Hyaluronic acid has been a favorite on the skincare scene for a while now, and for good reason! With natural hydrating properties and the capacity to hold 1000 times its own weight, this “non-acid” acid provides super powerful hydration and is a key ingredient in many cult beauty products.
However, since hyaluronic acid is marketed as a product for “ultra hydration” and dry skin, you might be wondering: does hyaluronic acid cause acne?
If you have acne-prone skin, you’ll know that many “must-have” beauty products promise flawless, blemish-free skin but end up breaking you out – either because the product is comedogenic or because it’s not suitable for oily skin.
What Is Hyaluronic Acid?
First up, what is hyaluronic acid? Naturally found in the skin’s dermis layer and in the eye fluids, Hyaluronic acid is a natural sugar that helps cushion many joints in the body. In the skincare world, hyaluronic acid is used for its powerful hydrating properties: this acid is known as a humectant, which means that it draws and holds moisture in the skin. When fully absorbed into the skin, hyaluronic acid can hold 1000 times its weight in water. As a result, hyaluronic acid is often used on its own or as a key ingredient in many hydrating serums, moisturizers, and masks.
Benefits of Hyaluronic Acid:
- Provides intense, weightless hydration
- Plumps and smooths the skin
- It can help conceal the appearance of fine lines
- Supports skin’s natural elasticity
- It can help control sebum production in oily skin
- Antioxidant properties
- It can help to calm redness, inflammation, and irritation
- It can help reduce the appearance of fine lines over time
- Non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores
So, Does Hyaluronic Acid Cause Acne?
Before answering that question, it’s important to explain that skincare products can typically produce two types of adverse reactions in acne-prone skin: purging and traditional breakouts.
What Is Purging?
Purging occurs when a skincare product makes the skin’s cells turn over faster than usual: this process creates whiteheads on the skin’s surface and might be confused for a “traditional” breakout. Purging often occurs with aggressive anti-acne treatments or strong chemical exfoliants, but this process is not an indication of a product’s quality or effectiveness: sometimes, the skin’s barrier is simply damaged, which can lead to purging. Skin purging typically lasts a couple of weeks but can continue for over a month. If you think you’re experiencing purging, you can continue using the product to see if the breakouts stop. If your acne problems persist after 5-6 weeks, it’s best to stop using the product.
Can Hyaluronic Acid Cause Skin Purging?
Hyaluronic acid is a humectant and hydrating property, not an acid exfoliator: it cannot create skin cell turnover. So if you notice a purging outbreak on an area of your skin prone to acne, hyaluronic acid alone is unlikely to be the culprit.
Does Hyaluronic Acid Cause Breakouts?
The second type of acne breakout you can experience with a skincare product is a traditional, clogged-pores breakout. This breakout occurs when a skincare product is loaded with comedogenic ingredients, which block the pores and cause spots. These spots will resemble a “purging” breakout (small, scattered whiteheads), but this type of breakout can occur in any area of the face, not simply the areas where you are prone to acne. If you experience a traditional breakout with a skincare product, it’s advisable to stop use and see if your problems improve.
Is Hyaluronic Acid Comedogenic?
Hyaluronic acid is non-comedogenic: this means that it’s unlikely to clog your pores and cause breakouts on its own. However, that doesn’t mean that all hyaluronic acid products are suitable for acne-prone skin. It’s important to always check a product’s label to ensure no comedogenic ingredients have been snuck in there. Many hyaluronic acid moisturizers and serums will be formulated with both hyaluronic acid and comedogenic ingredients, so use our handy guide below when inspecting labels:
Does Hyaluronic Acid Cause Cystic Acne?
