So, What’s the Obsession with Hyaluronic Acid? Is It Really a “Fountain of Youth?”

Welcome to the first of our guest blogs from the winner of Best Beauty Newcomer at the New Generation Beauty Influencer Awards, Maria from MB Insider. For more information about the New Generation Beauty Influencer Awards click here.

So, What’s the Obsession with Hyaluronic Acid? Is It Really a “Fountain of Youth?”

Nowadays, it seems like Hyaluronic Acid (HA) is literally everywhere! It’s conquered the shelves of the most exclusive clinics, health stores, topical skincare distributors and make up counters. You can inject it, apply it, and even swallow it. The current global market for HA is over $1 billion and rising as I’m writing this article.

So what is this craze with Hyaluronic Acid? And why is it that everyone wants to get their hands on it?

What is Hyaluronic Acid?

Hyaluronic acid is actually not an acid like glycolic or salicylic acids. It is a molecular substance that’s naturally present in all mammals. It’s a gel-like water-holding molecule that acts like a space filler and a cushion for joints and nerves, preventing their degeneration. Hyaluronic Acid also hydrates skin, eyes and hair. Every person has roughly 15 grams of natural HA with the highest concentration in eye fluids and joints. Every day, 1/3 of our HA degrades and the body synthesizes and replaces it. As we age, the body produces less HA resulting in skin and cells losing moisture and elasticity, causing wrinkles, dry eyes, thin hair and cartilage shrinkage.

How is Hyaluronic Acid produced?

Obviously, Hyaluronic Acid that you see in stores is not extracted from the human body. There are a few ways to produce HA. One is extraction from the cartilage of a rooster’s comb. And another is in a laboratory involving Streptococci Bacterium.  At this point you’re probably asking, isn’t is that the bacteria that gives us ‘strep throat’? And the answer is – yes, it is! Despite that both animal extracted HA and microbial HA are purified with organic solvents, there’re still safety concerns over these production methods.  This is because streptococci is pathogenic bacteria. And despite extensive purification, animal extracted HA can still be contaminated with proteins and viruses.

Therefore, since 2010, scientists have been pursuing alternative methods of HA production. These include the use of cell-free and/or non-pathogenic bacteria such as Bacillus SubtilisHowever, these methods can only produce small amounts of HA.

So now that we’ve established that produced HA isn’t 100% safe for us, the most important question is whether the benefits outweigh the risks? Can it make us eternally youthful?

What are the benefits of Hyaluronic Acid?

Hyaluronic Acid is extremely effective at maintaining healthy, youthful skin. It promotes collagen and has the ability to retain 1,000 times its weight in water within skin’s cells. Collagen firms the skin whilst HA nourishes and hydrates the collagen keeping it moist and elastic. And this is what keeps our skin plump and hydrated.

Karl Meyer and John Palmer discovered Hyaluronic Acid in 1934.  But it suddenly gained popularity after ABC ran a special about the residents of Yuzurihara, in Japan. They reported that its residents over the age of 85 looked far younger, had wrinkle free skin, flexible joints and full heads of hair.  They were also in excellent physical condition. Dr Toyosuke Komori suggests the reason for the longevity is due to their low-iron, starchy vegetable-based diet that promotes Hyaluronic Acid levels in the body.

Hyaluronic Acid in Topical Skincare

No other biological substance can retain as much water as HA. This reminds me of a quote from Zoolander where Derek says: “Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty.” It’s a funny and silly film, but it’s amazing how the beauty industry has capitalized on this concept, and HA has become a very popular ingredient in topical skincare. However, like most moisturizers, HA doesn’t penetrate your skin and remains on the surface of the skin. There are few studies indicating that HA might penetrate the skin, but none of them definitively prove this. HA molecules are understood to be too large to pass through the epidermis.

Don’t get me wrong, at the end of the day HA is still a great topical moisturizing ingredient. It fills out fine wrinkles and gives our skin a more hydrated and radiant appearance. HA  doesn’t clog pores and is highly recommended for oily/combination skin due to its light, water-like texture. But don’t expect your wrinkles to vanish!

Hyaluronic Acid in Injectables

The most effective use for HA is through injections. Dermatologists, doctors, and cosmetic surgeons inject it to remove wrinkles or eliminate skin imperfections. Once injected, it binds with water molecules in your cells, adding volume, which lifts, smooths and plumps the skin. Currently, Juvéderm (Allergan) and Relastyne (both FDA approved) are the most popular (stay tuned for more on injectables in a separate article).

Allergic Reactions

Hyaluronic acid doesn’t cause allergic reactions. However, if mixed with other components it might. The most common side effects include swelling, redness, bruising, and pain at the injection site. Side effects are rare and often associated with the injection itself, or the patient failing to disclose previous treatments. Another common side effect which I’ve experienced myself, is swelling during a strep throat infection. Since HA is made of streptococci, your immune system will attack everything it perceives as an infection including your dermal fillers. Normally, swelling subsides with the infection.

Hyaluronic Acid in Supplements

The suggested oral dose of HA is 100-200 mg per day and it may take two or three weeks for you to notice the effects. There is controversy around HA supplements. HA is a very large molecule – too large, some argue, to be absorbed. Nevertheless, it breaks down in the stomach and enough of it gets in, to signal the production of more HA. However, at the moment, there’s still no concrete evidence as to the effectiveness of HA supplements.

Other uses of Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic Acid improves bone density, strengthens muscles, and reduces arthritis. HA supports eye structures. Surgeons use it for removing cataracts, treating glaucoma, transplanting corneas, repairing detached retinas, and other eye injuries. HA even helps reduce bleeding gums and other gum disease related problems.

My Beauty Insider says

I love Hyaluronic Acid in any shape or form. I find that injectables make the most difference. If performed by a skillful cosmetic surgeon, they can keep your face wrinkle free and well hydrated. They don’t change your facial expressions like Botox, and they last longer. Unfortunately, the body assimilates and consumes the HA within six months therefore, you need constant treatments to keep wrinkles at bay.

I have combination skin and Hyaluronic Acid based moisturizers are a ‘God send’ for me. My advice is if you are going to pick an HA moisturizer, make sure to check that it contains a good level of HA. I use SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel and SkinCeuticals Moisturizing Hydrating B5 Mask . Both contain a very high concentration of pure HA.  They don’t leave my skin oily and keep it hydrated during the day. Be mindful though, I wouldn’t suggest using HA moisturizers in a dry climate. If HA can’t draw moisture from the environment, it may actually pull water out of your skin leaving it even dryer.

With regards to supplements, I tried Hyaluronic Acid Supplements for three weeks and didn’t notice much difference in my skin condition. But then again, there could be some long-term benefits so I wouldn’t totally discredit HA supplements. At the end of the day I didn’t feel like they did any harm.

So, is Hyaluronic Acid  really a “Fountain of Youth?” I think it’s safe to say that HA is our friend. Other than that, eat your vegetables, use good moisturizing creams and find a fabulous cosmetic surgeon!

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