Do you know what's in the skin care products you are using? Do you know what should be? It's a good idea to learn about ingredients so that you can choose products wisely. In 2009, I wrote about hyaluronic acid (HA). Nothing about its supreme effectiveness has changed, so I decided to dust off this feature and run it again.
I read every ingredient on the box before I purchase a skin care product. That way, I can judge whether the product is likely to work and, conversely, whether it has anything in it that I know will irritate my skin.
One of today's skin-care superstars is hyaluronic acid (HA). You probably know about it, without knowing its name, because the dermal fillers Restylane and JUVÉDERM are made from synthetic HA.
HA exists naturally in our bodies. It's hydrophilic, meaning it loves water - actually binds to water in the skin. By its nature, HA retains water like a sponge. This helps to attract and maintain water within the extracellular space, hydrating your skin and increasing its volume and density. HA is also involved with the transport of essential nutrients to the skin's cells.
As we age and our skin is exposed to environmental pollutants and the sun's ultraviolet rays, the cells gradually lose their ability to produce HA. Studies have shown that older skin typically has lower levels of HA than younger skin. People who are 50 years of age have less than half the HA they had in their youth. Their skin tissue becomes dehydrated, and the collagen and elastin fibers lose their structure - both bad - resulting in a loss of skin volume and the formation of wrinkles.
Hyaluronic acid has been nicknamed by the press as the "key to the fountain of youth" because it has been noted that at least some people who ingest a lot of it in their diets tend to live to ripe old ages. ABC News had a show on a village in Japan, "The Village of Long Life: Could Hyaluronic Acid be an Anti-Aging Remedy?" Dr. Toyosuke Komori, the town doctor, believes that the key may be locally grown starches, which may help to stimulate the body's natural creation of HA. Dr. Komori was quoted by ABC as saying; "I have seen a woman in her 90's with spotless skin." Unfortunately, it's probably too late for most of us to turn back the clock on our habits and diets, so we are going to have to preserve or replace our HA another way.
It's all about water. Dr. Dennis Gross, founder of MD Skincare, wrote an excellent piece on HA, published at CareFair.com. He says the key benefit (and added beauty) HA brings to skin is characterized by turgidity: the optimal plumpness of skin achieved by the retention of water. When skin is optimally turgid, it appears smoother and plumper. HA achieves this effect because it is one of the most important regulators of water metabolism in the skin. HA also provides another benefit by preventing the evaporation of water from the skin.
Because the HA molecule is large, it won't penetrate the skin to reach the deep dermal layers. While nanotechnology to break the molecule into a size that can be absorbed is promising, there is much work to do to ensure that topical HA can work below the surface of the skin. What you are buying in your moisturizer is effective at the surface, just not as effective as it might be if the HA could more deeply penetrate the skin. That's why HA injections are so effective - they put the HA right where it does its best work.
The use of HA in topical moisturizers is not without controversy - for more reasons than we can discuss here. Some sources recommend a more holistic approach to preserve the HA that's already in the skin. Free radicals (which are created in the skin thanks to ultraviolet radiation, pollution, and the natural aging process) decrease the skin's ability to produce HA naturally - and even speed up the process of its degradation. This is because free radicals trigger the activity of a bodily enzyme called hyaluronidase. This enzyme's main function is to break down HA in your skin cells. Supposedly potent antioxidants like Coenzyme Q10 and natural vitamin E can significantly decrease the amount of free radicals in your skin, allowing it to stay firmer, more supple, and youthful much longer. I agree with both points of view, so I use skin care cocktails, with complementary ingredients, to care for my skin.
Bottom line? HA is a highly effective humectant, an ingredient that holds moisture. HA can hold hundreds of times its weight in water and is used in many leading moisturizers. It can provide effective skin surface hydration, either alone or in combination with other moisturizing ingredients. You should be looking for it in your skin-care products.
Photo courtesy of tradecool