Even when using a hyaluronic acid product formulated with comedogenic ingredients, it’s unlikely to trigger the development of cystic acne. Cystic acne tends to be hormonal and related to the overproduction of sebum in the skin, which often becomes blocked in the skin’s pores. If you’re struggling with cystic acne and experimenting with hyaluronic acid to treat it, it might first be a good idea to investigate the source of your cystic acne. While one study found that hyaluronic acid can help control the skin’s oil production, cystic acne can often be caused by simple, easy-to-treat underlying conditions, such as candida, thyroid conditions, and fungal acne.
As we explain in our eBook Unmasking Acne, some acne sufferers can spend upwards of thousands of dollars on anti-acne skincare products that exacerbate their skin problems instead of improving them. Before spending money on expensive, “cure-all” skincare products, make sure you know the underlying cause of your acne. Sometimes, simple lifestyle changes and diet modifications can clear up persistent cystic acne.
Does Hyaluronic Acid Cause Acne When Used Incorrectly?
As we explained above, hyaluronic acid is a humectant: this means that it absorbs and retains moisture both from your dermis and your surrounding environment, helping to keep your skin supple, smooth, and weightlessly hydrated. Hyaluronic acid can be effective if you apply it in a humid environment or if you combine hyaluronic acid with other aqua-based skincare products.
However, if you live in a colder, dry climate and don’t use hyaluronic acid correctly, putting hyaluronic acid on your skin can make the skin more dehydrated and more prone to breakouts. How? Put simply, hyaluronic acid needs something to attach itself to, also known as an occlusive property. Without this, the skin will overproduce oil to compensate.
Should Hyaluronic Acid Be Combined With Anything Else?
Two occlusive properties can help hyaluronic acid do its job correctly: other water-based skincare products or natural, environmental humidity. When used alongside other skincare products on the skin, hyaluronic acid can draw moisture from the water molecules in a cream or serum, helping to keep the skin supple. Similarly, hyaluronic acid can draw water from humid environments when used alone. Put simply, hyaluronic acid needs extra moisture to do its job, and without this, the skin itself will overproduce oil and potentially aggravate acne-prone skin.
How to Use Hyaluronic Acid Correctly:
- Combine hyaluronic acid with an aqua-based moisturizer or serum: apply hyaluronic acid to a toned face before following up with your usual moisturizer.
- Apply hyaluronic acid to the skin while the skin is still slightly damp, either from cleansing or from the shower.
- The ideal time to apply hyaluronic acid is after showering – the natural humidity and steam in the bathroom will help it lock moisture into your skin and give you an instant, plumped glow.
High vs. Low Molecular Weight Hyaluronic Acid
When it comes to choosing a hyaluronic acid product, size matters. A vital factor to consider is whether your hyaluronic acid is high molecular weight or low molecular weight.
What’s The Difference?
High-molecular weight hyaluronic acid:
- Short term results on the skin
- Helps protect the skin’s natural moisture barrier
- Can calm redness and irritation
- It can help heal wounds faster
- Little-to-no long-term anti-aging properties
Medium-molecular weight hyaluronic acid:
- Longer lasting than high-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid
- Smoothing, plumping effect on the skin
- Reaches the skin’s connective tissue
Low-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid:
- Smaller: can penetrate deeper into the skin’s layers
- Long-lasting anti-aging effects
- Long term results with consistent use
- Helps skin regeneration
Both low-molecular-weight and high-molecular-weight products have their benefits and uses, and each type of hyaluronic acid will be more effective for certain skin types.
What type of hyaluronic acid should I use for acne-prone skin?
Acne-prone skin can benefit from both low-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid and high-molecular hyaluronic acids – the key is to ensure that the acid is applied correctly.
High-molecular weight hyaluronic acid will provide many tangible benefits to acne-prone skin when used correctly: high weight molecules help calm inflammation and redness while providing immediate, essential moisture to the skin’s surface. However, if applied incorrectly, this type of hyaluronic acid will parch the skin and source moisture from its dermis layer, drying it out and triggering oil production.
