Hyaluronic Acid 101: What Does Hyaluronic Acid Do, Who Should Use it & More

7 minutes
by Kayla Kernel
March 15, 2022

What is hyaluronic acid?

Despite the name, hyaluronic acid (HA) isn’t really an acid – at least not in the traditional sense. Unlike the alpha and beta hydroxy acids you’re likely used to, hyaluronic acid isn’t a chemical exfoliant. Meaning, it won’t loosen dead skin cells, dissolve pore plugs, or speed cellular turnover. Hyaluronic acid is actually a polysaccharide (read: sugar) molecule that’s naturally produced by the body and works as a humectant to keep the water inside that body from evaporating (thus ensuring skin appears dewy and firm). And, as with so many of our other internal processes, hyaluronic acid manufacture slows with age, meaning the body makes less of it.

Where to find it

Hyaluronic acid is in the skin, as well as in the connective tissues around joints and nerves where it acts as a cushioning agent.

What it does

When it comes to binding moisture to cells, such as collagen, hyaluronic acid has no equal. You’ve likely heard the oft-repeated statistic that hyaluronic acid can hold 1,000 times its weight in water. While there’s some debate as to the veracity of this claim (the amount may not quite be 1,000), there’s no denying that hyaluronic acid is a powerful moisture magnet. Used topically, hyaluronic acid provides immediate hydration, but since it’s also able to draw water out of the air and into skin, you get additional moisturization benefits. The end result is skin that’s plump and bouncy. And since a dehydrated complexion is often quick to show fine lines, keeping it moisturized with hyaluronic acid is an excellent way to minimize the appearance of wrinkles.

Who it’s for

Hyaluronic acid has basically never met an enemy. Lightweight and easily absorbed, hyaluronic acid works with all skin types, including acne-prone. That said, if your complexion tends to be on the drier side, hyaluronic acid will be an especially excellent addition to your skincare regimen. It’s completely fine to apply hyaluronic acid daily or even twice a day, as part of your morning and evening routines. The Switzerland of skincare, hyaluronic acid plays well with all other skincare ingredients, from vitamin C and alpha hydroxy acids to retinol

Who should skip it

Because topical hyaluronic acid is nonirritating and doesn’t typically trigger an allergic response, it should be fine for anyone to use (even those who are pregnant or nursing). Of course, the giant caveat here is that if your skin is the extremely reactive type (either due to eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, or something else), patch test a small area first, to ensure hyaluronic acid is safe for you.

Where you can find it

girl using hyaluronic marine serum on her face

Hyaluronic acid is in everything from eye creams to skin serums, in addition to the more traditional face moisturizers. While it’s easy enough to locate hyaluronic acid on the internet, it’s not an ingredient that you should try formulating with yourself. This is because hyaluronic acid comes in a variety of molecular weights, and not all are great for the skin. In fact, there’s a sweet spot (around 130 daltons, for the curious) that’s both efficacious and nonirritating. Any good cosmetic chemist will already know this, of course, and formulate products accordingly. But it’s just another reason why you should only purchase your skincare items from a legitimate, trusted source. 

The line of Dr. Dennis Gross skincare offers hyaluronic acid in the following products:

What about injectable hyaluronic acid? 

Woman getting a hyaluronic acid injection

The moisturizing molecule is also a popular dermal filler. In that situation, the hyaluronic acid used is a gel-like substance that your dermatologist injects into areas that have lost volume, such as the lips, cheeks, under eyes, nasolabial folds, or backs of the hands. While the product itself will add immediate fullness, since it also attracts water, injected hyaluronic acid will create additional plumpness, beyond its initial effects.

Because hyaluronic acid is something the body produces naturally, injectable forms of the molecule don’t usually cause irritation, making it a nearly universally tolerated filler. That said, the actual process of injecting anything into the skin can sometimes result in short-term bruising or swelling. And fillers are never recommended for anyone who’s pregnant, while those who are nursing will want to consult with their doctor first.

Depending on the amount of movement in the injected area (which will break down the added hyaluronic acid more quickly), filler can last up to a year before it needs to be redone. It depends on your individual metabolism. While injectable hyaluronic acid gets absorbed by the body naturally over time and disappears, it can also be removed immediately via an injection of hyaluronidase, an enzyme that dissolves hyaluronic acid. Good news if it turns out you don’t actually want lips quite that plump.

The FDA has approved a lot of hyaluronic acid fillers, primarily versions of various levels of thickness from three main brands: Belotero, Juvéderm, and Restylane. Some are more pliable than others or create greater density or lift. Your board-certified dermatologist will be able to assess your skin and your desired outcome, to select the injectable hyaluronic acid (or combination of injectable hyaluronic acids) that’s best for you. 

Discover Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare for All Your Skincare Needs

Treat your skin to the deeply hydrating power of hyaluronic acid in the Dr. Dennis Gross Hyaluronic Marine skincare collection. For more skincare tips from the experts at Dr. Dennis Gross, check out our blog’s newest content today. Shop the collection of Dr. Dennis Gross bestselling skincare backed by dermatologists.

Written By

Kayla Kernel

Kayla is a Medical Esthetician with 10+ years of experience. Growing up, Kayla struggled with cystic acne and scarring. This experience drives her passion to help others on their skincare journey. Kayla specializes in all skin types, tones, and ages.

Read More from Kayla Kernel

Written By

Kayla Kernel

Kayla is a Medical Esthetician with 10+ years of experience. Growing up, Kayla struggled with cystic acne and scarring. This experience drives her passion to help others on their skincare journey. Kayla specializes in all skin types, tones, and ages.

Read More from Kayla Kernel