First isolated in 1934 by the biochemist Karl Mayer from the vitreous humour of bulls’ eyes, hyaluronic acid, or hyaluronan, is a polysaccharide (complex carbohydrate) naturally present in the human body –and in animal tissues in general (1). More specifically, it’s the product of combining a uronic acid with an aminoglycan.
In humans, it’s an essential component of the extracellular matrix, which provides structural and biochemical support to our cells (2). It’s primarily found in the dermis (the skin layer beneath the epidermis), as well as in the eyes, connective tissue and synovial fluid, the role of which is to reduce friction in the joints (3).
In its pure form, hyaluronic acid has an interesting characteristic: it is not species- or tissue-specific. Its formula is therefore common to all living organisms, which explains its excellent tolerance when injected or taken as a dietary supplement, regardless of its origin (4).
Hyaluronic acid has been attracting huge attention in the field of cosmetic medicine since it expanded the range of injectable products available, at the end of the 1990s. Completely safe with very few side effects, it is widely acclaimed by practitioners for use in facial contouring or correcting asymmetries (5).
With remarkable viscoelastic and hydrophilic properties, hyaluronic acid is able to retain water, and swells when it comes into contact with it (6). In this way, it fills empty intercellular spaces and provides cohesion to tissues, properties which give the skin a smooth, plumped-up appearance (7). It remains the most widely-used cosmetic facial filler today, having overtaken injectable collagen.
In a less cross-linked (and more fluid) form, hyaluronic acid also features in various minimally-invasive medical-aesthetic facial procedures such as mesotherapy, and more recently, Skinbooster (8). Highly popular for the immediate glow they bring, they also offer increased suppleness and firmness.
Hyaluronic acid’s applications are not restricted to the cosmetic field. The substance is also used within certain types of ophthalmologic or ENT surgery, as well as in rheumatology (9).
In fact, hyaluronic acid is an integral part of cartilage and especially synovial fluid - it alone maintains the latter’s elasticity and viscosity (10-12). Secreted by chondrocytes and synoviocytes, this yellowish fluid cushions friction between moving joints (knees, elbows …). Studies have also highlighted lower concentrations of hyaluronic acid at these sites in subjects suffering from joint problems (13).
Hyaluronic acid is not an inert component: it is also actively involved in various physiological processes. Indeed, several studies are investigating its role in the mechanism of healing, as well as its interaction with inflammatory mediators and immune cells (particularly in cases of physical trauma) (14).
Over time, production of hyaluronic acid tends to decline (15). Depending on the individual, this can manifest in duller or more flaccid skin, morning stiffness or difficulty carrying out daily activities (climbing the stairs, gardening …). It can therefore be helpful to take a supplement, making sure you choose the most suitable formulation for your particular needs.
The form of hyaluronic acid found in the joints has a very high molecular weight (of over 1 million Daltons), sodium hyaluronate. For a concentrated effect in this area, it’s therefore important to opt for a hyaluronic acid supplement of at least equivalent weight (the vegetarian supplement Hyaluronic Acid, obtained from bacterial fermentation, has a molecular weight of 1.2 million Daltons) (16).
If, however, the objective is beautiful skin, it’s best to choose a low molecular weight supplement: the small molecule size enables it to penetrate deep into skin tissues (thanks to a cutting-edge enzymatic technique, the patented supplement Injuv® Hyaluronic Acid has an unusually low molecular weight, without being in any way chemically altered) (17).
There are also synergistic formulations that combine hyaluronic acid with various plant extracts known for their affinity with the joints, such as Boswellia serrata which helps reduce joint discomfort (in addition to these two compounds, the innovative formulation Flexi-Smart contains standardized avocado soy unsaponifiables which provide a significant amount of phytosterols for maximum efficacy) (18-19).
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