We’ll get straight to the point: The benefits of hyaluronic acid are undeniable, so if it’s not yet part of your skin care routine, you’re missing out. And if you’re a little intimidated by the word “acid,” don’t worry; unlike alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids, hyaluronic acid isn’t a chemical exfoliant. Rather, it’s a (very effective) hydrating ingredient—one that can be combined with a variety of other actives and is safe and effective for pretty much everyone.
In short, there’s a reason it’s beloved by dermatologists and you really can’t go wrong by using it. That said, there are definitely ways to maximize its moisturizing potential. Here, SELF asked experts to explain what hyaluronic acid is, how it can improve your skin health, and the best ways to incorporate it into your routine.
What is hyaluronic acid?
Hyaluronic acid (or HA, as the cool kids call it) is a type of sugar that your body makes naturally: “It’s a long-chain carbohydrate present in our body and our skin,” Emily Newsom, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, tells SELF. It’s also present in lots of nooks and crannies—like between muscle fibers, in connective tissue, and in the fluid-filled sacs lubricating and cushioning your joints—but the largest concentration of HA is found in the skin.1
It’s also the active ingredient in injectable dermal fillers like Restylane and Juvéderm because of its innate plumping abilities, which translate when it’s applied topically via over-the-counter skin care products, too. “Hyaluronic acid is a humectant, meaning it attracts water to and retains it in the skin,” Ryan Turner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, tells SELF.1 (And a lot of H2O at that: Hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water.)2 Think of it like a sponge; as it pulls in moisture and absorbs it, it puffs up, helping to both hydrate and plump the skin. As a result, your complexion looks smoother and more vibrant, and fine lines may be less noticeable, Dr. Turner says.
What are the main benefits of hyaluronic acid?
We just touched on the big one—keeping skin seriously hydrated. Its other claim to fame is that, despite these hardcore moisturizing effects, hyaluronic acid is still a very lightweight ingredient that doesn’t feel heavy or greasy. That’s part of the reason why anyone and everyone can—and should—consider using it, according to the experts we consulted.
Hyaluronic acid products are great for pretty much every skin type, Dr. Newsom says, adding that it can be particularly beneficial for folks with acne-prone or combination skin (oily in some parts; dry in others) who are looking for a highly moisturizing product that isn’t too thick or occlusive (pore-clogging). Still, because it attracts water, it can be helpful for dry skin, too, particularly when combined with thicker moisturizers (like eye creams), she says.