What Are the Different Forms of Hyaluronic Acid?

Plastic dropper releasing a drop of hyaluronic acid on unknown woman's cheek
What Are the Different Forms of Hyaluronic Acid?
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Thanks to the many benefits hyaluronic acid can bring to the skin, this ingredient is becoming increasingly popular.

However, just like with many other skin care ingredients out there, hyaluronic acid comes in a few different forms, so how do you know which one is best?

What is Hyaluronic Acid?

With the word “acid” in its name, hyaluronic acid may sound a little scary, but it is something that your body actually produces naturally.

It can be found throughout the connective tissue in your body, with 50% of it being found in the skin, and large concentrations in the joints and eyes.

What does it do?

It holds moisture.

In fact, hyaluronic acid is capable of holding up to 1000 times its weight in water.This then helps to keep the joints lubricated and the skin soft and plump.

Why Should You Be Using Hyaluronic Acid?

You are probably thinking…

If my body naturally produces hyaluronic acid, why do I need to use it on my skin?

Unfortunately, the rate at which your body produces hyaluronic acid declines as you age.

When you were a baby, your body and skin would have contained extremely high levels of hyaluronic acid, which is why a baby’s skin is famously soft and smooth.

However, once you reach the age of around 26, your body begins to produce less hyaluronic acid, with its production levels continually declining the older you get.

What happens then?

The onset of the following:

  • Fine lines and wrinkles
  • Dry skin
  • Thin skin
  • A loss of elasticity, resulting in loose and sagging skin
  • Facial redness
  • Slow wound healing
  • Eczema

Want to prevent all of this from happening for as long as possible?

Well, then hyaluronic acid is the ingredient you need.

The Different Forms of Hyaluronic Acid

Before purchasing a new product containing hyaluronic acid, you need to know what to actually look for on the ingredient label.


Because there are a few different forms of hyaluronic acid out there, and they are not all created equally. Since they each also have their own name, it always helps to understand the differences between them.

Hyaluronic Acid

You may think that hyaluronic acid in its purest form is the best way to use the ingredient, but this is not necessarily true…

The individual molecules that make up hyaluronic acid are quite large, meaning that this form of the ingredient is not able to penetrate into the skin’s surface.

Even though hyaluronic acid cannot penetrate the skin, it still brings with it a number of benefits, just from sitting on the skin’s surface.

Thanks to the way in which it is a humectant, meaning that it draws in moisture from the air, it can still help to keep the skin moisturized, preventing transepidermal water loss.

However, if you want your hyaluronic acid to actually penetrate into your skin, then you will need to seek it out in one of the forms mentioned below.

Sodium Hyaluronate

To put it simply, sodium hyaluronate is the salt form of hyaluronic acid, meaning that the size of its molecules is much smaller, and they are also significantly lighter.

What does this mean for your skin?

It means that sodium hyaluronate is able to penetrate the skin more effectively than hyaluronic acid.

It is also more chemically stable, meaning that its effects will be much more consistent, while the ingredient tends to have a longer shelf life.

Wondering if sodium hyaluronate has different effects to hyaluronic acid?

Since they are both essentially the same ingredient, they work in the same way.

However, since sodium hyaluronate can pass through the skin more easily, you may notice quicker and more dramatic differences in your skin when choosing this ingredient over hyaluronic acid.

Hydrolyzed Sodium Hyaluronate

While sodium hyaluronate features molecules that are smaller than hyaluronic acid, hydrolyzed sodium hyaluronate boasts even smaller molecules. Compared to hyaluronic acid itself, hydrolyzed sodium hyaluronate particles are absolutely tiny, and also have an extremely light molecular weight.

As you can imagine, this means that this is the form of hyaluronic acid that penetrates the skin the most, and is able to reach the deeper layers of your skin.

There are also a few other possible benefits to this ingredient when compared to the other forms of hyaluronic acid, such as:

  • Higher antioxidant activity
  • More capable of protecting the skin from the sun
  • Stronger after-sun skin repairing abilities

So, does this mean that hydrolyzed sodium hyaluronate is the best form of hyaluronic acid?

No, not necessarily.

In fact, this is quite a controversial ingredient…

The Dangers of Using Lower Molecular Weight Hyaluronic Acid Forms

While you may think that lower molecular weight versions of hyaluronic acid are better, this isn’t necessarily true.

Yes, they do penetrate deeper into the skin, but this can also bring about some side effects.

When these molecules enter into the skin, they can actually trigger an inflammatory reaction. This can then lead to the development of inflammatory skin conditions, such as psoriasis or even acne.

In addition to this, not only do the smaller hyaluronic acid molecules enter into the skin, but so do the other ingredients that they have been formulated with.

When it comes to certain ingredients, this can be extremely beneficial. However, as you already likely know, many skin care products contain harsh ingredients that you definitely do not want deep within your skin.

Which Form of Hyaluronic Acid is Best?

When it comes to deciding which form of hyaluronic acid is best, this all depends on your skin type, as well as the skin issues that you are trying to treat.

