Hyaluronic Acid Skincare: Benefits Explained by Singapore Dermatologist

Ep 67: Photoaging & Barrier Function – How Hyaluronic Acid Improves the Skin Microenvironment

Hyaluronic acid is a well-known skincare active. While most people are aware of its function in moisturizing the skin, what is equally important but lesser known is that it participates in very meaningful cell to cell interactions, which is known as cell talk.

The key here is that not all forms of hyaluronic acid is able to perform this function of enhancing the cellular processes that are beneficial in the anti-aging process. Multi-weighted hyaluronic acid which includes macro and micro hyaluronic acid ensures that there are different depths of penetration where the molecules also exert various effects on skin. The term natural moisturizing factor is helpful in the understanding of this concept. It helps to regulate the skin microenvironment which ensures an optimal state of balance. These are crucial processes that make our skin resilient to environmental and lifestyle assaults that can accelerate photoaging.

What is hyaluronic acid?

Hi guys I’m Dr. Teo Wan Lin of TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre. Welcome to today’s episode of Dermatologists Talks: Science of Beauty. Today we’re going to be talking about a well-known skincare ingredients – hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is one of the most well-known skincare active ingredients primarily because of its safety and efficacy. It is a natural component of the skin’s dermis and research into the different weights of hyaluronic acid has revealed that they have different molecular penetration levels and slightly different functions. Well, this is why a multi-weighted formula containing both macro and micro hyaluronic acid formulas is ideal for a moisturizing serum. 

hyaluronic acid
Natural moisturizing factor

Importantly, we want to understand the term ‘natural moisturizing factor’. Natural moisturizing factors are essentially molecules that sit on the surface of your skin. They function to prevent evaporation or what we term as transepidermal water loss to the environment. Essentially, natural moisturizing factors maintain hydration of the stratum corneum. This is a mixture of amino acids and other protein derivatives from the gene filaggrin. It is a humectant that balances the amount of water in the stratum corneum, enabling it to regulate temperature and humidity levels.

As there is a reduction in humidity, the natural moisturizing factor viscosity increases and it slows down the rate of skin hydration. This natural moisturizing factor structure system can be thought of as a unique ecosystem for water management that is responsive to external environmental changes. The topically applied moisturizers such as glycerol and sugars. These essentially work on the level of the stratum corneum for advanced moisturizer technologies. 

Environment & lifestyle factors

There are certain environmental and lifestyle factors that can impact the natural moisturizing factor levels in skin. Firstly, environmental pollution, low humidity levels, weather, poor diet, increased stress, usage of harsh cleanses or over cleansing, excessive ultraviolet exposure, as well as the natural effects of skin aging. Natural moisturizing factor essentially helps to keep your skin elastic and supple. Fundamentally, the suppleness and elasticity are a result of the skin’s proteins that can regulate cell activity. It also activates hydrolytic enzymes, which means that your skin can shut its old cells readily. Furthermore, it also is a protective barrier that helps to maintain the optimal balance.


Humectants mimic the function of natural moisturizing factors. This is where hyaluronic acid, glycerin and naturally occurring amino acids such as arginine, histidine and lysine can help to restore your skin barrier function. In addition, the critical property of hyaluronic acid is that it doesn’t just increase your skin’s hydration levels. It also helps to facilitate beneficial cell talk mechanisms, which helps to slow down the process of aging as well as reverse oxidative stress that causes DNA damage.

Dermatologist tips for hyaluronic acid serum
hyaluronic acid serum
Photo: L’Oréal Paris

In particular, when you’re looking for a hyaluronic acid serum, the following features are some of the key markers of effectiveness. Look for high concentrations of hyaluronic acid at 1.5%. An effective hyaluronic acid serum also contains two types of hyaluronic acids, both macro and micro hyaluronic acid. Macro hyaluronic acid helps to intensely hydrate and smoothen the skin’s surface. Micro hyaluronic acid which is a smaller molecule penetrates deeply into the level of the dermis.

Additionally, we know that this has a separate function to plump up your skin and reduce fine lines and wrinkles. So to recap, it actually fulfills two functions. First, it is to prevent water loss of the environment due to its natural function as a natural moisturizing factor. The second function is that it participates in beneficial cell talk. This ensures that your skin’s physiological processes are performing well to fight off the daily oxidative stress caused by free radical damage. 

