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Hyaluronic Acid & Sodium Hyaluronate

Reviewed by Claire August 26, 2013 31 Comments

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.

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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.

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 ($68 in the shop), Sevani Rose Hyaluronic Age Defying Tonique ($39 in the shop), Nutra-Lift Rejuvenating A Nano Renue ($48), Sheer Miracle Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum ($22), Hyalogic Episilk Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum ($59.95 in the shop)

Recommended Products w/ Sodium Hyaluronate:

Skinfinite Platinum PM Cream 1% Retinol ($79 in the shop), Your Best Face Hydrate B Concentrate ($45 in the shop), Prana Active Vitamin Lift Serum ($75 in the shop), Astara Age Defying Complex ($85)

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  • July 20, 2016

    by rogue g

    Hyaluronic acid works for wrinkles because the molecule swells after it absorbs water, and that plumps lines on the spot. Look for products with hyaluronic acid listed near the top of the ingredient list, cause that means there is alot of it. I use Lady Soma's Renewal Serum for my hyaluronic acid and will never stop using it. Its my favorite - and I am so happy everyone is into hyaluronic acid now because it does work!

  • March 24, 2016

    by adam

    Can you source where you are getting Sodium Hyaluronate has a smaller molecular size? It has roughly the molecular weight of 700k-1 million daltons. Your skin doesn't absorb anything much larger than 500 daltons. So that would suggest there is ZERO absorption when applied topically.

    Hydrolyzed HA from animal sources can be as low as 50 daltons, so those would pass into the skin, however this is almost never seen in skin care products. Oddly enough, food supplements HAVE had hydrolyzed HA available even though research suggests Sodium Hyaluronate is better ingested/injected than the hydrolyzed HA form.

    So in short, Hydrolyzed HA would be best for topical skin use, Sodium Hyaluronate is best ingested/injected. I would love to see research findings if there is another info out there.

  • August 15, 2014

    by gail

    Can sodium hyaluronate when used in undereye products cause puffy eyes? If its main purpose is to help skin absorb more water like a sponge increasing skin volume how could this not cause swelling which is its main purpose. Great for deep wrinkles and moisture to the face which does not cause problems for me but under eye its counter productive. Have you ever had anyone else share this problem/concern with you...I cannot be the first person to experience this reaction.

    Do you know of any other ingredient(s)used in under eye treatments that are noted to possibly cause negative reactions when applied topically under eye?

  • July 27, 2014

    by Marta

    Hi Mary
    Sodium hyaluronate should not interfere with blood pressure medicine or increase blood pressure. However, if you are taking medication and concerns and questions you should always consult your prescribing physician.

  • July 26, 2014

    by Mary

    Can sodium hyaluronate in topical face cream interact with blood pressure medicine or in some other manner cause an increase in blood pressure when applied to the face.

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