Hydrating Skincare: How to Pick the Best Hyaluronic Acid Moisturizer

Hydrating Skincare: How to Pick the Best Hyaluronic Acid Moisturizer

What is Hyaluronic Acid?

Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in the human body. It is a clear, gooey substance that is produced by the body to help the skin retain moisture.

Hyaluronic acid works by binding up to 1000 times its weight in water. It acts as a sponge, absorbing and retaining water, helping to keep the skin hydrated, soft and supple.

Hyaluronic acid is found in various parts of the body, with over 50% of the body's supply located in the skin. It is an important component of healthy skin, responsible for moisture retention, elasticity, firmness, and tissue repair.

As we age, the body's ability to produce hyaluronic acid declines. Environmental factors like sun exposure, smoking, and pollution also degrade hyaluronic acid levels over time. This causes the skin to become drier, lose elasticity and firmness. Using skincare products with hyaluronic acid can help replenish this vital substance and restore moisture to the skin.

Benefits of Hyaluronic Acid Moisturizers

Hyaluronic acid offers several benefits when used in skin care and moisturizers:


One of the biggest benefits of hyaluronic acid is its incredible hydrating properties. Hyaluronic acid has the ability to hold over 1,000 times its weight in water. When applied to the skin, hyaluronic acid works like a sponge, drawing moisture from the air and deeper layers of the skin to the surface. This provides intense hydration without leaving skin feeling greasy.

Anti-Aging Effects

Hyaluronic acid helps combat signs of aging in a few ways. First, by plumping up the skin with moisture, it reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also stimulates collagen production, which further improves skin elasticity and firmness. Additionally, hyaluronic acid acts as a powerful antioxidant, protecting against free radical damage that can lead to premature aging.

Reduced Inflammation

With its hydrating and protective properties, hyaluronic acid helps calm inflammation that can lead to redness, itching, and irritation. It repairs and strengthens the skin barrier, locking in moisture and sealing out environmental aggressors.

Protects Skin Barrier

Hyaluronic acid supplements the skin's natural hyaluronic acid content, which declines with age. This strengthens the skin barrier and prevents transepidermal water loss. A strong, healthy skin barrier ensures skin stays plump, smooth, and resilient.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Hyaluronic Acid Moisturizer

When selecting a hyaluronic acid moisturizer, there are several key factors to take into account:

Hyaluronic Acid Concentration

  • The concentration of hyaluronic acid can vary widely across different moisturizers. In general, look for products with hyaluronic acid concentrations between 1-2%. Lower concentrations may not be as effective, while higher concentrations are unlikely to provide additional benefits.

  • Some products advertise very high hyaluronic acid concentrations, like 5-10%, but this does not necessarily mean the product will be more effective. The molecular weight of the hyaluronic acid also plays a key role (more on that next).

Molecular Weight of Hyaluronic Acid

  • Hyaluronic acid molecules come in a range of molecular weights, from small to large.

  • Lower molecular weight hyaluronic acid can penetrate deeper into the skin. High molecular weight hyaluronic acid tends to sit on the surface, moisturizing the top layers of skin.

  • Look for a moisturizer that contains both low and high molecular weight hyaluronic acid to target surface hydration and deeper dermal layers.

Complementary Ingredients

  • Look for hyaluronic acid moisturizers formulated with skin-replenishing ingredients like ceramides, glycerin, jojoba oil, shea butter. These can enhance hydration and the moisturizing effects.

  • Antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E can help defend against environmental damage. Retinol may help boost collagen production.


  • As hyaluronic acid is highly water-attracting, the packaging needs to protect it from absorbing excess moisture and becoming contaminated.

  • Airless or vacuum-sealed pumps are ideal. Jars leave the product exposed to air, which reduces effectiveness.

  • Opaque, dark containers prevent light exposure which can degrade hyaluronic acid.

Hyaluronic Acid Concentration

The concentration of hyaluronic acid can vary widely in moisturizers. Typically, hyaluronic acid is used in concentrations between 0.5% to 2% in over-the-counter skincare products.

Studies have shown benefits in improving skin hydration and elasticity even with concentrations as low as 0.1% hyaluronic acid. However, higher concentrations around 1% to 2% tend to provide more dramatic anti-aging effects.

When choosing a concentration, keep in mind that too high of a percentage can potentially cause skin sensitivity and irritation for some people. It's best to start with a low concentration around 0.5% if you have sensitive skin and work your way up slowly to assess your tolerance.

Aim for products with 1% to 1.5% hyaluronic acid if your goal is deep hydration and anti-aging effects. This provides ample benefits without much risk of sensitivity for most skin types. Monitor your skin's reaction over the first few uses when trying a new higher concentration hyaluronic acid moisturizer.

Molecular Weight of Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid molecules come in a range of molecular weights, from small to large. This affects their ability to penetrate into the skin.

  • High molecular weight HA (800 kDa - 2000 kDa) molecules are too large to penetrate the skin. However, their large size allows them to sit on the surface and create a moisture-locking barrier.

  • Low molecular weight HA (50 kDa - 800 kDa) molecules are small enough to penetrate into the deeper layers of skin. Here, they can bind to moisture and plump up skin cells.

Evidence shows low molecular weight HA is generally more effective at hydrating skin than high molecular weight:

  • A study found 5 kDa HA was able to penetrate epidermis and dermis skin layers, leading to better skin hydration than 1,000 kDa HA.

  • Another study showed 130 kDa HA serum improved skin elasticity and firmness significantly better than 1,000 kDa HA after 4 weeks use.

