Injections of hyaluronic acid (the primary ingredient of Restylane), according to a review in The Archives of Dermatology cited by this New York Times article, are one of three anti-aging treatments available that are proven clinically effective. The others are: the topical application of retinol and carbon dioxide laser resurfacing. The article states:

“Theory and experiment back these treatments… Each depends on the same mechanism, the interaction of skin cells called fibroblasts with the collagen they produce… Fibroblasts—connective tissue cells—secrete a complex group of polysaccharides and proteins that creates collagen, which gives the skin shape and elasticity and supports blood vessels that permeate it. The network of collagen tissue is maintained by its mechanical tension with these skin cells…”

This post, however, is about the topical application of skincare products containing sodium hyaluronate—the salt of hyaluronic acid, which, the article says, “should not be confused with [hyaluronic acid] in some topical cosmetic products… Rubbing such products on the skin will not stimulate collagen production.”

Still others claim that—thanks in part to advances in infiltration nanotechnology and its ultra-low-weight molecular formation—that there is something to sodium hyaluronate.

But before we can get to what that something is, we have to learn a little bit about what makes hyaluronic acid (HA) so special.

What is Hyaluronic Acid?

HA is the naturally occurring and widespread component found within the extracellular matrix (ECM) within bodily tissues, especially those of the face. Originally extracted from rooster combs, it is now produced as a reactive byproduct of benign bacteria and is identical to the substance found within the skin. Its water-binding and water-attracting attributes fill up the spaces between the connective fibers collagen and elastin in the dermis. When injected into the face, HA functions to hydrate and separate the skin, holding onto water and supporting all that makes the face plump and voluptuous.

So why do you need it?

Well, in case you didn’t know, your skin’s dermis layer is made up of about 70% water and claims nearly 50% of your body’s total HA allotment; there it helps to support and hydrate the skin, resulting in a healthy and attractive appearance. As your amount of HA decreases (which it will do with age; in fact, adults have only 1/20th the amount of HA of a baby), the ECM becomes dehydrated, leading to surface roughness, flaking, fine lines, and a whole host of other undesirables.

Dry skin also leads to wrinkly, flappy skin. Wrinkles come about from the loss of three important components in the skin: collagen, hyaluronic acid, and elastin. HA provides the hydrating, nutrient-transporting framework necessary for holding up the structure of the ECM in the skin. If elastin is not bathed in water it becomes dry and brittle, invariably leading to dull, loose and less-elastic skin. Dry skin is aged skin.

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What is Sodium Hyaluronate?

Sodium hyaluronate has a smaller molecular size as HA (making it especially penetrative), and is able to hold more water than any other natural substance—up to 1,000 times its weight in water!

Thanks to these to attributes, when applied topically to the skin it can reach deep down into the dermis to combine with, maintain and attract water. It also promotes skin/blood microcirculation and nutrient absorption, and helps maintain normal metabolism. Thanks to its super-sized hydrating properties, sodium hyaluronate will result in smoother, softer skin with decreased wrinkles and an all-around fuller appearance.

Although HA and its various formations have been used in skincare products and cosmetics for some time, there have been no published clinical studies on its topical application, says Jenny Kim, associate professor of medicine and dermatology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in an article for the Los Angeles Times. She goes on to say: “…to claim HA can rejuvenate the skin by applying it topically is probably a stretch, but it’s very good for the skin because it’s very moisturizing.”

So what does sodium hyaluronate do, really?

Well, for one, it helps your skin bring and absorb water more effectively.  On top of that, it reduces any sort of trans-epidermal water loss.

Think of it like one of those Sammy sports towels you see Olympic divers use to draw up all the extra water from their skin after getting out of the pool. Topically adding sodium hyaluronate transforms the dermis layer of your skin into a super-sponge for your face. By helping to maintain and attract water within the extracellular matrix, it not only hydrates the skin and increases its volume and density, but, by effect, temporarily stabilizes the intercellular skin matrix—the glue that holds your face together.

The result of all of this leads to a slight swelling of the skin that reduces the appearance of wrinkles. Unfortunately, this is more of a temporary improvement of the skin. Nonetheless, the intense moisturization does allow for the skin to operate at higher capacity to provide a better defense against environmental assaults and other aging effects.

Recommended Products w/ Hyaluronic Acid:

Sevani Hyaluronic Wrinkle Defense ($60 in the TIA shop), Sevani Rose Hyaluronic Age Defying Tonique ($39 in the TIA shop), Nutra-Lift Rejuvenating A Nano Renue ($48 in the TiA shop), CeraVe PM Moisturizing Lotion ($12.99), Mango Madness Hydrospherex Hyaluronic Acid Firming Serum ($67)

Recommended Products w/ Sodium Hyaluronate:

SenZen Plump It Up Hydrating Serum ($48), Your Best Face Hydrate B Concentrate ($40 in the TIA shop), Prana Active Vitamin Lift Serum ($75 in the TIA shop), LiftLab Lift & Fix High Potency Solution ($85 in the TIA shop)

As far as possible, products in the Truth In Aging shop are chosen for their safety profile as well as effectiveness.

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