There are just some skincare ingredients that are universally loved. Those ingredients that just work for every skin type and every goal. One of those ingredients I think many of us are thinking of right now is hyaluronic acid.
Hyaluronic acid is sort of the wunderkind of the skincare world and the darling of skincare marketers. Hyaluronic acid seems to work for all skin types and has some impressive results, and marketing departments love it because it’s a well-researched ingredient that allows for some pretty incredible claims.
In fact, it’s due to this marketing that most of us instinctively know the benefits of hyaluronic acid without much promoting. When you think hyaluronic acid, you think hydration.
But can we name the drawbacks of hyaluronic acid?
Are there even any?
Oh yes, there are, and due to fabulous marketing, you probably don’t know too much about them.
Myth #1 Hyaluronic Acid is Amazing for Anti-Aging
Hyaluronic acid is actually naturally produced by our bodies to help lubricate and cushion joints, eyes, hair and skin. As you age, your body stops producing as much of the good stuff, including hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is a component of what makes your skin elastic, plump and supple, so it makes sense to add it back into your skin through skincare products as a way to fight the signs of aging, right?
The molecular weight of hyaluronic acid is about 3,000nm, which makes it too big to enter the pores of human skin, which are about 15-50nm. That means that hyaluronic acid, applied topically through skincare products, cannot penetrate the skin.
While hyaluronic acid can still work to draw hydration to the skin and help plump it up, it can only produce temporary benefits because it just cannot penetrate the skin in order to deliver more meaningful results.
The only way that hyaluronic acid helps solve anti-aging concerns long term is through hyaluronic acid injections which can plump the skin for about 6 months.
Myth #2 Hyaluronic Acid Produces Long Term Benefits
This myth definitely ties into myth #1. Since hyaluronic acid is not absorbed at all by the skin, it can’t deliver anything but temporary results, and this is aggravated even further by the fact that your body wants to turn over hyaluronic acid quickly.
Since hyaluronic acid is naturally produced by the body, it is recognized by our bodies in its topical, skincare form. Which means that the body will turn over its own hyaluronic acid AND the hyaluronic acid in your skincare products quickly. Like every 24-hrs. quickly, and often even sooner than that.
This is a two-punch hit that renders hyaluronic acid very ineffective in the long run. Hyaluronic acid can’t be depended on to deliver any long-lasting benefits to the skin.
*NOTE: There is now a new form of hyaluronic acid called multi-molecular hyaluronic acid which is basically hyaluronic acid molecules that have been cut up into smaller sizes that CAN penetrate your skin. However, today we are only going to concern ourselves with good old-fashioned hyaluronic acid.
Myth #3 Hyaluronic Acid is Great for Dry or Dehydrated Skin
This is probably the biggest myth surrounding hyaluronic acid, and one that I have believed for many years.
Hyaluronic acid is a humectant moisturizer, which means that it doesn’t contain its own moisturizing ingredients inside its molecules, instead, its moisturizing powers come from its ability to attract and retain water from the air. It is so powerful at this, it can, in fact, attract and retain about 1,000 times its own weight in water!
That sounds like a dehydrated skin types’ dream, doesn’t it?
Not so fast.
This process works great in humid climates because there’s a lot of water to be drawn from the air. But what about air that is dry?
When the climate is dry, hyaluronic acid doesn’t have the water in the air to “feed” on. And since hyaluronic acid can’t tell the difference between the water in the air or the water in your skin, it will draw the water right out of your skin.
That’s right, hyaluronic acid can actually dehydrate your skin.
And as dry and dehydrated skin types know, once that water is on the top of your skin it will quickly evaporate into the air, never to be heard from again.
Which means hyaluronic acid will actually work in reverse to dry out your skin when you are in dry, and arid climates (and don’t discount the dry air created by air conditioning or heating inside).
The Final Word
So should you completely abandon hyaluronic acid?
No. These myths are mostly associated with products that are purely or mostly made of hyaluronic acid. If the product lists hyaluronic acid as one of 20 other ingredients and isn’t the star ingredient, you are probably just fine.
But if you live in a desert, dry or arid climate, you may want to back off the pure HA serums. Personally, I avoid my hyaluronic acid toners and creams in the winter and gravitate back towards them in the summer.
It’s also important to remember that all skin types need to be sealing in their hyaluronic acid products with an occlusive moisturizer that contains some lipids to help prevent the hyaluronic acid from causing transepidermal water loss (water loss from deep within your skin).
Hyaluronic acid is an amazing ingredient for skin hydration, but it’s important to remember that this wunderkind does have some drawbacks.