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Hyaluronic acid: Fact vs. fiction

This well-researched ingredient is the hero in many age-defying products.

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar
by Stephanie Papanikolas
Updated on Nov 7, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Kristen Jokela, NP-C
Globs of cream against a neutral background
Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar
by Stephanie Papanikolas
Updated on Nov 7, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Kristen Jokela, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Dry, cracked, scaly skin can be challenging to treat, especially if you live in a dry climate or are experiencing dry weather. Enter hyaluronic acid. The hype around this ingredient is real: Hyaluronic acid helps attract moisture to your skin, giving you plumper more nourished skin. It’s an ingredient to consider if you’re looking for deep hydration for your skin. Here’s everything you need to know about including hyaluronic acid in your skincare lineup.

The benefits of hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a moisturizing ingredient that deeply hydrates skin. It’s a humectant, which means it adds water to the skin by drawing moisture from the air and deeper layers of the skin. It can hold 1,000 times its weight in water.¹ It works by binding to water molecules to retain moisture in all parts of your body, like your eyes, joints, and skin.² 

While its moisturizing benefits help all skin types—including sensitive skin—it’s especially popular for reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by keeping the skin hydrated and dewy. 

Collagen degradation, loss of elasticity, and epidermal water loss all play a role in dry, wrinkly skin associated with aging. Epidermal water loss is associated with the loss of hyaluronic acid in the skin’s surface, but the reason this occurs in the skin as it ages is still being researched.³ However, it does explain why this ingredient is commonly found in anti-aging products: Hyaluronic acid has been proven to improve skin elasticity and firmness.⁴

Another benefit of hyaluronic acid is its wound-healing abilities. In a study with 43 patients with acute wounds, including trauma wounds, surgical sutures, burns, and dermabrasions, complete healing occurred in 56% of the cases after just six applications.⁵  

Hyaluronic acid side effects

Good news—according to dermatology experts, there are currently no known negative side effects associated with pure hyaluronic acid. It’s not considered an allergen and has no known toxicity. Because hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in the skin, an allergic reaction to this particular ingredient is extremely unlikely. 

That said, not all HA products are the same. If you do experience unsavory side effects, it may be because of other ingredients in your hyaluronic acid moisturizer. If you have sensitive skin, it’s typically a good idea to do a patch test when you buy a new product. You can also check for pore-clogging or irritating ingredients by ensuring you’re not using a product that contains any of these ingredients.

How to use hyaluronic acid

How you use hyaluronic acid will depend on what kind of product you’re using. The most commonly hyaluronic acid products are moisturizers and serums. And even some cleansers (like Curology’s) come with hyaluronic acid. Dermal fillers also use this ingredient, but fillers are an in-office procedure. 

The first step is applying the product to a clean face. Use a cleanser that’s formulated for your skin type to gently wash your face. And, yes, you can use both a cleanser and moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid in your regimen. 

  • Moisturizers infused with hyaluronic acid can be used once or twice daily. Use a pea-sized amount—enough to sufficiently moisturize your face and neck. In the morning, apply your moisturizing cream or lotion after cleansing and before protecting it (sunscreen with at least SPF 30 is the final product to apply before leaving the house). At night, use moisturizer after cleansing and treating your face with topical creams, like acne-busting and age-defying treatments. 

  • Serums containing hyaluronic acid can be used after cleansers (and toners, if you’re using one) and before moisturizers. You’ll only need a few drops. Gently massage the serum into your skin. Once you’re done, feel free to apply a heavier occlusive moisturizer to seal in hydration. Occlusive ingredients include shea butter, avocado oil, and pure petroleum. You may also choose to use emollients like ceramides.

Hyaluronic acid plays well with others, so there’s no need to modify other parts of your skincare routine. 

Some of the best hyaluronic acid products

Hyaluronic acid is an excellent ingredient to add moisture to your skin. Hydration is its superpower. (We love hyaluronic acid so much that it’s in many of our products, including the Curology-rich moisturizer, the Curology gel moisturizer, and the Curology cleanser.) 

Another form of hyaluronic acid is sodium hyaluronate. It’s a smaller molecule and water-soluble, so it can penetrate deeper into the skin. Products with hyaluronic acid or sodium hyaluronate are often formulated with supporting ingredients, like emollients, to lock in moisture or complementary ingredients, like antioxidants. 

