Hyaluronic acid : What can this active ingredient really do?

Arrangement of transparent gel drops to illustrate the hyaluronic acid.

Hyaluronic acid (short: hyaluron or hyaluronan) is a mucilage substance. What sounds disgusting is super useful for the skin. This is because mucilage binds water and surrounds the skin with a moisturizing film. This film is important because it prevents moisture from quickly evaporating from the skin. And well-moisturized skin looks fresher and smoother. Many creams therefore rely on hyaluronic acid and its anti-aging effect.

Why is hyaluronic acid so important?

The skin binds a large part of our body water; the healthy epidermis consists of as much as 70 percent of it. Conversely, this means that it needs moisture itself in order to be able to function. Dry skin is sensitive because it lacks important protective properties. It feels rough and ages more quickly. Hyaluron is found in the connective tissue between the skin cells. Already in the mid-twenties, the hyaluron in the skin constantly decreases. Then the skin loses elasticity and resilience - wrinkles appear with increasing age, and later also deeper wrinkles.

The skin needs more than water

Keeping skin moisture at a constantly good level is therefore one of the most important tasks of coordinated skin care. Water alone is not enough. It is not water that provides the skin with the moisture it needs, but moisture-binding ingredients, also known as humectants. And hyaluronic acid is way out in front.

Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring polysaccharide in the body, i.e. a multiple sugar. Hyaluron has impressive water-binding capabilities:

1 gram turns up to 6 liters of water into gel.

This property makes hyluron an important endogenous component, not only in the skin.

Functions of hyaluronic acid: from joints to connective tissue

Hyaluronan is found in the body wherever water needs to be stored, for example in connective tissue and in the elastic cartilage substance. In addition, hyaluron makes up the largest part of the natural joint fluid: Hyaluronic acid increases the viscosity of synovial fluid, thereby increasing its ability to lubricate, cushion and filter. So hyaluronic acid is not just part of the connective tissue, we need it to keep our joints working smoothly.

Not all hyaluronic acid is the same!

Not visible to the eye, but visible in the laboratory: hyaluronic acid comes in different varieties. It is divided into low-molecular, high-molecular and ultra-short-chain. Depending on the size of the molecule, it has different properties. The fundamental difference is that shorter hyaluron chains can penetrate the skin better.

  • Long-chain or high-molecular hyaluronic acid cannot penetrate very deeply into the stratum corneum; its molecules are too large for this. Hyaluron rather forms a thin, tight-fitting film on the skin and thus effectively binds moisture in the stratum corneum. When it dries, this film contracts slightly, resulting in an immediate tightening effect on the skin. Hyaluronic acid is thus also a film former, which will be discussed in a moment. 
  • The low-molecular hyaluronic acid, also known as short-chain, penetrates into deeper cell layers - where the skin's own hyaluronic acid depots are located. In return, this hyaluronic acid cannot form a film on the skin. Whether it really penetrates into the dermis to replenish the skin's own hyaluronic acid depots has not yet been scientifically proven.
  • Ultra-short-chain hyaluronic types, on the other hand, penetrate deeper. The small molecules do not bind as much moisture, but retain it longer. Studies prove their plumping effect.
The different types of hyaluronic acid: long chain, short chain, ultra short chain and hyaluronic precursor (NAG).
The more short-chained the hyaluronic acid, the deeper it can penetrate into the epidermis. However, the extent to which penetration into the dermis (red in the figure) is possible has not yet been well researched. For the hyaluronic precursor NAG, however, this is considered proven.

Hyaluronic acid in research

Hyaluronic acid was first discovered by the German physician Karl Meyer in the 1930s. He came across it while studying the vitreous humor of the eye. Since then, cosmetic research has continued to develop new forms of hyaluronic acid in order to combine the advantages and disadvantages of each variant and achieve an even better effect. A good example is cross-linked hyaluronic acid, which is supposed to bind moisture even longer, or fat-soluble forms of hyaluronic acid. The latter promise to last longer in the skin because they penetrate deeper and adhere more firmly. Not at all new, but very promising, is the use of a hyaluronic precursor called


Glucosamine has even compared to the short-chain hyaluron again significantly smaller molecules and can therefore demonstrably penetrate into the dermis. NAG is first converted into hyaluron in the skin and also has a slightly skin-renewing and brightening effect.

