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Sodium Hyaluronate Vs. Hyaluronic Acid: What To Know

If you want plumper, softer, smoother skin — with less fine lines and dryness, there’s only one skincare ingredient you truly need: hyaluronic acid (HA).

Hyaluronic acid is a beloved beauty ingredient which comes in numerous shapes and forms. First, there’s the kind that naturally exists in your body. Then, there are synthesized hyaluronic acid gels, like Juvéderm and Restylane, used for injectable fillers to the face as well as the feet to improve padding on the bone to decrease pain. Finally, there are the two versions most commonly found in skincare products — hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate. So which one is actually better for your skin? Cosmetic chemists and dermatologists say it’s… kind of a draw.

If you find that conclusion disappointingly vague, you may be happy to learn the reasoning behind it, including — different forms and the pros and cons of each, which works best for certain skin types — is pretty fascinating. Before we dig into the intricacies, lets start with the basics.

What is Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is a glycosaminoglycan, a fancy name for a vital naturally-occurring substance that’s part of skin’s youth-supporting matrix. As the chief glycosaminoglycan in skin, hyaluronic acid works to keep every aspect of skin stable, safeguarded, and constantly renewed.

Hyaluronic acid is also a humectant, which is a category of skin care ingredients that are hygroscopic, meaning they draw moisture from their surroundings. Humectants are often found in water-based moisturizers, serums, and other leave-on skin care products because of their ability to help boost hydration for all skin types, which is especially beneficial for dry, dehydrated skin.

The highest concentrations of HA are found in your skin, connective tissue and eyes which makes sense as its main function is to retain water to keep your tissues well lubricated and moist.

Roughly half of the hyaluronic acid in your body is present in your skin, where it binds to water to help retain moisture [1]. It plays a big part in skin health, keeping cells hydrated and plump, however, as we age levels of HA in our body diminish, and it can show on our skin by making it drier and more prone to wrinkling. [2][3].

When applied to the surface of the skin, hyaluronic acid serums can reduce wrinkles, redness and dermatitis [4][5][6]. When injected hyaluronic acid fillers further serve to keep skin looking firm and youthful [7][8]. Click here for more on the benefits of hyaluronic acid.

Hyaluronic acid also plays a key role in wound healing. As stated it is naturally present in the skin, but its concentrations increase when there is damage in need of repair. Hyaluronic acid helps wounds heal faster by regulating inflammation levels and signaling the body to build more blood vessels in the damaged area [9][10].

How Does Hyaluronic Acid Help Dry, Dehydrated Skin

So, what does hyaluronic acid do? The science-based magic lies in hyaluronic acid’s ability to replenish a LOT of moisture. One gram (or 0.03 oz.) of hyaluronic acid can hold up to six LITERS of water. Talk about mind-blowing! What’s even more impressive is that hyaluronic acid can do this for skin without tipping the scales and giving skin too much water (which, surprisingly, can be a problem because it breaks down key substances that normally hold skin’s surface intact).

Hyaluronic acid can enhance moisture content beyond comparison. It also revitalizes skin’s outer surface layers, so they look and feel softer, smoother and radiantly hydrated. This instantly improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Hyaluronic Acid’s Anti-Aging Benefits

Hyaluronic acid’s moisture-binding characteristic is exceptionally important when it comes to skin aging. When we’re young, our skin can hold onto water and retain a balanced amount of moisture, but it loses this ability as we age. The result is a visible loss of firmness, pliability, and a diminished appearance of plumpness and suppleness resulting in fine lines and wrinkles. Simply put, hyaluronic acid has powerful anti-aging properties.

Unprotected sun exposure and environmental assault weaken skin’s surface and cause premature aging. Daily use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen and avoiding harsh skin care ingredients is a must for combating these things, but hyaluronic acid’s antioxidant and skin-replenishing properties go a long way toward mitigating those issues, too (especially when used as part of a complete anti-aging skin care routine that also includes other research-backed ingredients).

What Causes a Deficiency of HA?

There are many factors that result in the natural depletion of HA including:

• Intrinsic aging factors (internal physiological factors)
• Extrinsic aging factors (environmental and lifestyle factors – ultraviolet radiation, diet, smoking)

How To Replace What’s Been Lost?

