1 – Introduction – hyaluronic acid – everyday greens or sugary treat?
One of the many joys of being based in Switzerland is our celebratory visit to Sprüngli (for those that don’t know….) whenever we hit a milestone. Very popular among our people are Luxemburgerli – a smaller, very delicious and super creamy version of a Macaron.
While the instant gratification of this sweet treat is a beautiful thing, we wouldn’t benefit so much from it if it was a daily habit. Of course, consuming overly sugary treats daily can result in several different health issues.
Understanding HA’s place in your beauty routine
So here at Mind the Beauty we see it as a special treat for special occasions which makes it extra exciting. And this is exactly how we like our hyaluronic acid (HA).
We love using i.e. a HA serum for a date night, a celebratory dinner or when invited to a wedding. Every time we feel we need a little extra glam HA is the perfect prep product. However, when it comes to our daily skin routine HA isn’t our first choice. For that we prefer, recommend and create products using ingredients that are sometimes a little overlooked but deliver far better overall results.
We realize that that is quite the opposite from what we are usually being told about HA. A lot of beauty brands recommend to use their HA products daily, if not twice daily.
In this blog post we will look into HA’s benefits and limitations in skincare considering the latest research.
We will also list some alternative ingredients we love.
But let’s dive into the topic of HA and why it is so incredibly popular. Why do many people believe it’s the be-all and end-all of skincare?
2 – What is hyaluronic acid and what does it do?
Hyaluronic acid, also known as hyaluronan, is a naturally occurring molecule found in various tissues throughout the human body.
Its primary function is to maintain hydration and lubrication in these tissues, making it a critical component for several physiological processes. So basically whenever hydration is somehow needed in your body HA kicks in and can save the day.
In the joints, hyaluronic acid acts as a lubricant and shock absorber.
For our skin HA plays a vital role in retaining moisture. It has the remarkable ability to hold water molecules, which helps to keep the skin hydrated, plump, and supple.
HA is found in various connective tissues, including tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. It contributes to the structural integrity and flexibility of these tissues.
HA also appears in the clear gel-like substance in our eyes called vitreous humor. It helps our eyes keep their shape and stay healthy.
Another major task of HA in our body is helping the wound healing process. It facilitates tissue repair by regulating inflammation, cell migration, and tissue regeneration. It also helps create a moist environment that is conducive to healing.
So clearly endogenous (originating from within an organism) HA has a big impact with its primary functions of maintaining hydration, lubrication, and tissue integrity.
3 – Benefits – What is hyaluronic acid good for in skincare and beauty products?
HA can be artificially produced through a fermentation process using bacteria. The resulting artificial HA can vary in molecular weight, which can impact its properties and suitability for different applications, such as skincare products or medical procedures like dermal fillers.
When applied topically to the skin (or hair) HA can provide immediate hydration and plumping effects, making it a popular choice in beauty products. Once applied you will usually see the results right away i.e. a reduction of fine lines.
Let’s look at the benefits of topical HA a little closer
Hyaluronic acid serums are popular for their ability to provide immediate hydration, making the skin appear smoother and more radiant.
HA’s hydrating properties can be beneficial for all skin types, including dry and sensitive skin.
Haircare products containing hyaluronic acid can hydrate the scalp and improve hair texture. It can also help combat frizz and improve overall hair health.
HA lip treatments can plump and hydrate the lips, making them look fuller.
A superhero molecule that can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water
So clearly our skin can benefit from a good HA product: Immediate hydration, suitable for various skin types, reduced appearance of fine lines.
So considering that it’s such a superhero molecule that can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water, naturally it didn’t take long for the beauty industry to make it a marketing sensation.
If you haven’t heard of HA yet you must be living in a cave somewhere in the mountains 🙂 It is impossible to look for any beauty product out there and not come across HA nowadays. There are almost no serums, creams, masks or mists to be found that aren’t promising to boost hydration and promote a plump, youthful complexion via the help of HA.
And while it certainly has its merits, the hype around hyaluronic acid may have led many to believe it is the one and only solution for healthy and glowing skin. But simply said that is not the case. Let’s dive in a little deeper together.
4 – Why should we consider hyaluronic acid alternatives?
The more popular an ingredient becomes the more testing is done. Recent research has shown that while often lauded for its hydrating properties, because that is literally what it is there for in the body, in certain circumstances, HA topically applied can paradoxically contribute to skin dryness.
In 2018 Dr. Shereene Idriss – a practicing board-certified dermatologist based in NYC – started posting videos on her YouTube channel sharing her experience with patients suffering from dehydrated skin even though they were using HA on a daily basis. How could this be?
She started doing research and came to a baffling conclusion: „…HA claims that it’s a moisture magnet — but not in a good way, as it literally slurps up and empties your cells of its water, plumping itself like a sponge in order to build volume and resilience. And over time, as HA’s water content evaporates, your skin becomes really dehydrated.“
This occurs when there’s a lack of moisture in the surrounding environment. HA’s effectiveness relies on drawing moisture from its surroundings into the skin. In dry or low-humidity conditions, HA is struggling to find external moisture to trap, leading it to draw moisture from the deeper layers of the skin. As a result, if there isn’t enough moisture within the skin to begin with, HA can exacerbate dryness by pulling water away from the deeper layers, ultimately leaving the surface feeling drier.
Immediate results are visible and convincing but the long term effect can be damaging for your skin
To sum up: Yes, amazing immediate results are visible and convincing but the long term effect can be damaging for your skin.
This doesn’t happen to everyone using HA but Idriss is often referring to alternatives that deliver better results and come without any side effects. We will get to that in just a moment.