Skincare products are formulated to do different things, so their supporting and complementary ingredients may differ. But you’ll definitely want to avoid certain ingredients like denatured alcohol, dyes, and added fragrance. 

Here’s a list of vetted products containing hyaluronic acid, including Curology’s two moisturizers and our cleanser (we might be a little biased). 

The best hyaluronic acid cream

The Curology-rich moisturizer

The Curology-rich moisturizer is a deeply hydrating cream perfect for aging skin or dry skin types. In addition to hyaluronic acid, this facial lotion is formulated with other ultra-moisturizing ingredients, including shea butter to help smooth tiny cracks in the skin and squalane to fight free radicals.

The best hyaluronic acid gel

The Curology gel moisturizer

The gel moisturizer by Curology offers more lightweight hydration and is ideal for oily skin types. This non-clogging, breathable, buildable formula also features glycerin to boost hydration, while dimethicone reinforces your skin’s natural moisture barrier.

The best hyaluronic acid serum

The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Serum

This hyaluronic acid serum is also formulated with glycerin and butylene glycol for extra moisture—it’s a great option for aging skin that will leave skin looking plump and hydrated.

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

A hydrating serum with hyaluronic acid that targets fine lines and uneven texture, plus vitamin B5 to help hydrate the skin’s outer layers. It’s a non-greasy, non-comedogenic, water-based formula—perfect for oily skin.

Indeed Labs Hydraluron Moisture Serum

This age-defying serum is fragrance-free and non-comedogenic. Its simple formula makes it ideal for sensitive skin. It’s one of the most potent hyaluronic acid serums, with sodium hyaluronate as its third ingredient. It’s a good, light moisturizer for plump, glowy skin!

happy woman posing for a photo

Try hyaluronic acid for yourself with Curology

In search of a hyaluronic acid skincare routine that won’t cause you to break out? Curology’s got your back. We love hyaluronic acid so much that it’s in many of our products—and new members can try them for free.*

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

curology bottle
curology bottle

We help take the guesswork out of your skincare routine—licensed dermatology providers work with you to examine your skin, assess your skincare goals, and provide custom treatment options. Becoming a member is easy. Answer a few questions and upload a few selfies to help us get to know your skin, and one of our dermatology providers will consult with you about your skincare routine and goals. If Curology is right for you, we’ll create a personalized prescription formula with a mix of ingredients chosen for your unique needs. 

Curology’s dermatology experts are there to answer your questions and guide you toward achieving your skincare goals. 

Your first month is on us—just pay $4.95 to cover shipping and handling.


Is it okay to use hyaluronic acid every day?

Yep! Hyaluronic acid has few side effects, and skin purging is not characteristic of adding this ingredient to your routine. But that doesn’t mean that other ingredients in your products can’t be irritating or clog your pores. It’s always best to start slow to see how your skin reacts or do a patch test if you have a history of sensitive skin.

Do you apply hyaluronic acid to wet or dry skin?

It depends. If you’re using a hyaluronic cleanser, you’ll apply it to damp skin. If you’re using a moisturizer or serum, you’ll apply it after patting your face dry with a soft cloth.

How long does it take to see results?

Everyone’s skin is different, and all products are formulated differently, so there isn’t an exact timeframe in which you can expect to see results. And you may notice some results (like plump, hydrated skin) more quickly than others. If you’re waiting to see improvements in fine lines and wrinkles, for instance, it may take longer.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. American Academy of Dermatology. Your winter skin survival kit. (n.d.).

  2. Sudha, P.N. and Rose, M.H. Chapter Nine - Beneficial effects of hyaluronic acid. Advances in Food and Nutrition Research. (2014).

  3. Papakonstantinou, E., et al. Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging.Dermato Endocrinology. (2012 July 1).

  4. Jegasothy, S.M., et al. Efficacy of a new topical nano-hyaluronic acid in humans. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (March 2014).

  5. Voinchet, C., et al. Efficacy and safety of hyaluronic acid in the management of acute wounds.American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. (2006).

Kristen Jokela is a certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary. Trial is 30 days.

This article was originally published on Feb 10, 2020, and updated on Nov 30, 2022.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

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