Check out this comprehensive article to understand what Hyaluronic Acid does, and how it can help acne-prone skin.
The skincare market is rife with different ingredients that promise various skin benefits. If you have acne-prone skin, you’ve likely checked these out, hoping they can be the answer to your acne breakouts.
So, if you’ve heard about hyaluronic acid and the wonders it can do to your skin, you might be wondering if it’s safe and effective against acne. With so much information on the internet, though, you might be left more confused than ever.
Well, in this article, we’ll be explaining in detail what Hyaluronic Acid is, and what it can offer acne-prone skin.
What is Hyaluronic Acid?
Let’s begin with explaining hyaluronic acid in more detail.
Hyaluronic acid (HA), also called hyaluronan, is a type of glycosaminoglycan–a long, unbranched chain of sugars or carbohydrates. HA is a naturally occurring compound in the body, and is most abundant in the skin, where around 50 percent of the total body HA can be found.
HA is also present in other areas of the body such as the eye, umbilical cord, skeletal tissues, and lungs. It performs functions such as lubricating the skin and providing framework for blood vessel formation.
In the skin, the primary role of hyaluronic acid is to retain moisture and keep it hydrated. This is because HA is capable of binding to water up to 1000 times its atomic weight. This means HA draws in moisture to the surface of your skin, and prevents it from escaping, leaving the skin supple, healthy, and moisturized.
However, studies have shown that HA levels in the body’s epidermis decrease significantly as we age. As a result, the skin’s surface loses its primary means to bind to and retain water molecules. Ultimately, this results in a drastic loss of moisture in the skin, which translates to a loss of skin elasticity. This may manifest as sagging skin or more pronounced wrinkles and fine lines.
HA products exist precisely to provide the skin the hydration it lacks as it ages. In skincare products, three types of hyaluronic acid are used. These vary in their molecular size and weight, with smaller molecules able to penetrate the skin better than bigger ones.
- Hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid
This refers to broken down HA with lower molecular weight than your typical HA. This comes in different sizes; the 100-300 kDa hydrolyzed HA is great at helping the skin repair itself, making it good for sensitive skin types. The smaller versions at 50 kDa and around 10 kDa, can penetrate the skin for deeper moisturization and anti-aging benefits.
- Sodium hyaluronate
This is a salt form of HA, which functions similarly to HA and is close to it in size. This is more stable than HA and is cheaper to make, making it one of the most common types of HA used in skincare. Just like HA, it can attract and hold a lot of water, making it perfect for hydrating the skin.
- Sodium acetylated hyaluronate
This differs from regular HA in its chemical composition, where water-loving groups in HA are replaced by ampiphatic (that is, partly water-loving and partly water-hating) acetyl groups. As a result, this version of HA binds better to the skin, and can retain even more water than the usual HA. This allows it to hydrate the skin better and improve its elasticity significantly.
Hyaluronic acid molecules in skincare products tend to be larger, and therefore, bind to water better. However, when applied topically, these molecules cannot penetrate deep into the skin, thereby offering hydration only to the skin’s topmost layer.
Smaller HA molecules like sodium hyaluronate can penetrate a bit deeper, but still only at the level of the epidermis. Still, that doesn’t mean they’re not good; when used regularly, they’re a good choice for repairing and maintaining your moisture barrier, and ensuring your skin is plump and moisturized.
Products such as dermal fillers, however, tend to use HA in an injectable form. These are injected directly into the deeper parts of the skin (i.e., the dermis), where they can do their job of filling the area they are injected to. This allows it to replace lost volume, and therefore make the skin firmer and tighter in the long run.
Topical HA products is fantastic for surface level hydration. However, if you want more lasting effects to combat the signs of aging, you may want to consider injectable HA instead.
3 Benefits of hyaluronic acid
Both topical and injectable HA provide the skin with a myriad of benefits, thanks to their hydrating and moisturizing effects.
Let’s take a look at each one.
Hyaluronic acid is a known humectant. That means it attracts moisture and retains moisture from its environment. Through this, HA helps in keeping the skin adequately moisturized, which translates to a stronger skin barrier.
The skin barrier is the outermost layer of the epidermis. This is responsible for protecting the skin (and the body) from UV rays and pollution, for retaining moisture in the skin, and transporting important nutrients through the skin.
Dry or dehydrated skin is usually a sign of a compromised skin barrier. This makes these skin types prone to irritation, since their skin’s natural barrier is less able to protect them against natural irritants in the air.
This is where hyaluronic acid comes in. Through providing the skin with adequate hydration, HA ensures the moisture barrier is kept healthy, safe from dryness and dehydration, as well as from irritation.