If you have sensitive skin, then you are best off opting for a higher molecular weight, as you don’t want the smaller molecules to penetrate deep into your skin and cause a reaction.

However, for those who don’t have sensitive skin, and who are trying to treat deeper lines and wrinkles, a lower molecular weight may be better suited to you.

When it comes to measuring the molecular weight of hyaluronic acid…

The term dalton is used to refer to the mass of the molecules.

The scale goes something like this:

  • High Molecular Weight – 1.0 – 1.5 million daltons
  • Low Molecular Weight – 0.8 – 1.0 million daltons
  • Extra Low Molecular Weight– 80,000 – 110,000 daltons
  • Super Low Molecular Weight– less than 50,000 daltons
  • Ultra Low Molecular Weight– less than 6000 daltons

As you can see, there is quite a difference between those measurements.

Ideally, you want a product that contains the molecules at a measurement of 80,000 to 1 million daltons, meaning that you should aim for a product that features either extra low or low molecular weight hyaluronic acid.

When choosing skin care products that contain hyaluronic acid, you may find some that feature the ingredient in a few different forms.

While this ensures that both the surface and deeper layers of your skin are able to receive the ingredient, you should still pay attention to the molecular weight of each form within a product, especially if you are prone to sensitivities.

Which Skincare Products Should You Go For?

If you have been considering using hyaluronic acid for a while, or already use the ingredient, then you will likely have already seen that this ingredient is formulated into such a wide variety of skin care products.

From cleansers and serums to creams and spot treatments, how do you know which one to go for?

Well, when it comes to a powerful ingredient such as this, your priority should be to ensure that it is delivered to your skin as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Your best bet for a daily dose of hyaluronic acid would be a serum.


Because serums are incredibly lightweight, meaning that they are easily and quickly absorbed by the skin.

Moisturizers can also be beneficial, especially for higher molecular weight hyaluronic acid, since these molecules will sit on the surface of your skin, along with the rest of the ingredients in your moisturizer, to hydrate and protect this part of your skin.

You will also find hyaluronic acid in face masks. These can be extremely beneficial since they are designed to remain on the skin for an extended period of time.

However, face masks are also designed to be used once a week or so, meaning that if you are looking to use the ingredient to target specific skin concerns, you will need a form of it that can be used on a regular, daily basis.

How about cleansers containing hyaluronic acid?

They aren’t really worth it. A cleanser doesn’t remain on your skin for very long before it is washed away, meaning that the ingredient will not have time to properly work its magic.

The Importance of Applying Hyaluronic Acid to Damp Skin

The majority of skin care ingredients out there are best applied to damp skin.

However, there will always be those days when you quickly slap on your skin care products in a hurry, not paying any attention to how dry or damp your skin is.

You may not realize it, but this can actually lead to the ingredient having the opposite effect…

As mentioned above, hyaluronic acid is a humectant, meaning that it acts like a magnet for moisture.

If you apply it to dry skin, it will end up pulling away any residual moisture from deep within your skin to the surface. While this may keep the surface of your skin moisturized, it means that the deeper layers, which need the moisture even more, will end up lacking in it.

This is why it is so important to only apply hyaluronic acid to damp skin.

If you are in a hurry…

Simply give your face a spray with either some water or a facial mist, before applying the hyaluronic acid.

Using Hyaluronic Acid to Support Other Ingredients

Thanks to its powerful moisturizing properties, hyaluronic acid works really well when supporting certain other skin care ingredients.

A great example of this would be retinol.

While retinol is one of the most potent anti-aging ingredients out there, it can have a drying effect on the skin. Using hyaluronic acid along with retinol will help to counter this, keeping the skin moisturized and hydrated while the retinol works at a deeper level.

Exfoliating products also work well when used in conjunction with hyaluronic acid.

As you already know, exfoliants remove the top layer of skin. This brings with it a number of benefits, but does also leave the skin vulnerable to the environment, as well as to dryness.

Try applying some hyaluronic acid after exfoliating. This will keep your skin soft and plumped up, while protecting it from environmental damage and moisture loss.

When to Use Hyaluronic Acid

Since hyaluronic acid is such a gentle ingredient, there aren’t really any restrictions on when you should or shouldn’t be using the ingredient.

There is nothing wrong with using hyaluronic acid twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.

Your skin actually functions differently in the day compared to at night…

During the day, your skin works to protect itself from environmental damage, which hyaluronic acid can help with.

At night, while you are asleep, your skin works to heal and regenerate itself. This is the time during which it uses up the most water, meaning that an extra boost of moisture from hyaluronic acid will never go amiss.

With hyaluronic acid becoming more and more popular, it is now being found in an increasing variety of skin care products. While this may be great in terms of being able to actually find a suitable product that contains the ingredient, you still need to make sure that you are aware of the different forms of hyaluronic acid, along with its varying molecular weights, so that you can ensure that you choose the best form of the ingredient for your skin.


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