What is Hyaluronic Acid?

If you have been shopping for skin care lately you may have noticed the ingredient hyaluronic acid popping up everywhere. It's one of those buzzwords that gets thrown around a lot without a ton of explanation to go with it. So what is it and should I be using it on my skin?

What is hyaluronic acid + what does it do?

Hyaluronic acid/hyaluronan is a naturally occurring sugar molecule found in our skin and connective tissue. It acts as lubrication or once nicknamed "goo" for our joints, nerves, hair, skin, and eyes. When we are babies our bodies produce an abundant amount of it. This is one of the reasons why babies have such gorgeous plump looking skin. Unfortunately, as we age our bodies produce less and less which results in dryness, dehydration, loss of plumpness and radiance. Also, when skin is exposed to an excessive amount of ultra violet burning (UVB) rays the result is a sunburn. The cells in the dermis (deeper layers of skin) stop producing as much hyaluronan and increase the rate of its breakdown. This is one of the reasons why sunburned/tanned skin looks so dull, dry and crinkly.

Hyaluronic Acid in Skin Care

Don't let the word "acid" fool you, there is nothing stripping or exfoliating about this water soluble acid. The reason the beauty industry loves hyaluronic acid so much is for its ability to plump and hold on to hydration in the skin. Specifically, 1,000 times its weight in water! In fact, I often refer to it as "giving your skin a drink of water." Hyaluronic acid is one of my favorite ingredients and usually, I recommend it to my clients for a few reasons - hydration and plumping fine lines. 

The skin needs both oil and water to be happy and well balanced. Have you ever used a moisturizer and still felt dry? Most likely it's lack of water in the skin. This is a temporary and easily fixable skin condition that any skin type can have including the oiliest. I find people with oily and/or acne prone skin tend to use over use products that really strip the moisture from the skin resulting in dehydrated skin. So simply, adding a hyaluronic acid serum under your moisturizer would solve this issue.

Have you ever woken up and taken a look in the mirror and thought "holy schnikes where did these wrinkles come from?" (Yes, that is a Tommy Boy reference.)  Fine lines and wrinkles can look accentuated when you are dehydrated and even make you look older than you really are. How hyaluronic acid alleviates this is by taking that crinkled skin cell and plumping it making it nice and round smoothing those fine lines.

What is Hyaluronic Acid made from?

Hyaluronic acid can be made several different ways -  animal derived, plant derived, from bacteria or synthetically in a lab - but still completely safe and toxin-free.

Animal Derived - When animal derived it is taken from the joints or eyeballs of slaughtered cows/horses or made from the combs of chickens. Yes, you read that right - eyeballs and the flappy part on the head of a rooster. (I personally avoid this.) Please note that if it doesn't specifically say vegan or non-animal derived on the bottle or website it probably comes from an animal source.

Plant Derived - Botanical hyaluronic acid is ethically derived from a pretty yellow flower called cassia angustifolia native to Eygpt. This results in a clean and cruelty-free hyaluronic acid.

Bacteria Derived - When derived from bacteria it's commercially synthesized through bacterial fermentation of sugars or yeast. 

Other names for Hyaluronic Acid

Other names you may see on a skin care product ingredient list: Glycosaminoglycan, Hyaluran, Hyaluronan, Hyaluronate Sodium, Hylan or Sodium Hyaluronate

The most common you will see is the counter part to hyaluronic acid called sodium hyaluronate. It's the salt and water soluble form of hyaluronic acid. It's commonly used in skin care products because it's more stable and less likely to oxidize. Both hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate are used in skin care products but often referred to as the general word "hyaluronic acid". However, there are some differences. Sodium hyaluronate has a smaller molecule which allows it to penetrate better into the skin and why it's most commonly used in skin care. Now for hyaluronic acid to really penetrate the skin's surface is has to be engineered to have a smaller molecule.


Despite what that bottle of serum says there is no such thing as a 100% pure hyaluronic acid. It's simply unsafe, extremely drying and would have the opposite desired effect on the skin. Also, hyaluronic acid is too gelatinous in its own state and must be mixed with other liquids like distilled water or aloe vera gel so it can be absorbed into the skin. So if a company says it's a "100% hyaluronic acid serum" or "pure hyaluronic acid" insinuating that the entire bottle is straight hyaluronic, they mean the percentage total of a 1% serum. Don't be fooled!

Dermal Fillers

Some of you may or may not know this but dermal fillers like Juvederm, Restylane and Radiesse are actually made from hyaluronic acid too. They are injected into the dermis, which is the deeper layer of the skin and work by plumping lines and filling in areas that have a loss in volume.  For the most part, they are broken down over a period of time, usually, 6-12 months depending on the person's skin metabolism. They are typically used in areas around the mouth and lips or hollow areas that have lost volume.

If you have currently, or plan on getting dermal fillers and would like non-animal derived, Restylane and Juvederm are vegan-friendly. But, if they are sold in a country like China where animal testing is required they still may test on animals even though they do not contain any animal ingredients. 

Hyaluronic Acid in Pill form

What about taking hyaluronic acid in oral pill form? Unfortunately, there are hardly any studies to support whether it does help the skin or not. Some researchers say it's difficult for the body to digest since it has a large molecular weight. Also, it's broken down by the highly acidic digestive system before it ever reaches the correct layers of skin.

On the flip side, there are some studies that indicate they do help with hydration and plumping of the skin. However, most of these hyaluronic acid supplements also contain glucosamine (attracts water to tissue) since they are mainly formulated for joint health. So is it the glucosamine or hyaluronic acid in the supplement? This is all very new to science and I can't wait to read more studies in the future. With the lack of studies on hyaluronic acid specifically in skin care, I suppose taking a supplement can't hurt but I would definitely recommend sticking to a topical application for maximum results.

The recommendations

Here are some my favorite clean and vegan skin care products with hyaluronic acid.

Cosmedica Hyaluronic Acid Serum
This is an amazing hyaluronic acid serum that is straight to the point. Potent and perfect to add under your moisturizer and suitable for any skin type including oily and acne prone. It's also Babe on a Budget friendly! The 2oz is under $15!

Herbivore Botanicals Organic Moon Fruit Superfruit Night Treatment
This is a night time treatment that contains some light enzymes which dissolve dead skin and then penetrate hyaluronic acid for glowing hydrating skin in the a.m.

Naturopathica Cassis Ultra Replenishing Cream
I LOVE this moisturizer. I find it's ideal for dry, sensitive, mature and combination skin types. 

100% Pure Green Tea Water Bomb Mask
Slap this bad boy on and wear it until it shrivels! Good for any skin type - your skin will be super hydrated, your fine lines plumped and redness calmed.

100% Pure Bright Eyes Mask
And because the eye version of the Water Bomb mask is just as delightful plus, it contains caffeine to de-puff.

Tata Harper Illuminating Eye Creme
This a luxe treat for your eyes, not only is it anti-aging and de-puffing it also illuminates the eye area to add brightness.

Andalou Naturals Luminous Eye Serum
Babe on a Budget friendly at under $20