Topical Application of Hyaluronic Acid, Does Size Matter?

Hyaluronic Acid is a natural biomolecule (and a biodegradable polymer actually!) that is found in the eyes, skin, connective tissues and joints of the human body. It works as a lubricant to cushion the joints and also works to repair the body after damage or an injury. It is present in high amounts in growing babies, infants and small children and much work has been studied with its ability to heal fetal scarring. As we grow into adulthood, however, the natural hyaluronic acid in our body slowly declines. To supplement, it’s been used to treat joint disorders like osteoporosis or osteoarthritis. You’ve probably heard of it when you talk about shots in the knee to help lubricate as you walk. It is currently also used in eye surgeries, like cataract extraction or transplants, to replace the fluid lost during the surgery or to keep the eye properly moist. As a treatment, it can make it into the body in various ways including taken orally, applied topically, or injected, depending on the desired outcome or specific need for your case. It is derived from the comb of a rooster or it can be made synthetically as well. And don’t worry, it doesn’t sting like your normal hydroxy acids. It typically looks like a jelly-like substance. One of the most interesting facts about hyaluronic acid is that it is able to retain up to 1000 times its weight in water so it is very good at retaining moisture. Because of this exciting trait, its recently emerged as a way to defy the process of skin aging by replenishing lost moisture and boosting collagen production. Hyaluronic acid is the quickest way to say bye-bye to dry, winter skin and hello to spring time smoothness.

How Does It Work?


The skin ages because of two reasons—intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Our skin is made up of three layers, the epidermis, which provides the upper and outer layer made up of squamous and basal cells that is visible to the outside world; the epidermis, which is made up of connective tissue that provides a nice cushion; and the hypodermis containing the subcutaneous tissue which is found below the dermis where it stores the skin’s fat cells. Intrinsic skin aging is the result of natural age progression, the wear and tear of real life, if you will. Extrinsic aging is the result of environmental factors that speed up the aging process, like exposure to the sun, pollution or other toxins. When this aging of the skin occurs, the collagen and elastin in the skin starts to clump together or breakdown allowing wrinkles and sagging skin to occur. There is also a loss of moisture in the skin as we age. The great way to battle this breakdown of collagen is by adding hyaluronic acid to your beauty routine.

When it comes to your beauty regimen, hyaluronic acid is applied to the skin as a moisturizer where it acts as a humectant, increases elasticity and can create softer, smoother skin. Doctors can also use hyaluronic acid as a dermal filler which is injected into the skin to fill in the blanks on the spots that are sagging or wrinkling, diminishing the fine lines and wrinkles that appear with early aging. It works for everything from acne scars to frown lines to facial scars. The results are immediate and they last for a long time, working to stimulate collagen production and make your skin have an overall fuller look.

The Great Size Debate


Brewing in the science community is the debate of whether the molecular size of the hyaluronic acid matters when it comes to beauty treatments. The question is in regards to larger molecule sizes because they can’t actually penetrate the skin barrier. When a smaller molecule size is synthesized, the debate comes to the forefront on if we really do know how the molecule will react once it is placed inside the body. Will molecules under trigger more collagen to be made? What will the molecule do in response to a suggested injury, like if used through micro-needling, etc.? When it comes to this debate, the answer is really easily distinguishable. It is, in fact, very unlikely for a topical application of low molecular weight hyaluronic acid to have negative results on our skin. For instance, during an injury, when the extracellular matrix breaks down and generates small fragmented protein or other molecules to serve as signals to recruit immune cells to the site to start regeneration, hyaluronic acid is one of those molecules that’s called forth. So far, all the negative studies about this topic have been conducted in cell culture models which cannot be directly translated to the skin. Hyaluronic acid actually goes through natural degradation all the time. It does not have a very long half-life. It can last only about one day in our skin. Many articles have stated that the problem with low molecular hyaluronic acid is that when it is inserted or makes its way through the skin, that it causes confusion with the injury receptors and actually causes inflammation instead of easement. When in actuality, those degraded fragments (low molecule Hyaluronic Acid) do not induce inflammation, they are degraded and cleared by macrophages. So in fact, the low hyaluronic acid used in beauty products cannot penetrate the skin, but instead could at best go to the topmost layer of the skin barrier and act as a humectant and it does not elicit inflammation. Certain articles that claim to be based in scientific fact are actually using broad ideas to explain a very specific scenario, leading to confusion among beauty readers and clientele alike. For instance, be careful of articles that claim that the hyaluronic acid causes cancer because it has been found in cancer cells. Hyaluronic acid is actually present in all cells, malignant or not. Articles may also claim that small molecules injected into the skin may interrupt the signaling of the cell, causing the cell to think it’s injured when it’s not and to trigger inflammation. These articles completely disregard the idea of degradation, that the hyaluronic acid is actually removed from the skin without causing the inflammation. To best safeguard yourself against information that may or may not be true, have an honest conversation with your doctor about the pros and cons and the right beauty treatment for your case! You’ll probably be surprised at how much you were worrying for no reason!

So never fear! When it comes to products like hyaluronic acid, it’s definitely worth investing the time and research into understanding just how the product works at the molecular level. If you’re dealing with dry, rough skin than applying hyaluronic acid to your skin can prove to be a miracle treatment. If you’re dealing with acne scars or facial scars or wrinkling and sagging skin, injections can be a great fill in because treatments last a long time and provide immediate plumping of brow lines, laugh lines and the like. When used in conjunction with a healthy beauty regimen, like drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep and protecting yourself from harmful UV rays, using a form of hyaluronic acid treatments is a great and perfectly okay idea to try.

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