What Is Hyaluronic Acid?

Hyaluronic acid serum is one of the heroes of the beauty world. Its claim to fame is its ability to hydrate and plump the skin, as well as its association with tissue repair. All of this reduces the look of skin aging. Most of us would agree that hyaluronic acid benefits are fantastic! So what’s wrong with hyaluronic acid?

What is hyaluronic acid?

First, let’s talk about what it is. Hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in the human body. It is present in all of our body’s fluids and tissues, and is uniquely able to bind and retain moisture. Half of all the body’s hyaluronic acid is in the skin. As we grow older, the naturally occurring hyaluronic acid begins to diminish in the outer, or epidermal, layer. [i] Without the ability to bind and retain moisture, the skin begins to dry out. That’s why hydration is such an important part of a good skincare routine!

History of hyaluronic acid

In 1934, Biochemist Karl Meyer and his assistant, John Palmer, first discovered its hydrating properties while working in the field of ophthalmology. They named their discovery “hyaluronic acid,” from “hyaloid,” which means glasslike, and uronic acid.[ii] Their findings led to more studies, and it was used in the medical field for eye and joint procedures. In the 1960s, it was finally used on the skin.

What is hyaluronic acid made from?

Hyaluronic acid naturally occurs in the skin, but replacing it as it begins to diminish isn’t as easy as it sounds. Hyaluronic acid doesn’t just grow on trees. In fact, plants aren’t involved in the process at all. Hyaluronic acid was first discovered as a component of cow eyes during Meyer’s ophthalmology studies,[iii] and later discovered in larger quantities in the combs of roosters. These methods are the opposite of animal friendly and scientists kept looking for ways to recreate it.

I can almost picture the meeting where someone said, “Let’s try fermenting streptococci!” The room falls silent, crickets chirp… maybe the scientist had a bout of strep throat and wanted to get even. Regardless what spurred this idea,scientists tried it and it worked. Fermented bacteria became a viable source of hyaluronic acid.

Isn’t streptococci bacteria strep throat?

There are more than 50 species of streptococci, among them the bacteria that causes strep throat, meningitis and even flesh-eating infections.[iv] There are also more benign species like the one that is used to make swiss cheese. It’s a large group of bacteria, so it isn’t inherently bad; it’s just something to think about. At the end of the day, it’s still fermented bacteria. And a lot of people end their day by applying it to their face.

Alternatives to hyaluronic acid

Not all ingredients have a beautiful backstory. Because synthetic hyaluronic acid can come from either bacteria or animal sources, it can be hard to tell its source unless the company chooses to disclose it. If you’re looking for cruelty-free options, this can be a problem. Luckily, there are natural, vegan alternatives to synthetic hyaluronic acid that offer similar results. Gentle seaweed extract, like we use in our Bright Eyes Firming Eye Cream, mimics the benefits of hyaluronic acid to help improve elasticity, retain moisture and smooth the skin. And, if you’ve ever looked out at the sea, this extract has an exceptionally beautiful backstory that can help write the script for healthy, hydrated skin!

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[i] Papakonstantinou E, Roth M, Karakiulakis G. Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging. Dermato-endocrinology. 2012;4(3):253-258. doi:10.4161/derm.21923.

[ii] The Polysaccharide of the Vitreous Humor (Meyer, K., and Palmer, J. W. (1934) J. Biol. Chem. 107, 629–634)

[iii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15518947

[iv]  Wang, Kun; Lu, Wenxin; Tu, Qichao; Ge, Yichen; He, Jinzhi; Zhou, Yu; Gou, Yaping; Nostrand, Joy D Van; Qin, Yujia; Li, Jiyao; Zhou, Jizhong; Li, Yan; Xiao, Liying; Zhou, Xuedong (10 March 2016). “Preliminary analysis of salivary microbiome and their potential roles in oral lichen planus”. Scientific Reports. 6 (1). PMC 4785528PMID 26961389doi:10.1038/srep22943. Retrieved 6 May 2017.

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