12 of the Best Hyaluronic Acid Serums, Every Skin Type Can Benefit From - The Dermatology Review

12 of the Best Hyaluronic Acid Serums, Every Skin Type Can Benefit From

SKIN CARE REVIEWS

01.12.21DISCLAIMER

While the word “acid” sounds ominous, hyaluronic acid couldn’t be more different from other skincare ingredients such as glycolic acid or alpha hydroxy acid. It’s actually an aqueous substance that our bodies produce naturally to help maintain the skin’s moisture. Though it’s also found in our connective tissue, joints, and even eyes, we’re here to discuss hyaluronic acid in relation to the skin. As we age, we produce less of it, resulting in increased dryness, fine lines, and wrinkles. For this reason, hyaluronic acid in skincare is incredibly beneficial. As it’s a humectant, it can hold over 1,000 times its weight in water, so it’s safe to say it’s a super-hydrator of epic proportions. 

Unlike the HA that our body produces, the version used in skincare products is typically made in a lab using a process called bio-fermentation. If you truly want to get the most out of this powerhouse ingredient, add a hyaluronic acid serum into your routine. Serums are an excellent way to target specific skincare woes because they’re highly concentrated, more potent, and composed of small molecules, meaning they can penetrate the skin on a deeper level. Of course, not all serums are created equal, but here are 12 of the best formulas containing hyaluronic acid. 

Best Overall: Formulyst Intense Hydrating Serum, $59

Best Dermatologist Pick: SkinCeuticals Hyaluronic Acid Skin Intensifier $100

Best Budget: The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, $6.80

Best for Brightening: OLEHENRIKSEN Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum, $65

Best for Sensitive Skin: Ghost Democracy Floodgate Hyaluronic Acid Serum, $34

Best for Acneic Skin: Angela Caglia Skincare Detox Serum, $80

Best Luxe: Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Serum, $300

Best Drugstore Buy: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum, $23.99

Best for Extra-Dry Skin: Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Serum, $52

Best for Mature Skin: SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator, $178

Best for Irritated Skin: First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Hydrating Serum, $38

Best for Travel: M-61 Hydraboost HA Serum Pads, $68

What Does Hyaluronic Acid Serum Do? 

Here’s the thing about hyaluronic acid: it doesn’t have any proverbial fine print when it comes to how to and who can use it. For example, you wouldn’t mix potent retinol with glycolic acid, but with HA, you can use it with any of your other products without worrying about an adverse reaction. The reality is, everyone’s skin can be dehydrated (lacking water), so all types can benefit from a hyaluronic acid serum. Notable hyaluronic acid benefits for the skin include: 

  • Hyaluronic acid is like a big drink of water for the skin as it’s incredibly hydrating. Note that hydration (water) is not the same as moisture (oil), which is why all skin types can benefit from a HA serum as it’s lightweight yet effective. A hydrator (like hyaluronic acid) draws water to the skin using humectants, which collect moisture from the environment to bind it to the skin. This process makes it possible for the skin to absorb the water.
  • HA has anti-wrinkle properties due to its ability to retain sizable amounts of water, thus keeping the skin incredibly hydrated. 
  • Studies suggest hyaluronic acid can heal wounds more quickly by managing inflammation levels and signaling the body to create more blood vessels in the injured area.
  • Hyaluronic acid strengthens the skin’s natural barriers to help seal in moisture, which creates a more intense hydrating effect. Over time, the deterioration of the lipid barrier can slow down and become more protected, enhancing the skin’s resilience.
  • While HA can’t increase cell turnover like retinol or glycolic acid, it does help further skin cell regeneration due to increased hydration and barrier protection.
  • Research indicates HA has antibacterial properties, which is excellent news for those with acne. 
  • While hyaluronic acid can’t replace elastin, it can give the skin a more toned and smooth appearance since it’s plumping up the skin due to an increase in hydration. 

