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Hyaluronic acid is having a moment, but this popular skin care ingredient may be more than just a fad.

Though it’s best known as a humectant, an ingredient that helps lock in moisture, it can do more than keep your skin from drying out.

Other reasons to love hyaluronic acid include its ability to:

  • provide aging support
  • soothe eczema-prone skin
  • create a dewy finish
  • help treat acne and reduce the appearance of scarring

That’s right — if you’re looking for a new approach to treat acne-prone skin, hyaluronic acid could be worth a try.

You actually already have hyaluronic acid throughout your body, where it performs important functions like helping cushion your joints. In skin care products, it’s primarily used for its humectant properties: It helps your skin hold in water and fights dryness.

Dry skin tends to look dull, sallow, and irritated, so adding moisture and locking it in helps hydrate and plump your skin for an overall healthier appearance.

So, what can it do for acne-prone skin?

As you might already know, some acne can occur due to overproduction of oil. Sebum, an oily substance produced by your sebaceous glands, can clog pores and lead to breakouts. Controlling excess sebum production, then, can help prevent pore blockage and zits.

Research from 2017 suggests hyaluronic acid doesn’t just help lock in moisture. It can also help control sebum production, which makes it a potentially useful ingredient for acne prevention.

People with acne may also have skin-barrier dysfunction. Your skin barrier protects you from outside threats like sun exposure, environmental conditions, and more. A damaged barrier can lead to skin problems like excessive dryness and acne.

Since hyaluronic acid helps prevent water loss, using it may improve skin barrier function, which can, in turn, tone down redness and reduce irritation.

What about acne scarring?

Several studies point to the benefits of hyaluronic acid injections for acne scarring:

  • A 2018 study involving 12 participants found evidence to suggest three injections of hyaluronic acid gel, spaced 4 weeks apart, effectively reduced moderate to severe acne scarring without adverse effects.
  • A 2020 study that also involved 12 participants with moderate to severe scarring found similar results. In this study, participants received two injections 4 weeks apart. The study authors reported significant improvement in the depth of scarring.

Topical hyaluronic acid can help, too:

  • A 2017 study suggests topical hyaluronic acid serum may help reduce the appearance of acne scars when combined with CO2 laser resurfacing. When comparing the results of the combined treatment with those of CO2 laser resurfacing alone, researchers found that adding hyaluronic acid serum led to more improvement in scarring. It also had the added benefit of less recovery time and reduced side effects.

Hyaluronic acid can do other things for your skin, too.

According to research from 2014, hyaluronic acid can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines and improve skin elasticity. That said, you’ll probably get the most noticeable benefits with injections of hyaluronic acid, rather than serums you apply topically.

Plus, since hyaluronic acid helps keep skin hydrated and improves skin barrier function, it may also help ease eczema symptoms.

Anecdotal reports suggest some people experience breakouts after using serums, face creams, and other skin care products containing hyaluronic acid.

Here’s the thing: It’s tough to say whether the culprit is, in fact, hyaluronic acid or another ingredient, like oils.

What’s more, because your skin is unique to you, there’s always a chance you’ll experience a reaction to a product that doesn’t cause negative effects for other people.

That’s why it’s always a good idea to do a patch test when trying out new skin care products for the first time.

How to do a patch test

  1. Gently wash and dry a small spot behind your ear or just below. Behind the ear usually makes a good location to test skin care products since the skin thickness here is similar to the skin on your face.
  2. Apply a small amount of the skin care product.
  3. Massage or gently rub it in, just as you would on your face.
  4. Wait for 24 to 48 hours. If you don’t notice any redness, irritation, or swelling, you can go ahead and use it on your face.
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Skin purging happens when an ingredient triggers an increase in skin cell turnover rate. This reaction speeds skin cell shedding and can leave you experiencing drier skin than usual.

If you have acne, it can be tough to tell the difference between a purge and a true breakout. So, how do you know if your new hyaluronic serum has triggered a purge — or sent you straight to Zit City?

A reaction-related breakout, which tends to last longer than a purge, can take as long as 10 days to clear up. Typically, you’ll also notice pimples showing up in areas where you don’t usually get them. Product purging, on the other hand, usually happens in the same areas where you regularly get breakouts.

There’s always a chance of experiencing a reaction when trying new skin care products.

Still, hyaluronic acid is a lot less likely to irritate the skin than other products, like harsher retinoids, especially since your body already naturally produces it. You can also safely use topical hyaluronic acid while pregnant or nursing.

Hyaluronic acid injections do come with a higher risk of adverse reactions, but that generally has more to do with the cosmetic procedure itself.

If you’re concerned about potential side effects, it never hurts to check with a dermatologist before trying new products for chronic skin conditions like severe acne.

Serums are one of the most popular hyaluronic acid products.

You apply serums after washing your face, up to twice a day. Most bottles come with a dropper to help you dispense the product without wasting it. Apply a few drops to your fingers and gently tap it onto your face.

You can still apply moisturizer or other products on top of the serum once your skin has a chance to absorb the hyaluronic acid.

If you’re using a hyaluronic acid moisturizer, just apply it whenever you’d typically moisturize.

Choosing a product

If you have persistent acne, you’ll usually want to opt for products labeled noncomedogenic, which means they won’t clog your pores. It’s also best to stick with dermatologist-tested or dermatologist-recommended products.

You can also read ingredient lists — always a good practice — to check for common comedogenic ingredients:

  • cocoa butter
  • linseed oil
  • coconut oil
  • oleic acid
  • lanolin acid
  • laureth-4
  • squalene
  • butyl stearate
  • isopropyl myristate
  • isopropyl linoleate
  • isopropyl isostearate
  • oleyl alcohol

If you have moderate to severe acne, it’s worth connecting with a dermatologist before trying out new products. They can also offer guidance on whether hyaluronic acid injections might help reduce the appearance of acne scars.

Ultimately, your dermatologist probably won’t recommend hyaluronic acid as a first-line treatment for acne. Still, it could offer some benefits as part of your regular skin care routine.

Hyaluronic acid helps keep your skin hydrated without weighing it down. It’s safe for most people to use, and it shows promise as a complementary acne treatment.

Remember, though, that it’s just one tool in your acne treatment toolbox, and it may not always be the right tool. A dermatologist can offer more support with finding the best treatment approach for your skin care needs.

Steph Coelho is a freelance writer with chronic migraine who has a particular interest in health and wellness. When she’s not click-clacking away on her keyboard, she’s probably nose-deep in a good book.