Low-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid can help acne-prone skin by providing long-lasting moisture deeper in the skin’s layers. Still, studies have shown that low-weight molecules can cause inflammation, especially in sensitive skin. So if you have acne-prone skin, be prudent when testing out new hyaluronic acid products and try to opt for those with high-molecular weight. Some skincare products will blend high and low-weight hyaluronic acid, so it’s good to reach out to the skincare company and ask directly.
Should I Use Hyaluronic Acid or Hyaluronic Acid Serum?
When using hyaluronic acid for acne-prone skin, it might be more beneficial to opt for a hyaluronic acid serum. Hyaluronic acid serums are often combined with other non-comedogenic ingredients to soothe redness, calm inflammation, provide hydration and protect the skin’s natural moisture barrier.
I personally recommend using collagen serums or supplementation in addition to hyaluronic acid. Collagen helps keep the skin hydrated and reduces signs of aging. Using a blended formula of hyaluronic acid and collagen can help reduce acne, aging, and uneven skin textures. If you want the benefits of both hyaluronic acid and collagen you should check out Clearstem Skincare’s CELLRENEW Collagen Infusion Serum. This serum uses both hyaluronic acid and collagen to keep your skin hydrated, clean, and tight. Its great for preventing wrinkles and does not contain any comedogenic ingredients. If you are interested in this serum or other skincare products that will help calm inflammation and slow signs of aging I highly recommend taking a look at our team’s review of Clearstem Skincare. Their products are extremely high quality and several members of our team use their products personally.
- Ingredients That Target Breakouts & Wrinkles
- Reduce active breakouts
- Reduce redness and inflammation while simultaneously increasing collagen and skin elasticity
Does Hyaluronic Acid Serum Cause Acne?
Every hyaluronic acid serum will differ: if you use a hyaluronic acid serum that has been formulated with comedogenic ingredients, the product may trigger a breakout. Hyaluronic acid serums formulated with AHAs and BHAs might also trigger a purging effect on the skin, but hyaluronic acid itself won’t cause you to break out.
When choosing a hyaluronic acid serum for acne-prone skin, opt for high-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid. While there are benefits to using a more concentrated, low-molecular weighted acid, the risk of inflammation makes it the less suitable choice for acne-prone skin. To respond to the question: does hyaluronic acid serum cause acne? Not directly – but make sure to check the label for both the weight of the hyaluronic acid and any comedogenic ingredients.
Reddit Users Experiences With Hyaluronic Acid For Acne
Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows I always recommend optimizing your diet before trying any kind of skincare product. I am very picky about the products I use and did a bit of research on Reddit to see how the “average” hyaluronic acid product performed. Unsurprisingly, most of do more harm than good.
A Reddit user said, “I started to use hyaluronic acid a little over a week ago (the Ordinary brand of 2% and vitamin B-5.) At first it seemed to be working well for my skin; however, the last 2-3 days my skin has gotten increasingly red, bumpy, and irritated. It almost looks as though I have a sun burn, and I have rough bumpy skin on my nose that hurts to touch.”r/SkincareAddiction
As I explained above, Hyaluronic acid absorbs moisture. If you have sensitive skin or do not adequately moisturize your skin will most likely become irritated and inflamed.
Hyaluronic acid can cause discomfort if used incorrectly, especially if the serum contains comedogenic ingredients. If you are considering used a hyaluronic acid serum I highly recommend using Clearstem or consulting with a dermatologist before buying the first product you see on Amazon.
Does Hyaluronic Acid Cause Acne? Our Verdict
So, does hyaluronic acid cause acne? The short answer is no – hyaluronic acid is a non-comedogenic and non-exfoliating acid. If you’re experiencing breakouts with a new hyaluronic skin care product, check the label to look for comedogenic ingredients. If your skincare product is comedogenic and you’re still experiencing breakouts, you might be using hyaluronic acid incorrectly. When applied correctly, hyaluronic acid can help your skin retain its natural moisture, smooth fine lines and scars while giving your complexion a plumped, dewy glow.