What is Hyaluronic Acid?

You would be hard pressed to see any beauty blogs, posts or advertisements that don’t talk about the benefits of hyaluronic acid. The beauty industry has embraced this product as the magic ingredient for skin hydration.  Beauty brands have been quick to welcome hyaluronic acid and add it to their products as the new darling of skin care and best way to treat dry skin and help skin retain moisture.

So what is it really?

The name is a bit misleading in that it sounds harsh.  How is putting a product with acid in its name going to help my skin retain moisture?  It’s okay, this is a good acid!

Our body produces three anti aging substances naturally, one of these being hyaluronic acid.  The other two are collagen and elastin.  Aging lessens our body’s ability to produce hyaluronic acid.  Since half of the body’s hyaluronic acid is in our skin it’s one of the first places that starts to show the effect of lowered production. Thankfully we can replenish our body’s diminished production of hyaluronic acid from outside sources.  It can be restored topically, through an injectable or as a supplement.  

In order to use hyaluronic acid topically, the molecules must be small enough to penetrate the skin.  Injectables tend to be thicker and more gel like.  Once they’re injected into the dermis it replaces lost volume and “plumps up” skin to make wrinkles and fine lines less visible.  The effect is immediate.  Hyaluronic acid in supplement form is an area that is still being researched but studies are showing that 120-150 mg/day improves skin elasticity and works with topical hyaluronic acid to smooth fine lines.


Hyaluronic acid is in the classification of glycosaminoglycans.  These are molecules that hold over 1000 times their own weight in moisture!  Hyaluronic acid is the glycosaminoglycan that is mostly found in skin but also in connective tissues (think muscles, tendons and cartilage) and your eyes.  Other glycosaminoglycans such as glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate are taken as supplements to lubricate joints and moisturize those connective tissues. 

Pure hyaluronic acid has a high viscosity, meaning it’s clear like water but thicker – more like a gel. 


Where it comes from

Although hyaluronic acid is created in our bodies, once production diminishes, we need to find external sources.  Commercially produced hyaluronic acid is sourced from both plants and animals.

Animal-based hyaluronic acid is derived from rooster’s combs.  That is the fleshy red piece on top of the rooster’s head.  Rooster combs are rich in hyaluronic acid.   

Plant-based hyaluronic acid is fabricated from a process called microbial fermentation.  This means that a bacterial strain containing hyaluronic acid is fermented to produce the proper molecular weight of hyaluronic acid for skin-care purposes.  

In general, hyaluronic acid creams are plant-based rather than animal based since it’s more ecologically friendly and cost-effective.  If you are vegan, check with the product manufacturer to ensure they source from plant-based hyaluronic acid. Empyri products are ALWAYS 100% vegan and cruelty free.


woman with glowing skin  

What are the benefits

Hyaluronic acid is a humectant.  That is a scientific term that means it holds moisture…a lot of moisture!  Like I said earlier, over 1000 times its weight in water.  This has huge benefits when we’re trying to have our skin retain moisture and stay hydrated.  


Hyaluronic acid actually bonds with water molecules to draw in moisture from the environment.  The moisture can come from the humidity in the air or even the underlying layers of your skin if the environment is dry.  This makes hyaluronic acid a key ingredient in any skin hydration routine.


Hyaluronic acid also has regenerative properties.  It can actually help repair damaged skin cells meaning scars and inflammation can be healed with use of hyaluronic acid.  This is especially good news for acne prone skin and irritated skin.  


What's the science behind hyaluronic acid?

When we are young, our skin retains its elasticity and softness because of its high-water content.  The normal aging process plus daily environmental factors cause a loss of moisture.  

Both of these activities result in aging skin.  One is inevitable – the natural aging process affects all organs in the human body, it’s unavoidable and natural.  This is called intrinsic aging.  The second is environmental, called extrinsic aging and is a result of our exposure to ultraviolet UV rays.  Indeed, almost 80% of facial skin aging is caused by UV damage.  

Menopause and the decreased production of estrogen/progesterone contributes to the loss of elasticity, dryness, reduced collagen production and wrinkles.  But hormone production starts decreasing as early as the mid-twenties so it’s important to look after our skin at all ages. 

Aging skin is dry skin and hyaluronic acid with its ability to retain and bind water molecules plays a vital role in keeping skin moisturized.  

Humectants are one of three key ingredients used in skin hydration.  The other two are emollients and occlusive.  All three play important and complementary roles in a skincare routine.  

Emollients fill in the spaces or cracks on the skin’s surface making it smooth and soft.  Remember in another post I mentioned that hemp is an excellent emollient? 

Occlusives act as a barrier on the skin’s surface, locking in moisture.  They tend to be thicker than emollients and once they’re layered on your skin, nothing is penetrating them. Certain oils and waxes are examples of occlusives.  

Most skin-care products contain a combination of these three moisturizers or are formulated to work together.  I’ll talk more about that later.


The types of hyaluronic acid that exist and what makes them different?

Most skin products list hyaluronic acid as one of their key ingredients but you may have heard other terms like sodium hyaluronate.  What are the types of hyaluronic acid and how are they different from each other?


Hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is thicker than water, more like a gel so in order for it to be used topically it must have a smaller molecular weight to allowing it to penetrate the skin.  One way to shrink the hyaluronic acid molecule is by breaking it down with water through a chemical reaction called hydrolyzing.  This causes the hyaluronic acid to attract and bind to large amounts of water on the skin’s surface thus producing the supple soft skin we all desire. 

Sodium hyaluronate

Rather than hydrolyzing, the more common way to make a topical form of hyaluronic acid is to extract its sodium to get sodium hyaluronate.  The molecular weight of sodium hyaluronate is lower than both hyaluronic acid and hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid, making it the preferred ingredient in most hyaluronic acid serums.  It is also less likely to oxidize than other forms of hyaluronic acid. This is the type of HA that empyri uses in the holistic hydration daily moisturizer 


Sodium acetylated hyaluronate

Sodium Acetylated Hyaluronate is a variation of hyaluronic acid that has even better moisture retention than sodium hyaluronate.  This comes from a process that replaces some of the hydroxyl group in hyaluronic acid with acetyl groups.  It sounds very scientific and technical but the end result is that it allows the hyaluronic acid molecules to “grab onto” the skin for better absorption. It also has the ability to repair damaged skin cells which reduces water evaporation from inside the dermis.  No wonder it’s also called Super Hyaluronic Acid! 

Are there any negative effects?

Since hyaluronic acid is something your body produces already, the negative effects of using it are very low.  It is best used in conjunction with a good moisturizer or oil.  This helps to seal in the moisture that is drawn into the skin by the hyaluronic acid.  If you’re in a dry climate where there is very little humidity, the hyaluronic acid will draw moisture from wherever it’s available, including the deeper layers of your own skin.  The oil serum (or occlusive) will “lock in” that moisture and not allow it to evaporate which could worsen dry skin. 

Before starting any new skincare product or regime, it’s important to remember that an allergic reaction or irritation is possible, although rare with hyaluronic acid.  Some people have found that they are more sensitive to sodium hyaluronate than hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid, possibly since its smaller molecular size makes it more absorbable.  Always perform a patch test on a small area before use.  


How to use it the right way in your routine

When we look at the goal of any skincare regime it has three purposes – to plump, moisturize and hydrate. This is accomplished by utilizing products that use humectants, emollients and occlusive either in combination or as part of a beauty regime.  

Hyaluronic acid is a key factor in that process.  But in order to maximize its effectiveness it should be used correctly.  A skincare routine is typically involves three things:

  • Washing
  • Toning
  • Moisturizing.  

Hyaluronic acid fits into this process after the cleanse and tone, before moisturizing. 

  1. Wash your face
  2. Prep with toner  
  3. Apply hyaluronic acid to damp skin 
  4. Finish up with your favourite moisturizer. 

The damp skin part is important.  Hyaluronic acid is a moisture magnet and if it can’t draw it from the surface of the skin it will pull it from deeper in the skin’s layers, thus drying it out. A good moisturizer will form a natural skin barrier to lock the moisture in.  “Use a moisturizer to increase the benefit of the HA, seal it and enhance the retention of fluid,” says Dr. Harold Lancer, a board certified dermatologist.  Products like empyri’s holistic hydration hemp cream combine one or more of these steps, such as adding the hyaluronic acid to a moisturizer, simplifying the process. 

How often should I use it?

Whenever you cleanse your face you can also use hyaluronic acid.  Morning and night are fine, as long as it’s applied to damp skin and moisturized.  

Personally, after cleansing and toning with empyri’s vitamin C toner, I like to use a pump of our hemp facial moisturizing cream with hyaluronic acid and a pump or two of our hemp facial serum.  I mix them together in my palm and apply all of my face and neck.  This is the perfect antidote to counter the effects of our dry Canadian winters.  Plus, it gives my skin an added boost of hydration.  

Why don’t all of empyri’s products use hyaluronic acid?

If hyaluronic acid is our own fountain of youth in a bottle, why don’t we put it in all our products?  Hyaluronic acid has its sacred spot in our skin-care regime but it’s just one piece of our routine.  In addition to the humectant properties of hyaluronic acid, we need emollients and occlusive to plump and smooth our skin.  

Also, since the empyri system is beneficial for all ages and skin types, we want to give you the flexibility to add in hyaluronic acid or leave it out.  Young skin still produces natural hyaluronic acid and might not need to supplement with the man-made version like us mature (wink wink) women.  

Your skin’s requirements may change with the environment.  I know that here in Canada, my skin craves an extra moisture boost in the dryer, cold season and adding hyaluronic acid to my skin-care routine fills that need.  


You Are Loved.


Jennifer Grant with Hemp Roots


Author Bio: Jennifer is the president and founder of empyri.  Jennifer’s passion for formulation and product development was set ablaze in 2019, when she incorporated the healing power of cannabis roots into her long-standing three-step skin care system. Armed with scientific evidence on the actives in cannabis roots and seeds, a clean and conscious brand was born. Using her masters degree in bio-chemical engineering, Jennifer is forging a path to ...READ FULL BIO