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Hyaluronic acid is gelatinous material—a component of our connective tissue—is found in almost every cell in the body, where it performs a number of functions including cushioning the joints, protecting the eyes, adding volume to the hair, and lubricating the skin. Fully 50 percent of HA resides in the skin, from the deep dermal to the visible epidermal layers. Some research has linked oral HA supplementation to a 40 percent decrease in the time it takes wounds to heal.

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Natural Radiance—Give Your Face a Lift

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By Jennifer Winger

When it comes to skin, fighting the signs of aging can feel like an uphill battle. But now those fretting over fine lines and wrinkles have another weapon in their cosmetic arsenal: hyaluronic acid (HA), a little-known molecule that can smooth and soften skin.

This gelatinous material—a component of our connective tissue—is found in almost every cell in the body, where it performs a number of functions including cushioning the joints, protecting the eyes, adding volume to the hair, and lubricating the skin. Fully 50 percent of HA resides in the skin, from the deep dermal to the visible epidermal layers. Some research has linked oral HA supplementation to a 40 percent decrease in the time it takes wounds to heal.

What makes this molecule add suppleness to skin? Its unique rope-like shape increases its surface area, allowing it to retain up to 1,000 times its weight in water. This water-binding property, some believe, makes HA a particularly potent ingredient in any skin care regimen.

In youth, our skin is toned and smooth. But as we age, among other physiological changes, the body loses its ability to maintain sufficient levels of HA. Also collagen—the main protein of connective tissue responsible for skin elasticity—becomes flaccid and weak, allowing fine lines and crow’s feet to develop. Hyaluronic acid is one ingredient that may plump sagging skin and restore a dewy complexion.

“Hyaluronic acid pulls water to itself then expands and becomes like a cushion of water molecules, like gelatin,” explains Anna Ragaz, MD, a holistic dermatologist and founder of the Anna Ragaz Institute for Anti-Aging in Seattle.

Hyaluronic acid comes in three kinds of products—oral supplements, topical creams, and injections. The first two are readily available on store shelves. The third requires a physician’s hand and a product such as Restylane, Hylaform, or Captique, brand names for plumping alternatives to collagen injections.

How HA works is still a bit of a mystery. Researchers think instead of creating new fat to flesh out wrinkles like collagen injections, HA either penetrates deep within the skin scaffolding to moisturize and deliver nutrients to overextended collagen, or when applied topically it sits on the surface, creating a humectant barrier that encourages the skin to snag water molecules, making it appear smoother.

What medium best delivers HA to the skin? That, too, remains open to discussion. According to Ragaz, research supports HA’s power as a wrinkle smoother when injected as a “filler.” Others champion topical hyaluronic acid. According to Darren Landis, of Hyalogic LLC Co., a manufacturer of HA-boosted serum and lotions, using an HA serum or cream, in combination with healthy habits, can yield results in as little as two weeks.

Finally, the issue may come down to ease of use and cost. The effects of one injection treatment can last for six months and may cost between $500 and $1,000. Makers of topical prod...

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