Hyaluronic Acid and Its Skin Absorption

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Facial filler products such as Restylane or Juvederm claim to smooth facial contours with an infusion of hyaluronic acid. Some anti-aging creams claim to deposit topical hyaluronic acid on your skin’s surface to diminish the look of fine lines and wrinkles. To be effective, however, the hyaluronic acid needs to absorb into your skin; while this isn’t a problem with injectable fillers, it’s highly unlikely topical hyaluronic acid absorbs well enough to effect a change.


Hyaluronic acid is a viscous substance that occurs naturally in your body. Its purpose is to fill the extra space between the fibers and tissues that make up your skin, cartilage, joints and eyes. According to the New Zealand Dermatological Society, hyaluronic acid helps carry nutrients from your blood to your skin cells; it also holds water, helping your skin appear plump and moisturized. As you age, however, your body’s natural supply of hyaluronic acid deteriorates.


Doctors can replace your diminishing supply of natural hyaluronic acid with a lab-created version. The New Zealand Dermatological Society reports that hyaluronic facial injections can help restore a plump and even skin contour on the forehead, near the mouth, near the eyes or anywhere scar tissue has caused skin to sink. Not all treatments involve injections, however. Some facial creams include hyaluronic acid as an ingredient, claiming to boost your skin’s natural supply via topical application.


In “Cosmetic Dermatology,” Cheryl Burgess writes that there are two types of synthetic hyaluronic acid: one made from bacteria, such as the type found in Restylane, and one made from rooster combs, such as the type found in Hylaform. Burgess notes that each type of filler must be stabilized with ester or ether; the more of the stabilizing agent the formula contains, the less compatible the synthetic hyaluronic acid is with your skin. This is why most fillers need to be injected repeatedly — the less stable the filler, the more compatible it is with your skin but the more quickly it breaks down.


According to Arthur Perry in “Straight Talk about Cosmetic Surgery,” a product’s absorption depends on the size of its molecules. He compares your skin to a chain-link fence: smaller objects can pass through it and be absorbed while larger molecules cannot. Hyaluronic acid, he notes, is one of the larger molecules. Substances with a molecular weight of 500 Daltons or more cannot penetrate skin’s outer layer, he notes. The hyaluronic acid in most skin creams, he notes, weighs between 10,000 and 10,000,000 Daltons, meaning it cannot be absorbed. In contrast, lighter substances such as glycolic acid, vitamin C and vitamin A derivatives such as retinoids can be absorbed.


If you receive a hyaluronic acid injection, be aware that the effect is only temporary. Just as the natural hyaluronic acid in your skin breaks down over time, so will the artificial acid contained in the cream or injection. The New Zealand Dermatological Society reports that hyaluronic acid injections last between three and nine months.