Although it has always been lurking in the human body, hyaluronic acid was officially discovered in 1880 by the French chemist, Portes, who called it “hyalomucine.” Decades later in the ophthalmology laboratory at Columbia University, German biochemist Karl Meyer coined the name “hyaluronic acid” or “hyaluronan” for this substance, which has an extremely high molecular weight. In 1942, due to its naturally viscous nature, Hungarian doctor Endre Balazs initially filed a patent to use hyaluronic acid commercially as an egg white substitute for baking purposes. Hyaluronic acid then became increasingly recognized as having an important role in overall bodily health. For the next 70 years, Balazs became an expert on the therapeutic effects of hyaluronic acid on the human body and made countless groundbreaking discoveries. Hyaluronic acid was initially used in medicine as a treatment to reduce swelling and pain in arthritic joints as the large molecular size of hyaluronic acid and its viscous, lubricating effect helped the body resist stress to the joints, tissues, and skin.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY
Hyaluronic acid is present in almost every tissue and organ in the body. In fact, almost half of the body’s hyaluronic acid is found in skin tissue and helps keep skin plump, supple, and smooth. However, with age, the body produces less hyaluronic acid, so skin loses moisture and dries out more easily. Skin then becomes thinner and takes longer to repair itself. Collagen fibers become brittle and break down, causing sagging, wrinkles, and other visible signs of aging.
SKIN CARE SUPERPOWERS
Do not be fooled: hyaluronic acid is not actually an acid – it is a glycosaminoglycan or a longer, more complicated version of a sugar. A water-binding, Jell-O-like substance, hyaluronic acid attracts water and expands it up to 1,000 times; it is like a saturated sponge underneath the skin, giving it a long, steady drink of water throughout the day. Through the use of hyaluronic acid, innovative chemists and dermatologists are discovering unprecedented ways to make skin look firmer, dewier, and ageless.
MOISTURE BOOSTER AND WRINKLE ERASER
Although hyaluronic acid can be used in an injectable form to fill out wrinkles, topically applied medium or low molecular weight forms can also help plump away wrinkles and firm up sagging skin. When aging or stressed cells crave moisture, collagen fibers dry out and deteriorate, like aging rubber bands. However, due to its hydrophilic properties, hyaluronic acid binds with water, saturating skin with moisture and locking it in and keeping collagen nourished and healthy. High, medium, and low molecular weights of hyaluronic acid offer the perfect solution for restoring moisture to aging skin, as well as helping prevent dehydration due to seasonal changes or cold, dry environmental conditions.
DAMAGE CONTROL AND REPAIR
The anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties of hyaluronic acid play an essential role in cell metabolism, supporting the skin’s ability to naturally heal and repair itself. It is often utilized to help skin recover following procedures that include chemical peels, laser treatments, resurfacing, or microneedling. Hyaluronic acid also helps fight free radicals that break down collagen and elastin, which make wrinkles, sagging, and other signs of aging more evident.
THE MANY FACES OF HYALURONIC ACID
Not all hyaluronic acid is the same. Size matters. Be on the lookout for the different types of hyaluronic acid now on the market. Old school, traditional hyaluronic acid is made up of large molecular chains with a heavy weight (1,000 kilodaltons and above), which are the key to restoring moisture and plumping wrinkles on the surface of the skin. Now, thanks to advanced technology, hyaluronic acid has undergone a metamorphosis. Low and medium molecular weights of hyaluronic acid (under 1,000 kilodaltons) are small enough for the skin’s extracellular matrix to absorb. There, hyaluronic acid bathes collagen and elastin fibers, keeping them moist and supple and preventing the brittleness that results in wrinkles and sagging. Differing molecular weights of hyaluronic acid are necessary to prevent loss of moisture on the surface of the skin, while maintaining skin suppleness and elasticity in the extracellular matrix.
Differing forms of hyaluronic acid are also becoming more well-known in topical skin care. For example, hyaluronate refers to the base of hyaluronic acid, while sodium hyaluronate is the salt form of the ingredient, which is added in a powder form to formulations to help reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL). Hyaluronan is known as a polyanionic form of hyaluronic acid, a polysaccharide also synthesized by cells as a salt instead of an acid. High molecular weight hyaluronic acid provides surface moisturization. Medium molecular weight hyaluronic acid mimics hyaluronic acid in the natural skin structure to help promote skin elasticity. Low molecular weight hyaluronic acid improves absorption and skin functioning. Fermentation-derived hyaluronic acid contributes to an increase in skin elasticity and a reduction in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. For those who have a preference for botanical-derived ingredients, a form of hyaluronic acid is derived from Cassia angustifolia, a plant with polysaccharides that have been shown to mimic the moisturizing and film-forming benefits of hyaluronic acid.
YOUR PARTNER IN THE TREATMENT ROOM
How can skin care professionals use hyaluronic acid in the treatment room to help clients renew their skin and a more youthful appearance, without resorting to injectable hyaluronic acid to fill out sagging, wrinkled skin? In this age of scientific breakthroughs, topically applied hyaluronic acid is becoming the go-to product for firming sagging skin, plumping away wrinkles, and protecting skin against oxidative damage from ultraviolet rays.
Skin care professionals can increase the efficacy of all their facial treatments by utilizing hyaluronic acid in a variety of forms and molecular weights. The more hyaluronic acid they introduce into the skin, the younger the skin can look.
For mature skin, use high molecular weight hyaluronic acid to restore moisture and plump wrinkled, sagging skin; its low molecular weight counterpart helps regulate inflammatory response, promote skin renewal, treat photodamaged skin, and prevent further oxidative damage.
For dry, irritated, or eczema-prone skin, high molecular weight hyaluronic acid adds moisture to skin and then seals it in. Low molecular weight helps prevent collagen and elastin fibers in the extracellular matrix from drying out and breaking down.
For acne-prone skin, high molecular weight hyaluronic acid is a highly recommended moisturizer to alleviate the dryness that acne medication often causes; it will not clog pores. Low molecular weight helps relieve skin irritation and inflammation.
For hyperpigmentation, lines, superficial acne scarring, and other skin imperfections, microneedling treatments have been shown to help promote the production of collagen and elastin when hyaluronic acid (at high and low molecular weights) is driven into micropunctured skin.
HYALURONIC ACID FOR HOME CARE
Because hyaluronic acid is so appropriate for various skin types and conditions, it is a must-have retail item for client home care, either as an addition to an existing skin care regimen or as an ingredient in skin care products. Ingredient declarations on product labels may list different forms of hyaluronic acid, but all forms should be located at the beginning of the list, which indicates that the concentration is high enough to make a difference in the skin. Finally, hyaluronic acid plays well with other anti-aging ingredients, such as growth factors, stem cells, peptides, and antioxidants. The result of combining ingredients is that skin care professionals now have access to an unparalleled anti-aging power team headed up by the superstar benefits of hyaluronic acid.
Founder and CEO of Le Mieux Cosmetics and PurErb Herbology-based Skincare & Aromatherapy, Janel Luu has over 35 years of experience in the beauty industry as an educator, researcher, and formulator. She has taught over 37,000 skin care professionals and physicians on topics ranging from anti-aging cellular technology to centuries-old Meridian techniques.