Often referred to as the “fountain of youth” in skincare. Injections of hyaluronic acid (the primary ingredient of Restylane), according to a review in The Archives of Dermatology cited by this New York Times article, is proven to be clinically effective. This post, however, is about the topical application of skincare products containing sodium hyaluronate—the salt of hyaluronic acid, which, the article says, “should not be confused with [hyaluronic acid] in some topical cosmetic products.
Thanks in part to advances in infiltration nanotechnology and its ultra-low-weight molecular formation—that there is something a bit more to sodium hyaluronate.
What is Hyaluronic Acid?
Hyaluronic acid is something we all have in our body. Babies have high amounts of it, but as we age, the level of hyaluronic acid dissipates. Hyaluronic acid can be found in our joints, muscles, eyes, and skin. It is the lubrication of our body. Without it, the body becomes brittle and dry. HA is the naturally occurring and widespread component found within the extracellular matrix (ECM) within bodily tissues, especially those of the face. Originally extracted from rooster combs, it is now produced as a reactive byproduct of benign bacteria and is identical to the substance found within the skin. Its water-binding and water-attracting attributes fill up the spaces between the connective fibers collagen and elastin in the dermis. When injected into the face, HA functions to hydrate and separate the skin, holding onto water and supporting all that makes the face plump and voluptuous.
So why do you need it?
Well, in case you didn’t know, your skin’s dermis layer is made up of about 70% water and claims nearly 50% of your body’s total HA allotment; there it helps to support and hydrate the skin, resulting in a healthy and attractive appearance. As your amount of HA decreases (which it will do with age; in fact, adults have only 1/20th the amount of HA of a baby), the ECM becomes dehydrated, leading to surface roughness, flaking, fine lines, and a whole host of other undesirables. Dry skin also leads to wrinkly, flappy skin. Wrinkles come about from the loss of three important components in the skin: collagen, hyaluronic acid, and elastin. HA provides the hydrating, nutrient-transporting framework necessary for holding up the structure of the ECM in the skin. If elastin is not bathed in water it becomes dry and brittle, invariably leading to dull, loose and less-elastic skin. Dry skin is aged skin.
What is Sodium Hyaluronate?
In addition to seeing hyaluronic acid listed as an ingredient in skincare products, you’ve probably also seen the similarly named sodium hyaluronate. There indeed is a connection; chemically, sodium hyaluronate is a salt derived from hyaluronic acid—and it has unique advantages for skin in comparison to “regular” hyaluronic acid, although both are great.
Sodium hyaluronate’s main strength lies in its molecular size. During the process of creating sodium hyaluronate, its molecular weight decreases due to the removal of lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids (International Journal of Toxicology, July/August 2009). Removing these compounds makes the sodium hyaluronate molecule much smaller than that of hyaluronic acid. That means that the sodium hyaluronate, when applied topically, can penetrate the skin more easily than the hyaluronic acid, which makes the sodium hyaluronate an asset in skincare products. — it must be bioengineered to have a much lower molecular weight.
Thanks to these to attributes, when applied topically to the skin it can reach deep down into the dermis to combine with, maintain and attract water. The magic of this ingredient lies in its ability to retain moisture; it’s considered to have a greater capacity to hold moisture than any other natural or synthetic polymer. In fact, one gram of hyaluronic acid is able to hold up to six liters of water. It also promotes skin/blood microcirculation and nutrient absorption, and helps maintain normal metabolism.
So what does sodium hyaluronate do, really?
Topically adding sodium hyaluronate transforms the dermis layer of your skin into a super-sponge for your face. By helping to maintain and attract water within the extracellular matrix, it not only hydrates the skin and increases its volume and density, but, by effect, temporarily stabilizes the intercellular skin matrix—the glue that holds your face together. Thanks to its super-sized hydrating properties, sodium hyaluronate will result in smoother, softer skin with decreased wrinkles and an all-around fuller appearance.
This is important with regard to aging because one of the hallmarks of youthful skin is its moisture content. As we age, our skin loses moisture, resulting in a loss of firmness and pliability (Dermatoendorocronology, 2012).
Nonetheless, the intense moisturization does allow for the skin to operate at higher capacity to provide a better defense against environmental assaults and other aging effects. Hyaluronic acid also provides antioxidant defense against free-radical damage, and reduces inflammation (Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 2012 & Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 2012). Now that’s what we call a multitasking anti-aging ingredient!
What should I look for in a hyaluronic acid serum?
When it comes to skincare, both hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate, when applied topically, can improve the appearance of fine lines, promote younger-looking skin, and help create a healthy skin barrier that can address a number of skin concerns.
HA serums can range anywhere from $10, per oz. upwards to $80., and with so many hyaluronic serums on the market, choosing one can seem a bit challenging.
What do I personally look for?
- A hyaluronic acid serum should never be watery, but have a jelly-like consistency, be clear, and odorless.
- Sodium hyaluronate, as opposed to hyaluronic acid.
- Number of ingredients? I prefer a more pure hyaluronic serum (approx. 4 ingredients), and making sure sodium hyaluronate is listed at the top of the list (ideally purified water, following sodium hyaluronate). When ingredients fall low on the list, it means the product doesn’t contain much, and so may not see much benefit.
- labeled pharmaceutical or professional grade always a plus.
Directions; HA serums are a great addition to any skincare regimen. When it comes to applying an HA serum, with other serums, here’s a good rule of thumb.. Always apply the thinnest serum first. ex; vitamin C serum, HA serum, and finally moisturizer/cream (When applying a facial serum, allow a few minutes before moving onto the next. – you want to give ample time for your skin to soak up each serum’s goodness.
HA causing skin to feel dry?
Hyaluronic acid is great for healing burns and hydrating skin, but it isn’t a miracle ingredient for everyone. To make hyaluronic acid less drying, try sealing in the hydration with a layer or something emollient. HA is known for it’s amazing hydration abilities, but those with very dry or dehydrated skin especially, need to take note of proper application – “seal” in with a layer of a good moisturizer on top.
If applying the hyaluronic acid in this manner still makes your skin feel a bit dry or taut, the hyaluronic acid is probably pulling moisture out of your skin instead of pulling moisture from the air and into your skin. hyaluronic pulls in moisture from the air, keeping skin hydrated throughout the day. In dry climates or during winter months proper application, and sealing with a good moisturizer is very important.
Also, make sure you are drinking plenty of water. Try upping your water intake. – This one, I too should definitely take note on.