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What is hyaluronic acid and how to add it to your skincare routine

Plus, our top picks to plump and hydrate skin.

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You may have seen hyaluronic acid touted as a miracle worker by skincare aficionados and influencers. It’s known for smoothing fine lines and helping skin stay hydrated. But what the heck is it? And is it actually effective?

We did the research and tested it firsthand to find answers.

  • While hyaluronic acid is also available in pill form or via injection, this article focuses on hyaluronic acid applied to the skin in a lotion, mask or serum.

Hyaluronic acid and its benefits

It’s actually a sugar that naturally occurs in the body. Hyaluronic acid’s job is to help skin hold water and stay hydrated. In scientific terms, it’s a glycosaminoglycan — meaning that it plays a vital role in maintaining and supporting collagen and elastin.

As skin ages — starting in your 20s — its ability to retain water lessens, resulting in dry, sagging skin as well as fine lines and wrinkles. In skincare products, hyaluronic acid works to draw moisture to the surface of skin, plumping it and restoring a dewy glow. The acid also boosts the body’s collagen production while maintaining skin elasticity, fighting free radicals and protecting the skin with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Which skin types is it best for?

Hyaluronic acid can be used by people with all skin types, whether you’re 25 or 85. Here’s what it can do for each skin type:

  • Dry. It can target dry, scaly patches to boost hydration.
  • Sensitive. Since hyaluronic acid is lightweight and occurs naturally in the body, it can help smooth sensitive skin without irritation in most cases.
  • Combination and oily. The acid’s lightweight formula regulates moisture in cells, giving a boost of hydration without adding excess oil.
  • Acne-prone. The antioxidant properties in hyaluronic acid work to calm and protect skin.

Case study: Amy's experience

Amy Stoltenberg profile photo
Amy Stoltenberg
Writer, Finder US
Blame it on stress caused by the pandemic, or aging in general, but my skin took a turn for the worse in August 2020. I’d stare at my face in the mirror each morning and wonder why it appeared so dehydrated, even when I hadn’t had a drop of alcohol in weeks. Eventually, I stopped pouting and started researching.

I ended up purchasing the hyaluronic acid from Genius Chemistry, because it had almost 5 stars on Amazon and rave reviews. Sure enough, I noticed a difference in my skin after just one night. I woke up and my skin was noticeably more hydrated. After about six weeks, I can honestly say that the skin in my face is plumper, especially in my cheeks. Yay!

Hyaluronic acid is now a staple in my skincare routine. I’d recommend it to anyone and everyone who wants to boost hydration. The Ordinary makes a highly rated hyaluronic acid serum for just $7, so you can give it a try without making a serious financial commitment.

How do you use it?

It depends on which form of hyaluronic acid you purchase. As with all new skincare products, you should start slow. Begin by applying it once a day. If you think your skin could benefit from additional hydration, apply it both morning and evening.

  • Hyaluronic acid doesn’t play well with acids that have low pH levels, like glycolic acid.

Serums

You should apply a hyaluronic serum in the middle of your skincare routine, after toning and before moisturizing. That might look something like this:

  1. Cleanse.
  2. Apply toner.
  3. Apply hyaluronic acid serum.
  4. Apply moisturizer.
  5. Apply a facial oil (night) or SPF (day).

Read the product instructions to learn how to apply it. Typically, you should use your ring finger to apply a small amount to your skin using upward strokes.

Other products

If you pick up a mask or moisturizer that contains hyaluronic acid, follow the instructions on the packaging.

Where can you shop for hyaluronic acid?

Skin irritation from hyaluronic acid

It’s smart to do a test patch before slathering it on to see how your skin reacts — as you should with any new product. Look for redness after testing your hyaluronic acid, which could be a sign of irritation.

Allergic reactions to hyaluronic acid are rare, since it’s a substance that naturally occurs in our skin and eyes. But it’s a good idea to consult your dermatologist or doctor before beginning a new skincare regimen.

Top hyaluronic acid products

When shopping for hyaluronic acid, look for products formulated with varying molecule weights for multi-depth hydration. This will help the hyaluronic acid penetrate more deeply into the skin, rather than sit on the top layer. Here are a few of our favorite hyaluronic acid products:

The INKEY List Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Serum
The INKEY List Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Serum

Sephora

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