Hyaluronic acid skincare

Besides that, it’s important to follow up with a good hyaluronic acid-based moisturizer. A useful tip to note would be to look for creams that contain 50 times smaller hyaluronic acid molecules that can penetrate deeper into the skin for longer-lasting hydration. When it comes to eye cream, pick one that is suitable for the entire face as well as the delicate skin around the eye. For example, an eye cream that contains five times the concentration of hyaluronic acid, alongside a molecule known as Pro-Xylane that helps to boost collagen production.

Active ingredient Pro-Xylane

Pro-Xylane is a fascinating active ingredient. A derivative from beech extract, research also shows that it can stimulate collagen production. Pro-Xylane is a sugar protein hybrid, a derivative of xylose, and a product of extensive research. Additionally, it is also a natural sugar abundantly found in beech trees. Importantly, it targets wrinkles and pores so that skin appears smoother and there are less wrinkles. This is the key feature of an effective cosmeceutical. 

The role of moisture in skin aging

A little bit about the role of moisture and the skin barrier in the aging process. Our skin primarily composes of the epidermis. The epidermis hosts the stratum corneum and the second layer of skin, the dermis. These two components eventually makeup what we call the skin barrier and also is responsible for the appearance of skin. Depending on your age, the structure and the function of the barrier may differ. Firstly the stratum corneum hosts corneocytes which are cemented by ceramides. These are essentially lipids in a brick and mortar model of the skin. Moisturizing ingredients specifically target these two components.

The epidermis and the dermis each have different requirements for maintaining their role in protecting the skin from external environmental stresses. Natural moisturizing factors, for example, amino acids as well as hyaluronic acid prevent transepidermal water loss to the environment. This ensures that whatever molecules are sitting on the surface of your skin remains to reduce moisture loss to the environment. 

Benefits of hyaluronic acid
hyaluronic acid serum
Photo: L’Oréal Paris

Secondly, when there is a breach in the ceramide content, the skin barrier becomes dysfunctional. This results in an increase in water loss to the environment. Additionally, increased potential for allergens that trigger off the vicious cycle of inflammation in your skin. The second function of moisturizers should be at the level of the dermis, and that’s where hyaluronic acid is relevant. Hyaluronic acid is a natural component of your dermis and it has additional functions beyond providing moisture. It plumps up your skin and reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Above all, it can actually participate in what we call cell talk mechanisms. This essentially ensures that the skin cells function optimally to repair signs of DNA damage. DNA damage starts occurring from the time we’re in our mid 20s. This process is accelerated from the age of 30. This marks the start of biological aging.

Skin barrier dysfunction

The reason for this has to do with the inability of our skin to cope with the environmental assaults that we are exposed to. These can range from atmospheric environmental pollution to harmful ultraviolet rays. Additional aggravating factors that may aggravate skin barrier dysfunction are underlying skin diseases such as rosacea, eczema or even severe forms of acne and acne scarring. Eventually, this leads to an inability for the skin to keep up with DNA repair. This results in the early signs of photoaging, manifesting in the form of fine lines, wrinkles, irregular skin texture, pigmentation. These are regarded as early signs which must not be ignored.

For example, in severely sun damaged photoaged individuals, there is even a medical condition that arises known as chronic actinic dermatitis. Chronic actinic dermatitis is actually the most severe form of photoaging, that is actually a precursor to skin cancer formation. The focus of your skincare routine isn’t just about cosmetic applications, but also in terms of maintaining skin health so that your skin can actively repair DNA damage so you do not develop skin cancers.

How humidity affects the skin

It is important to consider the impact of humidity on the skin as we are living in tropical Singapore. In a low humidity environment such as in temperate countries, one usually generates more natural moisturizing factor for increased skin hydration. If your skin is functioning well when you are in a high humidity environment, one does not need as much natural moisturizing factor so your skin makes less.

The importance of a hydrating skincare routine

Skincare products that are designed to mimic this natural moisturizing factor use a combination of humectants, emollients and occlusives. The critical balance here is about the skin micro-environment that impacts the functioning of your skin’s immune and barrier cells. Overall an ideal state of balance and homeostasis can be achieved with a good skincare regimen. Make sure to incorporate these in a skincare regimen that both hydrates the skin barrier and also stimulates positive cell talk mechanisms that help in fighting oxidative stress. 

Summing up, today’s podcast is all about how hyaluronic acid functions in the skin microenvironment and helps in retarding the process of photoaging. Remember to follow me on my Instagram @drteowanlin. Find out more about where you can get your hands on well formulated hyaluronic acid products for your needs.