Hyaluronic Acid Serum Dos and Don’ts

  • Don’t forget to pair your hyaluronic acid serum with a moisturizer for your skin type. Remember, it’s providing you with hydration — not moisture. If your skin is already on the dry side, the HA acid will pull water from wherever it can source it (including deep within the layers of your skin), and it will evaporate into the air if not properly sealed with a moisturizer. For those with extremely thirsty skin, apply your serum to damp — not bone dry — skin. 
  • Don’t feel the need to look for a serum with a ridiculously high concentration of HA — 0.2 to 1% is typical, though you may find a blend that contains a higher percentage.
  • Do conduct a patch test with your serum if you have sensitive skin or decide to try a formula with a higher concentration of HA. Just because it’s an ingredient suitable for all skin types doesn’t mean a reaction still can’t occur. 
  • Do keep an eye on your skin. If you notice your skin becoming drier, you may be overdoing it, or you need to pause due to climate changes. If there’s no humidity in the air, HA will draw moisture from wherever it can, which is likely your own skin. 

What to Look for in a Hyaluronic Acid Serum 

As aforementioned, in most cases, the smaller the molecules, the greater their ability to penetrate the skin. With that said, many serums claim to possess the power of hyaluronic acid. Still, the reality is, they contain larger molecules that (at best) bind water and provide hydration but cannot penetrate the skin. For optimal results, look for a HA serum that contains molecules in a variety of sizes. Additionally, consider choosing a formula that contains other powerhouse ingredients such as brightening vitamin C or skin-soothing niacinamide — but avoid harsh additives such as alcohol and sulfates. 

The 12 Best Hyaluronic Acid Serums 

Best Overall: Formulyst Intense Hydrating Serum, $59
Formulated to deliver long-lasting hydration that quenches your skin, Formulyst’s Hydrating Serum deeply moisturizes while visibly plumping and smoothing your skin. It’s loaded with antioxidant-rich ingredients with moisture-magnet properties, including hyaluronic acid and glycerin, to help replenish and lock-in moisture. Intensive yet lightweight, this serum is further enriched with nourishing provitamin B5 and a regenerating Microbiome Repair Complex.

An advanced formulation that’s also calming for sensitive skin, your complexion will look and feel beautifully supple and radiant for hours. 

Best Dermatologist Pick: SkinCeuticals Hyaluronic Acid Skin Intensifier $100
SkinCeuticals’ results-driven formulas continue to be a favorite of skincare professionals and consumers alike, and this serum is no exception. A potent blend of unadulterated hyaluronic acid, licorice root, proxylane (a powerhouse anti-aging ingredient), and purple rice work synergistically to increase the skin’s hyaluronic acid levels by 30%. Immediately and over time, the skin becomes more hydrated, the texture is improved, fine lines and wrinkles are diminished, and elasticity is restored. 

Best Budget: The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, $6.80
As mentioned, the best hyaluronic acid serums are formulated with a variety of low-, medium-, and high-molecular weight HA, such as this version from The Ordinary. It also contains a cutting-edge HA crosspolymer at a concentration of 2% and vitamin B5 for optimal, deep-level hydration. While this budget buy is effective, sister brand NIOD offers a more advanced serum (Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex, $35) developed with 15 forms of HA.

Best for Brightening:  OLEHENRIKSEN Banana Bright Vitamin C Serum, $65
OLEHENRIKSEN’s cult-favorite Banana Bright Eye Cream pairs perfectly with this supercharged serum that, along with hyaluronic acid for hydration, contains 15% vitamin C to brighten and energize. Vitamin E nourishes while exfoliating polyhydroxy acids promote a more even and revitalized skin tone. 

Best for Sensitive Skin: Ghost Democracy Floodgate Hyaluronic Acid Serum, $34
While HA is considered a safe and suitable ingredient for all skin types, for those who tend to be on the more sensitive side, a niacinamide and hyaluronic acid serum is best. This version contains 2.1% pure HA in low, medium, and high weights in addition to 4.0% niacinamide (aka vitamin B3) to calm irritation and strengthen the skin’s natural moisture barrier. The addition of linden flower and white tea leaf extracts provide further anti-inflammatory and skin-soothing properties. You won’t find any faux fragrance, essential oils, parabens, or other potential irritants, making it an ideal HA serum for sensitive skin. 

Best for Acneic Skin: Angela Caglia Skincare Detox Serum, $80
One of the biggest mistakes those with acne make is drying out the skin with too many harsh products that strip it of its natural oils. Doing so only causes an overproduction of oil to compensate for the loss. Even those with excessive oil or acne need hydration (water) to keep sebum levels balanced. Kill two birds with one stone by providing the skin with an HA-charged moisture boost while diminishing breakouts, enlarged pores, and scarring, thanks to tea tree oil, chlorophyll, and rose geranium. 

