Often called the body’s “lubricant molecule,” hyaluronic acid, also known as hyaluronan, is a sugar molecule that occurs naturally in the body.
The highest concentrations of this gel-like substance are found in your skin, connective tissue, joints and eyes.
Its main function is to help collagen in these parts of the body bind to water. Retaining water in this way helps to keep these tissues moist and well lubricated.
The bad news is that we produce less and less hyaluronic acid (and collagen) as we age. As a result our skin becomes dryer and less elastic, and our joints and eyes less well lubricated.
Hyaluronic acid has a variety of uses and is found in a wide range of products. Many people take it as a supplement to support skin health or joint and bone health. It’s also a major ingredient in many anti-aging skin care products. Eye drops used to treat dry eye conditions often contain hyaluronic acid.
The big question is, does this increasingly popular ingredient actually work?
Hyaluronic Acid and Skin Health
The fact that about half of the hyaluronic acid in your body is present in your skin suggests that it has an important role to play.
Exposure to UV rays from sunlight, pollution and chemicals in tobacco smoke all reduce the concentrations in the skin. These effects, combined with the natural decline in levels associated with aging have been shown to lead to increased dryness in the skin, reduced elasticity and the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
Taking hyaluronic acid supplements may prevent this decline by giving your body additional supplies to boost levels the skin. The evidence suggests that taking supplements (120–240 mg per day for at least one month) can help to significantly increase moisture levels in dry skin. Studies have also shown that hyaluronic acid supplements can make skin appear smoother, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Serums and skin creams containing hyaluronic acid apply this key ingredient to the surface of the skin. Studies suggest that applying it topically can significantly increase skin hydration and reduce wrinkles.
Interestingly, the concentrations of hyaluronic acid increase when the skin is damaged. Studies have shown that it helps wounds to heal faster by reducing inflammation.
It’s this effect that makes it a frequent component in acne treatment systems. Whilst it doesn’t appear to play a direct role in clearing acne, the ability of hyaluronic acid to draw moisture into the skin helps treat the dryness which can be associated with acne. Its antibacterial properties can also help clear outbreaks.
Hyaluronic Acid and Joint Health
Hyaluronic acid is also found in high concentrations in our joints.
The bones at our joints (hips, elbows, knees) are covered in cartilage and surrounded by a membrane called the synovial membrane. This forms a capsule around the ends of the bones and secretes a liquid called the synovial fluid.
Hyaluronic acid has 3 main roles in maintaining healthy joints:
- Lubrication. It binds well to water, producing a viscous, jelly-like synovial fluid. This provides lubrication and also acts as a shock absorber within the joint.
- Growth of cartilage and bone. It helps in the growth and development of the joint’s cartilage and bone by promoting the growth of new cells and tissues.
- Reducing inflammation. It plays an important role in reducing joint inflammation and pain caused by injury or tissue degeneration.
Hyaluronic acid supplements are helpful for people suffering from osteoarthritis, a disease caused by wear and tear on the joints over time.
Studies have shown that taking 80–200 mg daily for at least two months can significantly reduce knee pain in people with osteoarthritis, especially those between the ages of 40 and 70.
There is also some interesting early research that suggest hyaluronic acid may help prevent bone loss (which precedes osteoporosis). These studies have been done on tissue cultures and animals. Whilst there are no human studies to back up these findings, they certainly appear to be promising.
Our take home message is that much of the hype around this molecule is well deserved. There is a lot of research which backs up the positive claims being made for it’s impact on both skin and joint health. It is generally safe to use, and allergic reactions are very rare.
Having said this, it is important to note that its effects during pregnancy and breastfeeding have not been well studied. These groups should be cautious and avoid supplementing with it. People with cancer or a history of cancer avoid are also advised not to take these supplements as there is some evidence that hyaluronic acid may make cancer cells grow faster.
We offer a range of top quality supplements to promote skin health and joint health in our shop. We also offer a range of the best topical skin creams and serums containing hyaluronic acid, all recommended by dermatologists. Take a look!