Hyaluronic acid and I began our relationship over a year ago, with The Ordinary’s Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 serum, and that relationship has since grown into quite the love story. HA is one of those ingredients I’d heard all sorts of lovely things about, but last year it wasn’t available in Canada and ordering it from the USA at $5+ USD/gram seemed like a big investment for something I wasn’t sure I’d like. The Ordinary’s serum provided an excellent low cost way to try it (on my face, not in my DIYs) and… swoon. It’s safe to say I like it! This silky humectant stars in many hydration and anti-aging formulas, lauded for its ability to plump and hydrate skin, reducing the appearance of fine lines and generally leaving skin looking healthier and happier. I’ve found my skin to be significantly happier with a hydration focus featuring HA in my routine; blemishes are fewer and heal faster, and my skin glows. HA is a wonderfully fun and luxurious ingredient to work with, so I thought we’d learn a bit about it today in preparation for making some recipes with it!
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Hyaluronic acid (HA) occurs naturally in our bodies, with about half of the HA in our bodies residing in the epidermis and the dermis (another source). The stuff we use in our skincare products is “primarily obtained from bacterial fermentation and rooster combs” (ask your supplier to clarify which source their HA is from! This paper details how it is produced from each source.). It has been found to be very safe, and works well on sensitive skin (it can even help calm it). It is also extraordinarily good at holding water: “Hyaluronic acid has a greater capacity to hold water than any other natural or synthetic polymer. One gram of hyaluronic acid can hold up to 6 L of water” (source).
You can purchase hyaluronic acid in a variety of different weights. I’ve found low molecular weight (LMW) to be the most common if a supplier only has one variety, though Lotion Crafter carries a staggering array of varieties. The smaller the molecule, the deeper it can penetrate the skin. Many professionally formulated hyaluronic acid products contain a variety of weights of HA to get the full spectrum of benefits—the surface plumping of high molecular weight, and the deeper hydration of low molecular weight (source).”
LMW hyaluronic acid has been found to “increase the moisture level of damaged skin and to accelerate damage repair (source)”, while HMW HA holds moisture to the surface of the skin without penetrating into deeper layers of the epidermis. You will also see sodium hyaluronate and potassium hyaluronate on ingredient lists; they are, respectively, the sodium and potassium salts of hyaluronic acid (source). Sodium hyaluronate is more common than its potassium cousin, and is more readily absorbed than hyaluronic acid (it’s also less expensive).
Hyaluronic acid is one of the more expensive ingredients I work with—it’s usually at least $5/g, so you’ll want an accurate scale so you can be sure you’re not over-using it. The best way to use hyaluronic acid is to turn it into a 1% solution, and use that stock in the water phase of your recipes. I first learned how to do this from It’s All in My Hands, but as I kept reading about HA I learned that the stock process/concept is quite common. Some suppliers even sell a 1% stock in addition to the powder to save you the fuss, though you will pay for the luxury of pre-hydrated HA.
A 1% LMW HA solution is relatively viscous, though that viscosity will “decreas[e] sharply in the presence of electrolytes” (source). For this reason, HA can be used to thicken some formulations, which can definitely be useful! You can use a plain ol’ 1% HA solution as a serum on its own, or you can incorporate hydrosols and other water soluble ingredients like panthenol and herbal extracts to create a beautiful hydrating toner. The stock is also great in lotions (simply replace part of the water with the HA stock), and I’ve even tried it in conditioners (though I can’t say I’d do that again at this point in time—I didn’t notice enough of a payoff for the added cost). It’s super versatile and brilliant if you’ve got dry skin and are looking to splurge a bit!
So, where can you buy it? In the USA you can’t beat the selection at Lotion Crafter. Mine was a gift from Pure Nature in New Zealand, and is easily the most affordable HA I’ve ever found at $1NZD/gram (😱)—though they don’t ship internationally, so NZ, consider yourself lucky! For Canadians, Windy Point Soap Making Supplies in Calgary sells it. If you’re not in Calgary you’ll have to email Windy Point to place a special order, though, as it’s not on their web store.
Want to watch this project instead of read it?
1% Hyaluronic Acid Stock
1g | 1% low molecular weight hyaluronic acid (see pre-amble for sourcing)
Use your most accurate scale for this project; I’d suggest accurate to 0.01g with a maximum weight of at least 200g. I used this one.
Weigh the water and preservative into a beaker, and stir to combine. Sprinkle the HA overtop. Resist the urge to stir—cover the beaker with cling film and leave it for a few hours.
Come back and check on the HA periodically—you’ll see it slowly swell and turn transparent as it hydrates. You can tip the beaker to see the raft of HA shift, which is more amusing than it should be.
Once all the HA has hydrated you can stir it. I use my MiniPro Mixer from Lotion Crafter to quickly and thoroughly incorporate the hydrated HA blob into the rest of the solution.
That’s it—bottle it, label it, and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it (refrigeration isn’t strictly necessary since it is adequately preserved, but it can’t hurt if you’ve got room for it in your fridge).
Now you’re ready to make some lovely things with HA—or just use the plain stock as a hydrating toner 🙂