Best Luxe: Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Serum, $300
When you’re paying this much for a hyaluronic acid serum, you probably want to know what makes it worth the splurge. Long-and short-chain hyaluronic molecules have the ability to penetrate each layer of the skin, so you’ll notice immediate and long-term improvements. To be clear, it’s the low molecular weight HA that penetrates the deep layers, providing lasting benefits, while high weight HA molecules supply an instant moisture surge. This upscale serum also contains purslane, Dr. Strum’s hero ingredient, that calms irritation and inflammation, protects the skin, and provides nutritive and anti-oxidative benefits. 

Best Drugstore Buy: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum, $23.99
Who doesn’t love a good drugstore find? Especially one that’s as heralded as this serum formulated with Neutrogena’s 17% Hydration Complex made up of high and low weight hyaluronic acid, vitamin B5, and trehalose to attract moisture and seal it in. All skin types will feel weightlessly hydrated for a full 24 hours. 

Best for Extra Dry Skin: Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Serum, $52
For those with extremely parched skin, a simple hyaluronic acid serum won’t do. For that reason, this formula is an excellent choice for extra dry skin because it contains a potent 30% HA complex made up of three different molecular sizes of HA. There are two other star ingredients: ProHyal+ (a natural form of hyaluronic acid-based on a high concentration in yeast oligosaccharides) and a 1% Pentavitin formulation that studies show keeps the skin hydrated for 72 hours. 

Best for Mature Skin: SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator, $178
The more dry mature skin is, the more prominent fine lines and wrinkles become. This serum is fortified with five different types of HA and skin-plumping peptides to intensely hydrate, smooth, and soften the signs of age — immediately and over time. The formula harnesses SkinMedica’s VITISENCE Technology power, which is made up of a blend of potent antioxidants derived from the Vitus flower stem cell extract, polysaccharides, and a peptide complex to help the skin replenish its hyaluronic acid levels.

Best for Irritated Skin: First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Hydrating Serum, $38
As the name suggests, this serum comes to the rescue for sensitized, irritated skin regardless of type. Hyaluronic acid supports the skin’s hydration levels, colloidal oatmeal and aloe leaf juice soothe, and peptides soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It only takes a few applications to start to notice a less irritated and more hydrated complexion. 

Best for Travel: M-61 Hydraboost HA Serum Pads, $68
Don’t let your travel plans be an excuse not to maintain your skincare routine. In fact, from dehydration due to air travel, excess sun exposure, or too much imbibing poolside, hyaluronic acid is a must-have item in your toiletry kit. M-61’s genius serum pads have all the benefits of triple-action HA, peptides, and vitamins B3 and E, and Centella Asiatica, but in the convenience of a light-weight pad that hydrates for up to 48 hours.

The Final Word 

As we age, we produce less of it, resulting in increased dryness, fine lines, and wrinkles. For this reason, hyaluronic acid in skincare is incredibly beneficial. As it’s a humectant, it can hold over 1,000 times its weight in water, so it’s safe to say it’s a super-hydrator of epic proportions. Hyaluronic acid is like a big drink of water for the skin as it’s incredibly hydrating. Remember that hydration (water) is not the same as moisture (oil), which is why all skin types can benefit from a HA serum as it’s lightweight yet effective. Along with providing immediate hydration and softening the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, HA strengthens the skin’s natural barriers to help seal in moisture, which creates a more intense hydrating effect. Over time, the deterioration of the lipid barrier can slow down and become more protected, enhancing the skin’s resilience.

For optimal results, look for a HA serum that contains molecules in various sizes so that it can provide immediate and long-term moisture. Additionally, consider choosing a formula that contains other powerhouse ingredients such as brightening vitamin C or skin-soothing niacinamide — but avoid harsh additives such as alcohol and sulfates. 

References:
“Hyaluronic Acid: A Key Molecule in Skin Aging,” U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, July 2012. “Hyaluronic Acid in Inflammation and Tissue Regeneration,” National Library of Medicine National Center for Biotechnology Information,” March 2016. “The Hype on Hyaluronic Acid,” Harvard Health Publishing, January 2020. “Bacteriostatic Effects of Hyaluronic Acid,” National Library of Medicine National Center for Biotechnology Information, April 1999.

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