Break It Down: Hyaluronic Acid

Beauty buzzwords are thrown around all the time; it can be hard to keep up and know what's worth exploring further. We're here to break down the industry's latest obsession by tackling the science, talking to skincare and makeup pros, and getting real about what works and what doesn’t.

You’ve heard people raving about it, and you’ve seen it in new and hyped products, but just what is hyaluronic acid? Should you be using it? How? Does it even work?

Let’s break it down...

Ok, let’s get scientific. According to Wikipedia, “Until the late 1970s, hyaluronic acid was described as a ‘goo’ molecule” – cute. Flubber references aside, hyaluronic acid is actually a natural protein found in the body, in the skin and eye and joints fluids. People can have it replenished via injection during eye surgery or if they’re suffering with arthritis.

“It’s a natural component of the body found mainly in soft connective tissues. Almost 50% of HA is found in the skin dermis and epidermis,” Dr. Sara Sibilla, Head of Clinical Trials at Gold Collagen, told us.

“HA can also interact with other proteins, and has been shown to stimulate collagen production. This is synthesised within the body, but it has a very fast turnover and its amount decreases with age. Reduction of HA is associated with ageing, as it is linked to the decrease in skin hydration, skin elasticity and skin flexibility.”

So if you’re looking for baby-soft and super-fresh skin, this should do the trick.
Weirdly, it's used as a lip filler in plastic surgery, but when applied to the skin, over time it heals wounds, acne, burns and skin ulcers, as well as generally smoothing out the complexion.

Decléor Skincare Specialist Fiona Brackenbury says: “Hyaluronic acid has the ability to hold 1,000 times its own weight in moisture, being the only protein in the body that can hold this much. For this reason, the skin can be hydrated, plumped and smoothed quickly. The high increase of the moisture has a popcorn effect, ironing out the appearance of lines and wrinkles.”

This is why you’ve probably heard it’s much better than your run-of-the-mill day cream – it acts as its high-intensity sister. But why are we all so obsessed right now? Fiona thinks it’s down to air pollution: “It’s interesting as it’s not necessarily a new ingredient, but our lifestyles and an increase in pollution show that our skin is becoming more dehydrated. Hyaluronic acid is the one ingredient that delivers results extremely quickly – especially if your skin is already lacking in it.”
The short answer is yes. Believe the hype: hyaluronic acid genuinely makes skin pillowy, and will keep hydration levels high. According to Dr. Sibilla, “Orally ingested HA has been reported to improve skin dryness, itchiness, and increase in the skin smoothness and amelioration of wrinkles. A combined therapy of ingested and topically applied hyaluronic acid provides the most success.”

We’ve been applying it liberally everywhere, including over lips and the sensitive under-eye area, and it’s seen us through winter’s coldest months without a dry patch in sight. Apply in your regular routine, after your cleanser and toner but before your moisturiser.

So how can you get in on this chemical wunderkind? Click through to see the best products with the biggest impact on our visage.
Don't be fooled by this little guy's budget-friendly price. The Ordinary has become a cult hit with everyone from India Knight to Caroline Hirons. The trick? Save on marketing and unnecessary packaging and focus on the science. We've seen serious results from a range of their products, but this light formula combines HA with B5, furthering skin hydration.

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, £6, available at ASOS
Decléor's reasoning behind creating this formula? "Air pollution irritates and weakens the skin's natural barrier, which means it can no longer do its job properly." The key ingredients include moringa oleifera, protecting against antioxidants, pollution, and free radicals; plant glycerin for anti-inflammatory and healing properties; and HA for plumping and smoothing skin.

Decléor Hydra Floral Anti-Pollution Hydrating Fluid SPF30, £42.50, available at John Lewis
Vitamin C is another beauty buzzword we've heard a lot about – mainly for its brightening properties. Here, it's combined with HA to provide really radiant skin, and give you that much-needed boost in winter.

Super Facialist Vitamin C+ Glow Boost Skin Serum, £16.99, available at Boots
This is an investment buy, but two drops every evening and you'll see a marked change in your complexion. Pores are smaller, inflammation is reduced and your skin will be plumper after just one week. Honestly, it's a wonder product worthy of space on your shelf.

Immunocologie Hyaluronic Serum, £160, available at Immunocologie
Formulated with a water-soluble bio-matrix, this mask feels like a second skin. Antioxidant pearl extract battles the effects of the sun, while hyaluronic acid supports moisture retention. This is a lovely weekly treat for sad skin.

Gold Collagen Hydrogel Mask, £19.99 for 4 masks, available at Gold Collagen.
Another offering from Deciem (the parent company of The Ordinary and Hylamide), NIOD's complex is silicone-, nut- and cruelty-free, as well as vegan. One look at the product's technology – including 12 different forms of hyaluronic acid – is proof of Deciem's commitment to science-based beauty.

NIOD Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex, £25, available at NIOD
This clear gel has Vitamin B5 and hyaluronic acid that targets dull, dry complexions with an super quick moisture boost. This is the one for a quick-fix refresh.

The Hero Project Hyasoft Instant Moisture Boost, £19, available at The Hero Project.

Want more like this...

The Easy Way To Know Which Acid Is Right For Your Skin Type  Is It Time To Rethink The Acids In Our Skincare?  Everything You Need To Know About Hyaluronic Acid