The beauty business loves a good buzz word, and when its marketing genies find an ingredient that the public responds to, they'll ask their scientists to add it to just about everything. Think of collagen, green tea, peptides and vitamin C.
The latest is hyaluronic acid, a substance that plumps and softens skin and has been added to products including lip gloss, eye shadows and moisturizers — and almost everything else in the beauty aisle. Hyaluronic acid is also the key component of several injectable wrinkle fillers.
So, first of all, some facts: Hyaluronic acid is a viscous, gooey substance that's a key component in connective tissue. It lubricates the joints and even sustains the shape of the eyeballs. Dr. Nowell Solish, a cosmetic dermatologist, dermatological surgeon and director of Dermatologic Surgery at the University of Toronto, says it's important to understand that all hyaluronic acid is the same. "In fact, so much so that your hyaluronic acid is identical to mine and identical to any species even. Originally, before they started making it synthetically, they used to get it from a rooster."
One of the main reasons dermatologists use it as an injectable is because it naturally occurs in our skin, he adds. "We can inject it in there and our body doesn't really see it as foreign," says Solish, who is one of Canada's first cosmetic dermatologists to use Botox.
Many fillers with hyaluronic acid are on or are coming to the market. "The first one on the market to be big and do really well was Restylane," Solish says. "It comes in different thicknesses. Restylane was sort of the middle one, and they make a thicker one called Perlane, and there's a thinner one, but I don't think that you have it in the U.S. It's called Restylane Fine Line in Canada." He says that the other main player in the North American market is Juvéderm and that it comes in different thicknesses as well.
"I'd hazard to guess that 80% to 90% of fillers are hyaluronic acid, and that's for good reason," Solish says. "They work well, they're safe, and they're easy to use. And importantly, they are reversible, so if you inject someone and for any reason they decided to change their mind, there is an anecdote — something that you can put in and literally within hours it's gone."
Hyaluronic acid is a popular ingredient in topical beauty products, such as moisturizers and makeup, as well. One of the substance's features is that it draws moisture from the air and is said to hold up to 1, 000 times its weight in water.
"When you apply it topically, the molecule is too big to get hyaluronic acid through the skin. So when we inject it to fill a wrinkle or line it works well. [But] when you put it on topically it's a misconception that it's all going into the skin," Solish says.
"It forms a barrier on the skin and gives a soft moisturizing effect that makes skin smoother … but it doesn't eliminate wrinkles," he adds.
Retin A and peptides that stimulate collagen are more effective topical wrinkle treatments than topical hyaluronic acid, Solish says. However, Retin A doesn't moisturize, so a moisturizer should be applied on top.
Clé de Peau Beauté recently launched its Synactif soap with hyaluronic acid, which produces a luxurious lather and rich experience (in more ways than one, as its $100 price tag might suggest). But Solish says soap is not as effective as creams because you wash them off.
And there are several serums and creams with hyaluronic acid on the market, including Philosophy's "When Hope Is Not Enough Replenishing Hyaluronic Acid/Peptide Capsules" ($50) that can be used alone or mixed into moisturizer; and Nude Skincare's "Moisture Balance" made with milk peptides, hyaluronic acid and pomegranate extract for oily skin ($68) or its silky "Advanced Smoothing Complex" with hyaluronic acid, vitamins A, C, E and CoQ10 ($88).
And finally, hyaluronic acid is also found in cosmetics including eye shadows, blush, foundation, primers, mascara and lipstick — the latter makes a lot of sense because of hyaluronic acid's viscous nature. Lorac's Couture Shine Liquid Lipstick and Clé de Peau Beauté lipstick both have hyaluronic acid for $22 and $55 respectively.
"My personal opinion is that [beauty companies] are using [hyaluronic acid] because the name is so popular with things like Restylane and Juvéderm," Solish says. "You can't get [collagen] through the skin either, but people knew collagen and they knew that it helped wrinkles and lines so companies used that to their advantage."