavy-duty cream that contains antioxidants as well as HA and skin protectants.

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