  • 50 kDa HA was found to reduce fine lines and wrinkles more than 1,000 kDa after 8 weeks in a clinical trial.

So when choosing a hyaluronic acid moisturizer, look for products containing low molecular weight HA between 50-800 kDa range for optimal absorption and hydrating effects.

Complementary Ingredients

Hyaluronic acid works best when combined with other effective skincare ingredients. Look for moisturizers containing the following complementary ingredients:

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps protect skin from sun damage. It also stimulates collagen production for firmer skin. Vitamin C works synergistically with hyaluronic acid to brighten skin and reduce signs of aging.


Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that promotes skin cell turnover and collagen production. It helps reduce fine lines, even out skin tone, and unclog pores. Using retinol with hyaluronic acid provides extra hydration to prevent the dryness and irritation that retinol can cause.


Peptides are amino acid chains that help stimulate collagen. This makes them great for restoring firmness and elasticity. Peptides paired with hyaluronic acid provide a powerful anti-aging combo.


Ceramides are lipids that help strengthen the skin barrier. This protects skin from moisture loss and damage. Ceramide-infused hyaluronic acid moisturizers repair and reinforce the skin's moisture barrier.


Also known as vitamin B3, niacinamide improves skin elasticity, evens out skin tone, and reduces hyperpigmentation. It works synergistically with hyaluronic acid for bright, youthful looking skin.

Packaging Tips

When choosing a hyaluronic acid moisturizer, it's important to consider the packaging. Look for the following features:

  • Occlusive outer packaging - Hyaluronic acid breaks down when exposed to air and light. Moisturizers should come in air-tight jars or have sealed outer packaging to protect the product inside. This prevents the hyaluronic acid from degrading before you can use it.

  • Airless pumps - Airless pump bottles are ideal for keeping hyaluronic acid stable. Pumping out product creates a vacuum inside the bottle that prevents air from getting in and degrading the ingredients. This allows you to get the most out of each application.

  • Opaque or dark containers - Light exposure can also degrade hyaluronic acid. Using moisturizers packaged in opaque, darkly colored containers helps block light and improve the shelf life. Look for dark glass, plastic, or aluminum bottles and jars.

Proper packaging is key for maintaining the stability and effectiveness of hyaluronic acid in moisturizers. Containers that protect against air and light exposure will help the product deliver the expected anti-aging, hydrating, and smoothing benefits to your skin.

When to Apply Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid moisturizers are most effective when applied to damp skin after cleansing but before applying any other skincare products. The moisture helps the hyaluronic acid absorb into the skin and bind to water molecules. Applying it to completely dry skin will make it less effective.

It's best to apply hyaluronic acid before heavier creams or treatments. The lighter texture allows it to penetrate quickly and create a plump, hydrated base for the rest of your routine. Heavier moisturizers can form a barrier on the skin, preventing the hyaluronic acid from properly absorbing.

Always follow the usage instructions on your specific hyaluronic acid product for best results. But in general, apply several drops or a thin layer to clean, damp skin right after cleansing. Let it soak in for a minute or two before applying serums, treatments, or a thicker moisturizer on top. Use morning and night for optimal hydration.

Side Effects and Precautions

While generally well-tolerated, hyaluronic acid moisturizers can potentially cause irritation in some people. Those with sensitive skin may experience redness, itching, or a stinging sensation after applying products with hyaluronic acid. Doing a patch test before full use is recommended.

Hyaluronic acid pulls moisture into the skin, which can potentially cause dryness or flaking for those whose skin is severely dehydrated. In this case, hyaluronic acid could draw moisture out of the deeper layers of skin instead of the air. It's best to use caution and consult a dermatologist before applying hyaluronic acid moisturizers on severely dry or dehydrated skin that lacks sufficient water content.

Hyaluronic acid is unlikely to cause negative effects for most people when used as directed. However, discontinue use if signs of irritation, increased dryness or inflammation occur. As with any new skin care product, it's wise to monitor the skin's condition closely.

The Best Hyaluronic Acid Moisturizers

When it comes to choosing the best hyaluronic acid moisturizer for your skin, there are a few options that stand out:

For Dry Skin

If you have dry, flaky skin, look for a hyaluronic acid moisturizer that also contains emollients like ceramides, shea butter, or oils. The CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream contains hyaluronic acid along with ceramides and nourishing emollients. The Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream Extra Dry Skin also provides intense moisture with hyaluronic acid and glycerin.

For Sensitive Skin

Those with sensitive skin should choose a fragrance-free, dye-free hyaluronic acid moisturizer like our Serene Calm Moisturising Day Cream which contains hyaluronic acid and soothing botanicals. 

For Oily/Acne-Prone Skin

Look for oil-free, non-comedogenic hyaluronic acid moisturizers if you have oily or acne-prone skin. The Olay Regenerist Ultra Rich Hydrating Face Moisturizer - Fragrance Free is a nice lightweight gel cream with hyaluronic acid. The CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion contains hydrating hyaluronic acid along with niacinamide to help control oil and breakouts.

For Anti-Aging

Hyaluronic acid paired with peptides, antioxidants, and retinol can help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. The Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Hyaluronic Acid Retinol Cream contains both hyaluronic acid and retinol. The Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream Hydrating Moisturizer also provides anti-aging benefits with hyaluronic acid, amino-peptides, and vitamin B3.

Be sure to patch test any new moisturizer before applying it all over your face. When in doubt, consult your dermatologist for personalized product recommendations based on your skin type and concerns.