The effect of hyaluronic creams

Hyaluron is a popular active ingredient in cosmetics and is used in many ways in skin care. There are

  • Hyaluronic acid cream,
  • Sprays and
  • Serums.

Although the active ingredient cannot completely stop skin aging, it can slow it down noticeably. Wrinkles are delayed if the skin is well supplied with hyaluron. Those who start to supply the skin with hyaluron in good time can therefore definitely achieve an anti-aging effect. It makes sense to use products with hyaluron already when the skin shows first signs of aging and not only when deep wrinkles are already there. Because then it is much more difficult to plump up the skin again.

Product tip: In addition to our hyFIVE SPRAY, our hyFIVE BOOSTER is also a highly effective care supplement. This highly concentrated care gel contains five different hyaluronic acids, ranging from long-chain to short-chain. The application is very simple: The gel can be used as an intermediate step after cleansing and before applying creams. It is suitable for all skin types. Of course, many other HighDroxy products contain hyaluron.

Hyaluron in skin care and cosmetics

Which types of hyaluronic acid are actually used in the skin care product of your choice can hardly be determined from the INCI name, as it does not indicate the size of the molecule. However, it is always advisable to make sure that several types of hyaluronic acid are combined in order to cover as broad a spectrum as possible. This way, your skin will best benefit from the different strengths and weaknesses of the different variants. You can tell whether hyaluron is part of the content of a cream by the INCI on the packaging.

The most frequent INCI designations for hyaluron


Active ingredients besides hyaluron

Besides hyaluron, there are many other popular substances that also have the ability to bind moisture. Therefore, in creams and cosmetics are also used the following:

  • LACTIC ACID (lactic acid)
  • UREA (urea)

They are all part of the skin's natural moisturizing system (NMF).

Urea: Good for the skin

Urea should be highlighted here, as it is essential for skin health. In psoriasis, for example, the urea concentration is 40 percent lower than in healthy controls, and in eczema it is reduced by up to 85 percent! Conversely, this means that a healthy urea content in the skin strengthens its resistance. One study was able to demonstrate that skin care containing urea significantly reduces the skin's sensitivity to harsh surfactants (sodium lauryl sulfate).

Glycerin: the underestimated little brother

Another popular humectant from this list is glycerin. It attracts water almost magically and then releases it only hesitantly. This not only helps the cream stay nice and supple in the jar, but also helps it bind moisture to the skin. The water-binding abilities of glycerin do not even stop at the air: With sufficiently high humidity, it draws the water from the ambient air into the skin.

However, glycerin also has a bad reputation. Again and again we read that too high a concentration of glycerin in the cream draws moisture from the deeper layers of the skin in dry room air and thus contributes to skin dehydration. This is only half true. It is true that glycerin in higher concentrations attracts body water from the lower layers of the skin - but that in itself is a good thing.

Glycerin needs good partners

The fact that glycerin releases this moisture to the outside is false. On the contrary, it holds it in the horny layer. However, glycerin is a "water rat" and therefore dissolves very well from the skin during facial cleansing. This is ultimately the factor that can lead to the feeling of drying out the skin when using skin care products that contain a lot of glycerin. Therefore, products with glycerin in the first third of the list of ingredients should always contain sufficient oils.

Speaking of oils...

In addition to moisturizers, a good moisturizing cream must also contain lipids (emollients) as well as film formers to be able to retain the supplied moisture. Oil-free serums or gels alone cannot achieve this effect.

Other types of application of hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is known to many as an active ingredient in cosmetics, but since it plays an important role in the entire body, it is used in various places in medicine due to its positive effects:

Hyaluronic acid injections or syringes are used for knee problems, such as osteoarthritis. The hyaluronan is intended to improve the gliding ability of the joint fluid and restore the function of the cartilage. To do this, the doctor often injects three or five hyaluronic acid injections over a period of time.

Hyaluronic acid eye drops replace the natural tear fluid. Those who suffer from dry eyes, for example because of too long screen work, can moisten the eyes with it.

Hyaluron is available in the form of drinking ampoules as a dietary supplement, virtually the alternative to creams. When used very intensively, tests showed barely visible but at least slightly measurable improvements in the depth of wrinkles and elasticity.