Firmer and smoother skin texture
Dehydrated skin can easily be identified through its appearance of being dry, dull, flaky, and rough. This is a direct result of a lack of moisture in the skin, likely due to a damage in the skin’s protective barrier. Other skin conditions, like atopic dermatitis, rosacea, and acne, are also linked to a compromised skin barrier.
Hyaluronic acid remedies this problem through attracting moisture and retaining it on the skin. This heals the moisture barrier and hydrates the skin. With the skin healthier and more moisturized, it easily appears firmer, smoother, and more elastic.
Less visible fine lines and wrinkles
The skin becomes less hydrated and moisturized as we age due to the diminishing levels of HA in the epidermis. This translates to skin that is less firm, pliable, and elastic. This contributes to the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, which develop when the skin fails to bounce back to its original shape after repeated facial expressions.
Hyaluronic acid plays a key role in reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. It helps improve skin elasticity, which makes these lines less visible. In fact, HA is a recognized anti-aging ingredient, with a previous study confirming its significant effects in reducing wrinkle depth and increasing skin tightness with constant use.
Should You Use Hyaluronic Acid for Acne?
Now that we know what hyaluronic acid does, and what its benefits are to the skin, let’s move on to one important question: can it actually help in managing acne?
The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think. Hyaluronic acid has no direct acne-fighting or treatment properties but if used correctly, can help acne-prone skin to stay hydrated and prevent overproduction of oil.
Can hyaluronic acid treat acne?
Hyaluronic acid mainly functions as an ingredient to moisturize the skin and ensure it is adequately hydrated. In that sense, it’s not an acne treatment, since it does not contain anti-bacterial or anti-inflammatory properties, nor does it help with oil control.
However, this doesn’t mean it cannot do anything to aid with acne management.
Those with oily but dehydrated skin tend to overproduce sebum to compensate for the skin’s lack of moisture. This inevitably leads to excess oil, which can easily clog the pores and cause acne.
This is where hyaluronic acid comes in. By aiding in moisturizing the skin and repairing its moisture barrier, HA remedies skin dehydration, which can help control acne in some cases.
Is hyaluronic acid suitable to use for acne-prone skin?
The great thing about hyaluronic acid is that it can be used by all skin types, even for oily and acne-prone skin. This is because hyaluronic acid is naturally produced by the skin; therefore, applying it topically will not irritate the skin nor cause major reactions
Can hyaluronic acid cause acne?
Since hyaluronic acid is present in large amounts in the skin, we can safely say that it does not cause acne by itself. However, extra care must still be taken in using products with HA.
This is due to the nature of products utilizing HA as a key ingredient. Most of these skincare products are normally designed to hydrate the skin, which means that they weren’t formulated for oily or acne-prone skin types in mind.
As a result, these products normally have extremely moisturizing, yet highly comedogenic ingredients, such as lanolin. When used by those with acne-prone skin, therefore, these products may end up clogging the skin and induce breakouts.
Using HA wrongly can actually cause skin dehydration and cause acne.
Hyaluronic acid moisturizes the skin by drawing and binding to water from the environment into the skin. Applying it when your face is dry may cause it to draw water from elsewhere, such as the deeper levels of the skin. Using hyaluronic acid in low humidity environments, where water vapor level in the air is extremely low, can also lead to the same effect.
These practices can dehydrate the skin, prompting it to produce excess sebum to compensate for the lack of moisture. This excess oil can ultimately clog the pores, and therefore cause acne.
Two Tips to Maximize the Benefits of Hyaluronic Acid
Applying hyaluronic acid properly is key to ensuring it works in the skin as intended. Here are some things you can do to maximize the benefits of HA on the skin:
1. Apply in a humid environment or on damp skin
As mentioned earlier, HA works by drawing in moisture from its surroundings. To prevent HA from drawing moisture from the skin’s deeper layers, it’s important to apply it on damp skin, or in a humid environment. This ensures it draws moisture from the air, or from the water already present on the skin’s surface.
2. Layer under a moisturizer or facial oil
Using a thick moisturizer or facial oil after applying HA is important to seal in moisture, ensuring it doesn’t escape from the skin. In addition, locking in HA using moisturizers or facial oils gives it extra water molecules to draw in and attract for added hydration.
Hyaluronic acid is definitely an ingredient worth considering, even for acne-prone skin. Although it doesn’t necessarily have properties that target acne, it still contributes to the skin’s overall health. It even helps with dehydrated skin, which causes acne breakouts in the long run.
We hope that, through this article, we were able to lay out the benefits and risks of using hyaluronic acid products in oily and acne-prone skin. Hopefully, these can help inform your decision regarding using or avoiding HA for your skin.
Learned something new from this article? Have questions on using HA for the skin? Share your thoughts in the comments!