We need to talk about hyaluronic acid. Over the last few years, I’ve developed a borderline pharmacological obsession with skincare. I have a genuine curiosity about how far a militant and well-researched skincare regime will take me.
An inevitable part of belonging to an Instagram generation is an obsession with ageing. Everyday, I swipe through a constant stream of filtered flawless faces. Getting old has become unnatural. In the pursuit of perfection, we ignore the inconvenient truth of time.
Of course, if skincare voodoo and crystal chakras don’t work – I look forward to entering my fifties with the best of them. More precisely, resembling a plastic blowfish crossed with Valentino.
But enough with the philosophical drivel of a tortured Millennial. Hyaluronic acid – here’s what you already know and what you probably didn’t.
The Hype about Hyaluronic Acid
It’s skincare’s buzziest ingredient. It’s shoved (or injected) in our sad inwardly desperate faces at every opportunity.
The holy grail of anti-aging. The dog’s bollocks. And as a by-product of the Chinese abattoir industry, potentially made from dog’s bollocks. But more on that later.
Hyaluronic acid is a polysaccharide and not an acid in the conventional sense. It doesn’t sloth away dead skin cells like a glycolic or a salicylic. Instead it promises to plump your skin, restore youth and freshness.
You probably have some on your nightstand. Maybe you meticulously apply this gloopy congealy (not a word but it should be) serum before bed? The reputed benefits are indeed impressive;
Hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in the body. It keeps our skin hydrated. Each molecule holds one thousand times its weight in moisture. As we age, the amount of hyaluronic acid in our skin decreases (wipes tear).
Not exactly a clinic trial – but close enough
Skincare FOMO is high on my list of first world problems. So my first brush with hyaluronic acid was at the tender age of 22.
The liquid from the dropper was neither moisturising nor nourishing. There was an uninviting slickness to it. It didn’t feel like it wanted to be on my skin and my skin didn’t much want it either.
It ended up in my drawer of fugly eyeshadows and Glossybox samples never to be used again.
Then The Ordinary came along. Its HA is plant-based – so not made from boiled up eyeballs and chicken’s feet. I had never tried their products before, so I decided that perhaps I’d got it wrong the first time around. I ordered the Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 from Amazon Prime. And waited.
And waited. And. Waited. But with each use my skin felt tighter. Drier. Like an old mocassin bought in from the rain and left on the radiator. This caused me considerable disquiet. Why wasn’t this supposedly heavy-lifting ingredient turning my frown lines upside down?
Why Hyaluronic Acid doesn’t work
Not to get biblical – but, again I say unto you. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a molecule of (C14H21NO11)n to penetrate into your epidermis. The molecule is simply too big. So unlike what you get with a dermal filler, the results from topical application are at best anecdotal.
And why was the serum so drying on my skin? Some experts claim that in dry environments, hyaluronic acid actually takes moisture out of your skin. This makes sense. The molecule acts like a sponge and extracts water from whichever source is available. In cold Northern climates, this invariably happens to be the skin, rather than the dry air. This explains the uncomfortable tightness I experienced after a few days of use.
As with anything, there are lots of “hacks” you can try to make the most of your hyaluronic acid. But I remain skeptical. Especially given that when I washed my face the next morning, it felt kind of slimy. Like the acid had just sat there. But in case, you need any more convincing;
“Using Hyaluronic Acid in a skin care product does nothing to improve skin in the long term. In fact, the presence of Hyaluronic Acid in epithelial tissue has been shown instead to promote keratinocyte proliferation. (Reference – Tammi R, et al., Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 1989, 92: 326-332.) “
Alternatives to Hyaluronic Acid
I try to stay away from extremely “active” formulations. In the majority of cases, I don’t think they have a place in the skincare routines of those under 40.
For moisture, I am a fan of natural cold-pressed rosehip oil. My favourite is the Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil (link here)(amazing), followed by The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil (link here). The Pai is slightly more expensive, but in my opinion it’s better quality. I like how it both calms and deeply moisturises my skin. Its benefits include helping to protect the cellular membrane, addressing sun damage & scarring and aid tissue regeneration. It’s also one of the richest plant based sources of vitamin C.
I finish with a moisturiser on top. My friend Marina got me hooked on Margys. It’s a high end Monaco skincare line. I didn’t expect it to be good, but their products are excellent – the Margy’s Extra Nutritive Cream is fantastic. Not particularly high-tech mind you, but again, I don’t actually think that high-tech always equates to better. You really see the difference with regular use – available at Pharmacie Anglaise.
Finally, a few nights a week I like to use Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Recovery Mask-In-Oil – it absorbs beautifully. The ingredients include an extensive list of plant oils without added fragrance including; Kukui Seed, Bilberry, Apricot and Sunflower Oils, Coffee Extract, Bisabolol and Chamomile. Using it has definitely improved my skin – so I’ll certainly be buying it again.