What's the Truth About Hyaluronic Acid Drying Skin Out?
by Heather Smith on Jul 31, 2022
Can Hyaluronic Acid Dry Out Your Skin?
This is a controversial question, and the answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
When used correctly, there is no risk of hyaluronic acid drying skin out, and it is an essential skincare ingredient that shouldn’t be skipped. However, hyaluronic acid can rarely dehydrate your skin in specific situations and if not appropriately used.
Let’s dig into the science of this to answer the question fully.
What is Hyaluronic Acid?
Hyaluronic acid is produced by your body and found in the extracellular matrix – the area between cells that acts like scaffolding or ‘mortar ‘holding ‘bricks’ together. Hyaluronic acid is found in the epidermis and the deeper dermis. It is vital in hydration, skin repair, metabolic processes, and protection from UV damage and free radicals. These processes are critical to maintaining a healthy skin barrier.
Hyaluronic acid (sodium hyaluronate) is found in innumerable skincare and makeup products. It belongs to a class of chemicals (glycosaminoglycans) that hold onto water efficiently due to differences in polarity. It is usually produced through bio-fermentation (made by bacteria), but animal-based products exist, so keep an eye out if you use vegan products.
Hyaluronic acid is a humectant that keeps skin firm and plump because it holds a lot of water. As you age, your natural production slows down and redistributes, which is why the aging process includes a loss of moisture and firmness.
Hyaluronic Acid for Skin
In skincare, hyaluronic acid is used for its ability to hold onto A LOT of moisture. The amount of water a molecule of hyaluronic acid can hold is up for debate and subject to some marketing hype/unproven claims.
Regardless of whether it’s 10x, 100x, or 1000x, the whole purpose of hyaluronic acid is to bring water to the skin and help keep it there.
When you see hyaluronic acid written on the ingredient list of your skincare product, there is still a lot that goes unsaid. The reason is that the molecule can be separated into different sizes (molecular weights), which can somewhat alter the function and effectiveness.
As an example:
- The largest hyaluronic acid molecules are 1-1.5 million Daltons (size). When fully hydrated with water, they create a thick, gel-like texture. This sits on the surface of your skin and fills in crevices to make things smoother and plumper.
- The smallest molecules of hyaluronic acid are <6000 Daltons, and when fully hydrated, they maintain the fluidity of water. These molecules can penetrate a bit deeper into the lower epidermis.
There is ongoing work to develop smaller or charged molecules with different polarities in hopes of finding a way to get hyaluronic acid into the dermis – but until then, injectables are the only way to go.
Another method of hyaluronic acid delivery is through dehydrated spheres. This type of ingredient is found in waterless products like a topical hyaluronic acid lip filler. Once applied, the product sits in the fine lines and wrinkles and gradually absorbs water (from the environment or the skin itself), plumping up the area and filling the fine lines.
Finally, oral supplements of hyaluronic acid are sold in nutrition stores but no evidence consuming the supplements causes any skin changes.
How Can Hyaluronic Acid Dry Out Skin?
The reason it’s possible for hyaluronic acid to dry out skin is because of how the molecule holds on to water.
The hyaluronic acid molecule absorbs water and holds it. If it starts to dehydrate, it’s capable of absorbing more water again. That means that if you cover your face in hyaluronic acid and spend a great deal of time in a dry, hot environment, then the molecule will dehydrate. To rehydrate itself, it may suck water out of your surrounding tissues. If this cycle repeats itself multiple times, you end up in a cycle with a net loss of water from your skin.
A combination of factors can contribute to the drying potential of hyaluronic acid:
- The temperature of the external environment
- The humidity of the external environment
- Pre-existing level of skin hydration
- The degree of hydration of the hyaluronic acid molecule when applied to the skin
- Presence or absence of emollients and occlusives
How to Properly Hydrate and Moisturize Skin
If you properly hydrate and moisturize, the chance of hyaluronic acid drying skin out is almost zero.
- Ensure you are a hydrated person. The water in your skin comes from within. Drink up!
- Start your moisturization routine with damp skin. Trapping some water is the goal.
- If you use an oil-free hyaluronic acid serum, apply this as your base layer and do not use it as your only product. You must seal it in with emollients.
- Apply your moisturizing lotion or cream over top
If you have dry skin or use hyaluronic acid in dry climates, then you also need to:
- Use a heavier moisturizing cream or, better yet, an emollient face oil or occlusive as your outer layer
- Periodically moisten your face (i.e. spritz water if you’re using hyaluronic acid in a dry climate)
- Try some ultra-hydration treatments like a hydrojelly face mask followed by an occlusive to lock it in
Hyaluronic acid is a fantastic molecule that is important in your skincare routine. The risk of hyaluronic acid drying skin out is low, especially if you know how to use your products properly. A few extra steps are needed if using hyaluronic acid in dry climates, but it’s simple as long as you remember to moisturize!