Grooming is a world filled with jargon, technicalities and insider knowledge – some of it true, a lot of it bluster. That's where the Grooming Glossary comes in: a brand new series that drops the science on the world of skincare and haircare so you can self-care better – and with the know-how to separate the wheat from the chai-infused anti-aging miracle potion. This week, we distill the workings of grooming's wonderserum: hyaluronic acid.
Acid, sadly, is a noun that has suffered all sorts of abject connotation. Say it aloud, and it even sounds evil: vinegary, insidious, a nod to the pukey projectile weaponry of Mephistophelian aliens of an early Ridley Scott film. But acid isn't a bad guy. He's just a little misunderstood, tarred with the same brush applied to wrong'un cousins in his circle. For there are good acids. And no acid is gooder or purer or more helpful than a certain strain of the hyaluronic variety.
Or more omnipresent. You see, hyaluronic acid – referred to as a 'goo' molecules until the Seventies – is everywhere in the human body. It acts as a lubricant between joints. It allows muscles to work in tandem. It even gives our precious inside pieces viscosity and elasticity, making sure everything ticks along as it should. That's because hyaluronic acid is a gel-like molecule that can hold over 1,000 times its weight in water says Dr Robin Schaffran, chief dermatologist at BarmLabs. And, it's this very superpower that makes it an excellent boon to the business of skincare.
"Hyaluronic acid is an incredible hydrator, meaning it locks moisture in, leaving skin plumper and smoother," the LA-based doctor tells me over email. "The acid itself bonds with water molecules, and ultimately delivers that moisture to the skin when applied topically, and I'd say it started to become a buzzworthy beauty product around ten years ago." Since then, it's an active ingredient in almost every product that claims to reduce fine lines and pack in moisture.
Another hi-marketing, low-result ploy this was not, though. Hyaluronic acid works. A troika study between the University of Kuopio, the University of California and New York University Medical Centre found that the molecule enjoys a good working relationship with retinoic acid, more commonly known as vitamin A. If there's more of the former (which battles ageing and sun damage), research found that there was more hyaluronic acid, which abetted vitamin A's effectiveness and increased tissue hydration. So, it keeps your skin moist, and ensures its colleagues are doing a good job, too.
Hyaluronic acid is also something of an office manager. Though instead of gleefully issuing shitty emails for overuse of the Xerox, a 2011 study found that the molecule keeps the place tidy by hoovering up free radicals – rogue agents that bruise DNA by mugging the skin atoms of its electrons – and thus braking the anti-aging process. The bottles aren't lying to you.
Just don't expect to wake up with the skin of a 22-year-old that's finally seen his hormones level out. Prevention, as always, is better than a cure. "No topical product can truly 'reduce fine lines' in any significant way, but consistent use of a moisturising product containing hyaluronic acid can most definitely improve the appearance of fine lines," says Dr Schaffran. "That said, you will feel the benefits of plumper, smoother, softer skin."
Excellent, so into the vat of hyaluronic acid you go! Er, not so fast, young alchemist. Even within the bonfire of regulation that is the US of A, grooming companies are barred from supplying the everyman with highly potent chemicals. Hyaluronic acid, then, is often presented in tandem with substances that dilute or moisturise the skin, as high amounts can actually do the opposite of its intended watery purpose. "A product that is pure hyaluronic acid can end up drawing moisture from the deeper levels of your skin, which in turn will cause your complexion to feel dry or tight or uncomfortable, aggravating dry skin further," says Dr Schaffran. That means you avoid the heavy duty stuff, and stick to serums or moisturisers that should be applied as the second to last step before sunscreen.
So say it again, out loud, and apply liberally. Acid. Doesn't sound so bad after all.
Verdict: If your grooming rotation is without hyaluronic acid, then you're going without an essential. And we don't want you to go without. Expect to see a marginal reduction in fine lines, and a huge uptick in moisture (which stops further fine lines down the road).
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