Is hyaluronic acid hydrating or drying for your skin?

While many ladies have been raving about the hydrating and moisturizing effects of hyaluronic acid in their skincare products, I found the results to be slightly dismal for me, especially in products containing a high amount of this ingredient. I didn’t experience the extreme hydration that many were gushing about; in fact, I actually had a minor breakout with those products. So I’ve been steering clear of products with this ingredient until recently when I encountered a few products that worked well for me even though they contained hyaluronic acid.

A humectant
Based on my understanding, hyaluronic acid is considered a highly effective humectant, and is said to be able to hold hundreds of times its weight in water. As such, it can provide effective skin surface hydration, either alone or in combination with other moisturizing ingredients. What’s more, hyaluronic acid is a “smart nutrient” of sorts as it can adjust its moisture absorption rate based on the humidity, relative to the season and the climate. (source).

Causing dryness
Surprisingly though, some people find that a hyaluronic acid serum cause their skin more dryness and question if concentrated hyaluronic acid formulas should be used as a moisturizer in dry climate. Apparently, when air humidity is very low, hyaluronic acid may preferentially pull water from the skin rather than from the air, thus producing the opposite effect. This is confirmed by skin guru Dr Leslie Baumann MD who cautioned against using a moisturizer with hyaluronic acid.

Large molecular structure
According to Dr Baumann, this water-binding ingredient can’t draw moisture from the environment in very dry climates and so it may actually start to pull moisture out of the deeper layers of your skin. In addition, because the molecular structure of hyaluronic acid is too large to penetrate through the skin, a product containing hyaluronic acid basically end up lying on top of the skin and in some cases can draw moisture from within which does the reverse of its intended use (source).

The way hyaluronic acid is used
I also found a comment on the forum of Essential Day Spa that supports this theory.

It is the WAY that you use the Hyaluronic Acid that really makes the difference. It should be used in a properly formulated cream or lotion…Too much Hyaluronic Acid, or straight Hyaluronic Acid can and will draw the water right out of your skin. This is true of glycerin as well. These materials are “humectants” which draw moisture to themselves. This is especially true of dry, low humidity climates where there is no water in the atmosphere. The water has to come from somewhere and your skin will be the source.

That’s why the Hyaluronic Acid should be in a cream or lotion that contains 1)water 2)the proper emollient oils and esters 3)natural emulsifiers similar to the skin’s sebum 4)occlusive materials, naturally derived that keeps moisture trapped at the skin’s surface.

Exercise prudence
So if you’re applying a hyaluronic acid serum and finding that your skin feels a bit dry or taut, the hyaluronic acid is probably pulling moisture out of your skin instead of pulling moisture from the air and into your skin. In this case, it is best applied onto damp skin and then “sealed” in with a good moisturizer on top. Additionally, do exercise prudence when using this ingredient if you’ve got dry skin and are living in a country with dry, low humidity climate or are constantly enclosed in an air-conditioned environment.


  1. Jyoan says:

    I guess it’s kind of the same as glycerin?

    I am one of those who will vouch with two hands for Hyaluronic Acid because I have experienced good effects with Hada Labo and Taiwan Niu-Er’s am+pm. It works, but not sustainable. The day I don’t use it, I can see fine lines back again.
    Jyoan last post is: FOTD: Chocolate Pink – Canmake Perfect Stylist Eyes in 01

  2. vivavoomz says:

    Hada Labo lotion didn’t really work for me. Gave me breakouts instead.
    vivavoomz last post is: Qoo10 Hauls: China Glaze Nail Polishes

  3. EcoBeauty says:

    For me, it seems that products with hyaluronic acid only work while I have the serum/moisturizer on. But once I wash my face, I can see it’s drier than usual. And for some other products using hyaluronic acid, it can even go as bad as your earlier experiences–drier skin even with the product on.
    EcoBeauty last post is: Behold, The Vivi Fly Trap: The Tale of My Big, Messy Hair Bun

  4. Sesame says:

    So it seems best to use in conjunction with a moisturizer to seal in the HA. If it causes your skin to become drier than usual, that’s not a good thing.

  5. Sesame says:

    Yes, like glycerin and should not be using too much.

  6. Sesame says:

    Ah…the serum broke me out too.

  7. chuishia says:

    I tried the Hada Labo range when I received a small tester kit. Such horror! Made my facec breakout and I could see my skin get drier and drier. Amongst all the skin care brands I’ve tried, Hada Labo was the first to show such bad results after few days. Aesop turned my skin sensitive after 1 month. Now I just stick to Paul Penders… :p

    I’ve spoken to some beautician and they are all against products with this ingredient.
    chuishia last post is: Banana Cake

  8. Sesame says:

    Oh the beauticians are against this ingredient? Did they explain why?

  9. Stephanie/Yukaeshi says:

    This is a definitely a very lovely post and it’s got me intrigued! I used to use the Hada Labo lotion/toner and later a hydrating serum with hyaluronic acid as one of its main ingredient, and while they didn’t break me out (Touch wood) and kept my skin moist when I have them on, my skin didn’t exactly improve in hydration levels overall and I still get some dry patches once ina while. After all, hyaluronic acid claims to attract moisture to skin to keep it moist, and so the moisture should be “locked in”, leading to an overall improvement in skin moisture levels, if I am not mistaken?

    I am now a huge convert of face oils- they’re so much better at keeping my skin well moisturised overall, be it when I’m using it and the overall effect! ?