Topical application of HA proves effective to assist in replenishing the levels of natural moisture in the skin. If skin is particularly dry, topical HA skin care products will assist in promoting a smoother, plumper, more youthful-looking appearance.

A growing body of research confirms oral intake of hyaluronic acid can make it to the skin, where it helps the lower layers influence what happens and becomes visible on skin’s surface. Amounts of 120-150 milligrams per day have been shown to increase skin’s hydration, aid in the transport of nutrients in skin, visibly improve elasticity, and complement the plumping, wrinkle-smoothing results topical hyaluronic acid provides.

Forms of HA + Pros & Cons of Each

Although hyaluronic acid does naturally occur in the human body, it’s not necessarily considered a “natural” ingredient in skincare, since HA needs to go through chemical processing in order to be effective in topical application. HA is known to have a large molecular weight and therefore does not penetrate the skin. One way to minimize the HA molecule is via hydrolyzing — AKA, breaking it down via a chemical reaction with water — which results in the hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid commonly seen in serums and moisturizers. This type of HA works on skin’s surface to attract and bind significant amounts of water to help hydrate the skin. It’s especially useful in the winter months, when your skin is naturally drier on the surface, as long as you use an occlusive to lock it in. (More on that later.)

The more common way to turn pure hyaluronic acid into a useful topical is to extract its sodium salt to get sodium hyaluronate. Sodium hyaluronate is a derivative of HA and this salt form has a lower molecular weight than both HA and hydrolyzed HA, allowing to be easily absorbed into pores. Sodium hyaluronate has the ability to penetrate into deeper layers of the skin, and also attracts and binds water. This effect can plump the skin, thus reducing the look of wrinkles and making skin younger-looking.

Sodium hyaluronate is far more stable and less susceptible to oxidation. That stability makes sodium hyaluronate attractive to product formulators. In fact, almost all ‘hyaluronic acid’ serums actually contain sodium hyaluronate as the key active ingredient. The terms are used interchangeably, so while products may say “hyaluronic acid” on the front of the bottle, the back of the bottle lists “sodium hyaluronate.”

How to Optimize Absorption

When HA is used in conjunction with cosmetic microneeding (CIT), post skin peel, micro or hydrodermabrasion (via a HydroFacial) and even more profoundly with the addition of low-frequency sonophoresis (ultrasound).

The ingredient should be a cornerstone of any anti-aging routine. Check the labels of your favorite skincare products—chances are you’re already using it in some form or another. As a topical product, as long as it is in the right formulation, it will make the skin appear more dewy and younger because it improves skin elasticity.[11]

Side Effects

Hyaluronic acid plays well with most other ingredients and can be paired with peels, retinols, vitamins, and other acids, the only exception would be acids with low pH levels, like glycolic acid, because it may degrade the HA and make it ineffective.

The risks of hydrolyzed HA and sodium hyaluronate are pretty minimal, but there’s evidence to suggest you can have too much of a good thing. It needs moisture to work, so when applied to skin in dry conditions where humidity is low, it will pull moisture from wherever it can. If there’s no humidity to be obtained from the air, it draws moisture from the deeper layers of skin and brings it to the surface of the epidermis, whence it evaporates, leaving skin drier than it was. The solution here is twofold: Use only one HA-containing product at a time, and seal it in with a moisturizer or oil.

As with any ingredient, irritant or allergic reactions are always possible. Some beauty enthusiasts find they have sensitivities to sodium hyaluronate, but their skin thrives on hydrolyzed HA (it’s a big topic of conversation in Reddit’s Skincare Addiction community). One study theorizes this is due to the low molecular size of sodium hyaluronate and it’s increased absorption. If you notice any inflammatory symptoms — blemishes, redness, irritation — you may want to reduce or discontinue hyaluronate serums and moisturizers to see if that helps.


Hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid works at the surface-level to smooth and hydrate, and sodium hyaluronate does the same on a deeper level, which helps reduce signs of aging. Both forms have advantages and can be used together, depending on the desired effects. There are plenty of products that boast both for double the benefits.

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