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Ask an Expert: What is Hyaluronic Acid & How Should You Use It?

Last Updated: August 25, 2022

Hyaluronic acid is one of a handful of new buzzwords popping up in the beauty world right now. But what exactly is it, and what does it do to your skin? Get these questions answered and more by Grove formulation chemist Naomi Tennakoon.

If you’ve noticed the unexpected appearance of fine lines and wrinkles after staring at your face during Zoom calls, we feel you. While it’s unclear if we’ve all rapidly aged within the couple years, we’ve definitely been looking at our faces a lot more.

Thankfully, it’s never been a better time to incorporate a moisturizing boost into your routine with a super-hydrating and fine line-fighting hyaluronic serum. We sat down with our skin care pro and Grove formulation chemist Naomi Tennakoon to learn about the ins and outs of hyaluronic acid and whether it should be added into your skin care regimen.

Q: What is hyaluronic acid?

Naomi Tennakoon: Hyaluronic acid is a humectant that is used in personal care products. Humectants work really well as a mechanism to moisturize your skin so you can put high levels of it on in your skincare routine.

Humectants are great for moisturization in general, but hyaluronic acid is special because it's something that's already in your skin. According to a report published by Dermato Endocrinology, “Skin aging is also associated with loss of skin moisture. The key molecule involved in skin moisture is hyaluronan or hyaluronic acid (HA), a glycosaminoglycan (GAG) with a unique capacity to bind and retain water molecules.”

And so having hyaluronic acid in skincare is really beneficial because it’s replenishing something natural in your skin and is growing in popularity each year as more consumers are becoming aware of its benefits and more brands are able to include it in their products.

Q: What does hyaluronic acid do?

NT: Hyaluronic acid is a substance that attracts and pulls moisture, even from the air. So if you're in a high humidity environment, it will attract moisture from there, and sometimes pulls moisture from deeper layers of your skin too.

Find the 19 best hyaluronic acid products to keep your skin hydrated that have been reviewed and rated by actual Grove members.

Q: How does hyaluronic acid act on your skin?

NT: Essentially, hyaluronic acid draws moisture and holds it on your skin to hydrate it. It gives skin a more refreshed, plumped look.

Hyaluronic acid molecules come in multiple sizes. To explain this a bit more, we looked to dermatologists Kristina Liu and Janelle Nassim, who wrote on the Harvard Health Blog: “Larger HA molecules, despite being the best at binding water and offering hydration, cannot penetrate into the skin. When applied topically (to the skin), these molecules sit on top of the skin, offering hydration only at the very surface. Smaller HA molecules, which bind less water than larger HA molecules, can penetrate deeper into the skin (though only into the epidermis, the topmost layer of skin). For maximum surface hydration, look for a product that contains HA molecules in a variety of sizes.”


Did you know?

While hyaluronic acid is most often applied as a serum, it can also show up in toners, face mists, and even as ingestible powders.

Take a look at these different products that use hyaluronic acid:

Q: What are some of the benefits of using hyaluronic acid as a serum?

NT: Hyaluronic acid is great for a number of things such as:

  • moisturizing skin
  • reducing the appearance of fine lines
  • plumping skin
  • keeping collagen in your skin

The more moisturized your skin is, the less chances there are for superfine lines. Deep wrinkles are not going to disappear with hyaluronic acid, but maybe superfine lines like around your eyes or mouth — which is really common for most people — might be lessened. Having moisturized skin can help, kind of, fill in those areas because hyaluronic acid plumps skin and helps keep the collagen in your skin, as well, which keeps everything nice and smooth.

Q: How do you know if you need to add a hyaluronic acid serum into your routine?

NT: Hyaluronic acid is a great ingredient to have and use when your skin looks or feels dehydrated. So, if you have dry patches, or if the skin doesn't feel plump and elastic, try out a serum. And, if you live in a super dry climate, versus a more humid environment, you may want to consider incorporating hyaluronic acid into your routine to support the moisture levels of your skin.

Q: What's the correct way to use hyaluronic acid?

NT: Working a hyaluronic acid into your skincare routine is pretty straightforward. For a streamlined routine, I recommend applying:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Hyaluronic acid serum
  3. Moisturizer
  4. Sunscreen

The way you want to use hyaluronic acid in a skincare routine is to start by cleansing your face with a nice simple cleanser. And then, with slightly damp skin or even slightly wet skin, apply the hyaluronic acid serum to your face followed by a moisturizer and sunscreen (during the day). As long as you have the serum sandwiched between slightly damp skin and a moisturizer, you're good to go. It really plumps up the skin and makes it look nice and moisturized, and stays moisturized, throughout the day.

Grove Expert Tip

NT: You definitely want your skin to be wet or damp before applying a hyaluronic acid serum. It’s important for the serum to have water to bind to, otherwise the hyaluronic acid pulls moisture from deep within your skin, which isn’t necessarily a good thing and can actually leave your skin feeling parched and dry it out overtime.

And always round out your routine with a moisturizer to lock in that added boost of moisture from your serum.

Q: What is the correct amount of hyaluronic acid to apply?

NT: There isn’t necessarily a correct amount, but when in doubt always read the directions.

Q: Can you use hyaluronic acid every day, morning and night?

NT: Yes, you can use hyaluronic acid everyday, in the morning and at nights. Just make sure it’s applied on damp skin.

5 hyaluronic acid serums from natural skin care brands

OSEA Hyaluronic Sea Serum: Each one-ounce bottle of OSEA Hyaluronic Sea Serum is small yet mighty in its age-defying power to smooth wrinkles and replenish dry, thirsty skin. Organic seaweed extracts enrich your complexion with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. This high-performance serum’s lightweight formula absorbs instantly with a nongreasy texture that leaves a velvety finish — without feeling sticky.

Tree To Tub Double Hyaluronic Hydrating Serum: One little bottle, double the hyaluronic acid. This Tree To Tub Double Hyaluronic Hydrating Serum combines high-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid with low-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid to deeply moisturize skin without irritating it like other serums that can be packed with chemicals. This hydrating serum is sulfate-free, paraben-free, SLS-free, silicone-free, alcohol-free, and perfume-free. Plus, it’s also made in the U.S., vegan, and never tested on animals.

100% Pure Rose Hyaluronic Acid Serum: This hydrating serum uses rose hydrosol to balance, calendula to calm, and hyaluronic acid to plump skin. Its light gel texture quenches thirsty skin and works to restore a toned, youthful glow.

True Botanicals Clear Repair Nightly Treatment: This all-in-one treatment helps reduce the appearance of blemishes, dark spots, and signs of aging with ultra-hydrating hyaluronic acid and black willow bark extract. The Clear Repair Nightly Treatment has two different sizes of hyaluronic acid molecules: a smaller one that’s absorbed by pores and plumps the skin, and a larger one that stays on the skin’s surface for an added layer of hydration.

Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum: Along with peach extract, this smoothing serum uses a proprietary blend of three different molecular weights of hyaluronic acid to hydrate and plump every layer of the skin.

3 tips to keep your skin hydrated all day long

1. Apply hyaluronic acid serum to damp skin.

2. Lather on a nice moisturizer on top of the serum to lock in moisture.

3. Always, always, always wear sunscreen on top of your moisturizer during the day.

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Here at Grove, we're big believers in saving the planet with science — and without sacrificing products' effectiveness. To break down how natural and sustainable products manage to stack up against the competitors without questionable chemicals, we're grilling our scientists, doctors, and fellows for easy-to-understand primers and explanations on how products work.

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