Dr. Idriss concluded: „If you’re a proclaimed hyaluronic acid “junkie” and have been struggling to suss out the source of your recent skin freak out, take a good glimpse at your skincare routine.“
Science has shown that in spite of molecular size used, topical hyaluronic acid will always sit on the top layer of the skin
Another criticism challenging hyaluronic acid’s status as the ultimate skin hydrator that penetrates the skin deeply centers on its molecular size. While the concept of holding water equivalent to a thousand times its weight is impressive, this capability is attributed to only the largest HA molecules. Paradoxically, these substantial molecules cannot effectively penetrate deep into the skin to provide comprehensive rehydration. So the HA only sits on top of your skin.
It’s also important to use HA accordingly i.e. after cleansing and before applying moisturizer which is ensuring hydration is locked in and not lost.
NON-VEGAN HYALURONIC ACID
Some people may choose to avoid hyaluronic acid in skincare products due to concerns about its sourcing, as it is often not clear whether it is derived from animal or vegan-friendly sources.
Non-Vegan HA is sourced from animal tissues, such as rooster combs or cow’s eyes.
There are skincare brands using vegan-friendly HA derived from bacterial fermentation, which do not involve animal-derived ingredients. These products are usually labeled as vegan.
5 – What are the alternatives and what are the latest market trends?
OK, so let’s say you do actually feel like hyaluronic acid isn’t the best choice for you and/or your product- What are really good alternatives? Is there maybe something that is even better than HA but isn’t promoted as much?
At Mind the Beauty we are always looking for the most innovative, safe and result driven formulations.
Most innovative, safe and result driven formulations by Mind the Beauty
Some of the alternative ingredients we have been using for our clients and are very impressed by are the following:
Polyglutamic acid (PGA)
is a naturally occurring molecule found in certain fermented foods and bacterial byproducts. It has gained attention in recent years in the fields of skincare and medicine due to its unique properties such as:
PGA has an exceptional water-absorbing capacity, even greater than hyaluronic acid. This makes it an effective moisturizing agent in skincare products, helping to lock in moisture on the surface of the skin and maintain hydration by creating a protective film on the skin surface – something HA can’t provide. It has to be locked in with an occlusive ingredient ensuring hydration is not lost.
Skin Barrier Enhancement
PGA has been shown to strengthen the skin’s natural barrier function. This can help improve skin texture, reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL), and provide protection against environmental stressors.
PGA’s moisturizing and skin barrier-enhancing properties can contribute to a more youthful complexion by reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
PGA is considered safe and suitable for various skin types, including sensitive skin, as it is less likely to cause irritation compared to some other skincare ingredients.
PGA is used in some makeup primers to create a smooth canvas for makeup application. It can help makeup adhere better and last longer.
In the medical field, PGA-based materials are used in wound dressings and sutures due to their biocompatibility and biodegradability.
Another alternative we love is beta glucan, a natural polysaccharide (multiple sugars, starch, cellulose bonded together) found in fungi, yeast, bacteria, seaweed and oats. Beta glucan is renowned for its impressive hydrating and skin-soothing properties. When used in skincare products, it helps to reinforce the skin’s moisture barrier, promoting hydration and reducing moisture loss. Moreover, beta glucan has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, making it a suitable choice for individuals with sensitive or irritated skin.
Unlike HA, which primarily addresses surface-level hydration, beta-glucan’s ability to penetrate deeper skin layers can offer long-lasting moisturization and overall skin health improvements. Byrdie wrote about it recently stating it is „A Little-Known Skincare Ingredient With Big Potential“.
Furthermore a well established and researched alternative to HA is glycerin. Yes, you read that right: the good old glycerin. It is an effective humectant (ingredients that can pull water from the environment) that attracts moisture to the skin and promotes hydration reliably. We love glycerin as it has less inflammatory risks. It is a very effective ingredient that is easy to incorporate.
Another more long term effective alternative are ceramides. They are natural lipids found in the skin that help maintain its barrier function and retain moisture.
Some of the latest market trends?
Recent research has highlighted the potential of snow fungus extract as a promising alternative to HA. This natural ingredient has been shown to be effective in retaining skin moisture, leading to increased demand in skincare products. With time we will see whether it’ll be an ingredient with a great future in the industry.
Last but not least there is phosphatidylcholine, which is often referred to as PC for obvious reasons. It is almost impossible to read it out loud;).
PC is another intriguing alternative to hyaluronic acid in skincare and cosmetics. It is naturally occurring in cell membranes found in soybeans and sunflower seeds.
PC is used in liposomal formulations to promote hydration and maintain skin health. Liposomal PC can enhance the delivery of essential fatty acids and other beneficial nutrients to the skin, helping to strengthen the skin barrier and improve its overall moisture retention capabilities. We believe it’s an ingredient that will be more and more popular especially in anti-aging formulations.
Our conclusion: While topical hyaluronic acid undoubtedly has its merits in skincare, we think it is overrated due to the hype surrounding it.
We don’t believe in it as the best day to day solution and prefer the alternatives listed above. From experience we know that something like a miracle ingredient doesn’t exist. If anything it is always the combination of certain ingredients that can deliver safe and convincing results.
We think it is important to stay open towards new formulations especially considering biotech revolutionizing the skincare industry by enabling more and more innovative ingredients.
In the industry we do see a slight shift where HA is still playing a big role but alternatives are being explored and there are already some exceptional skin care products out there that are completely free of HA but deliver the same if not better results.
In fact as you are reading this (in October 2023) our partnering lab in Italy is working on a formulation for a serum that is fulfilling all these criteria. We will for sure update you on this. Stay tuned!