    Also, interesting to note that when I was using the Hada Labo lip balm with hyaluronic acid in a hot and humid environment my lips seemed drier than usual!
    Stephanie/Yukaeshi last post is: Hello From Labuan!

  10. Sesame says:

    The issue is where HA draws the moisture from if the environment is too drying…could be why you experienced drying lips too.

    Oh face oils are great…can’t say enough.

  11. Destiny7 says:

    While I have used HA serum, my must have is NeoCell ha capsules. They have a plain ha capsule and also one with fish collagen. This holds moisture in and plumps the skin. The benefit I like is the capsules work over all the body, not just where you put a topical serum. It also helps my eyes. I have read that natural ha is best and not to take over 100 mg a day.

  12. Sesame says:

    I remember your recommendation and have just ordered NeoCell supplement from iHerb. Initially I didn’t order because I wasn’t keen on the powder form but now I see it available as a capsule and so am gong to try that one.

  13. Prettypollyperkins says:

    I know this is an old post but I found it really useful. It explains why I sometimes find hyaluronic acid products drying. Thanks Sesame!

  14. Sesame says:

    Ah…and I thought I was the strange, odd one.

  15. ZF says:

    Thanks dear, this is rather helpful. I’ve just started using hada labo for the past 2 weeks, it seems ok until today i started seeing dry flaky patches on my cheeks. and i was wondering what the hell is wrong with my skin when i’m actually in the hot but humid climate. it just doesn’t make sense. then i figured out the acid must be sucking out the moisture in my skin. ?

  16. Sesame says:

    I’ve mixed experience with HA…mostly not good though one or two products were okay. It really depends on the formulation.

  17. mishelle says:

    Hello, I have been using HA serum along with Glo’s triple action serum..Been using it for over 4 weeks after a recommendation from my beautician. .but my face is worse than ever. .more breakouts then I have ever experienced before more black and white heads too..don’t know what to do. Anyone else with this issue?

  18. Sesame Chew says:

    I think you should stop. It should be cause such an adverse effect.

  19. Sammee says:

    Nature Works Laboratories products have done amazing things for my skin since is started using them last year! ~~ Their whole line is based on HYALURONIC ACID. I use the “Hyaluronic Acid Anti-Aging Gel Serum” and the “Ascorbic Acid Vitamin C Serum” every morning under my moisturiser and I swear my skin is so much younger looking!! ~~The serum PLUMPS UP YOUR LIPS TOO!!!. I don’t even get filler injections anymore ? ~~. I could see an improvement in the firmness of my skin within an hour of the first time I used it… I also struggle with facial redness, so I just started using the facial mist for red skin ( I can’t remember what it’s called ) and it works within minutes! They also have a lip Plumping lip gloss and a few other products I really want to try that I’m saving up for. So happy to have finally found affordable products that actually work for my skin. Amazing, amazing products!! I bought mine off eBay. Oh and they are also Vegan, Natural and Not tested on Animals. Good luck guys!! xx

  20. Libby says:

    I love the results I get from my Hyaluronic Acid serums I got on eBay!!
    I started using the Hyaluronic Acid Deep Hydration Gel Serum and Ascorbic Acid Rejuvenating Serum (which also contains Hyaluronic Acid) by from Nature Works Laboratories at the start of this year, and the results have been phenomenal!
    I am 29 but everyone assumes I am about 19!!
    The serums actually plump up my skin within minutes !!
    I like to rub it into my lips because it plumps them up and gives them heaps of extra volume. I don’t even get cosmetic filler injections anymore, cos I just don’t need to.
    I am just so excited about these products, because they actually work! I used to spend hundreds of dollars on high end designer brands, but the Nature Works products are quite affordable. The bottles are beautiful too, I want to collect them all just to have on display in my room! And for those of you who appreciate it – the whole line is Vegan, Cruelty-free, natural, chemical free and I would HIGHLY recommend trying them! Love and Light.

  21. mama11 says:

    Since hyaluronic acid holds moisture well–holding up to 1,000 times its weight in water–it functions not only to deliver water to the skin, but also to hold it there. As a large molecule, it does not permeate deep into the skin, but instead stays near the surface where it moisturizes the skin’s outer surface layers. I tried all the hyaluronic acid serums out there, but the most potent one for me is the Lady Soma Renewal Serum. It has a high concentration of hyaluronic acid, and doesn’t irritate my skin.

  22. Christina says:

    I use both Cerave Hydrating Cleanser and Hada Labo Moist Toner which contain HA and it’s helped my skin by a lot but I have some tightness and redness on my cheeks. Could it be that I’m using too much too much HA?

  23. rogue g says:

    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!

  24. Natasha says:

    I started using HA about 5 years after reading that it helped put a barrier on the skin to protect it from the environment and drew water or moisture into the skin making it look younger. I bought it from the same company for all that time until recently when I got a new batch and it started irritating my skin badly, I even developed a fever and intestional issues. HA is made usually with bacteria and yeast and I found that not all HA is made the same there is the really good stuff to bad or really bad stuff. I have tried about 5-6 different companies HA and have not been able to find that really good stuff as of yet. The company that I bought it from said they changed distributors because their old one can no longer get it. I am so disappointed but will not stop looking and trying new ones till I find it, what a difference it made in my skin.

  25. Natasha says:

    NOT ALL HYALURONIC ACID IS CREATED EQUAL. There is the really good stuff, bad stuff and really bad stuff, please read my prior post.

Leave a Reply