Hyaluronic Acid Alternatives

5 Hyaluronic Acid Alternatives That You May Not Know About

Hyaluronic acid is often considered the holy grail of skin hydration in the skincare world, but is it all it’s cracked up to be or is it overhyped? How does it compare to these hyaluronic acid alternatives?


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What Is Hyaluronic Acid?

Hyaluronic acid is a humectant which means that it draws water from the deeper layer of your skin (your dermis) into the outer layer of your skin (your epidermis). It’s naturally present all over your body, but the majority is found in your skin.


In your epidermis, your skin cells contain natural moisturizing factors (NMFs) like hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, urea, and amino acids, which control how much water goes in and out of the cell.


If you’ve got plenty of water in your skin cells, they’ll be nice and plump which will increase your skin’s elasticity and keep it looking healthy and strong.


The majority of the hyaluronic acid in your skin is found in your dermis where it helps provide your skin with elasticity, keeps it looking plump, and enables it to bounce back after performing facial expressions or being poked and pulled.


Less HA = less volume = more noticeable fine lines and wrinkles.


Hyaluronic acid can bind up to 1000x its weight in water which makes it an excellent humectant.


As well as hydrating your skin, hyaluronic acid helps to:


  • Increase skin elasticity (well-hydrated skin has more elasticity or ‘bounce’ which means that it returns to its shape when pulled or poked)
  • Reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles almost instantly thanks to its hydrating effect (dehydrated skin makes fine lines and wrinkles appear much worse)
  • Heal wounds by reducing inflammation and bacteria growth


The 5 Best Hyaluronic Acid Alternatives


As you age, your body produces less hyaluronic acid which can reduce the volume of your dermis and your epidermal skin cells as well as reducing overall skin hydration. This can leave you with dry, cracked, and irritated skin that has less bounce as well as more visible fine lines and pores.



What Are The Limits of Hyaluronic Acid?

Topical hyaluronic acid (e.g. serums, moisturizers, etc.) is excellent at hydrating skin. However, because hyaluronic acid can’t penetrate your dermis, it won’t be particularly effective at increasing lost volume (aside from the temporary plumping effect from increased skin hydration).


One study did find that hyaluronic acid improved fine lines and wrinkles (as well as elasticity and hydration) after 8-weeks of use, with another study confirming its effect on elasticity. However, it’s not clear whether this is purely due to its hydrating effect.


In my personal opinion, while hyaluronic acid is a great ingredient, it’s a little overhyped. There are other humectants that are equally as effective and other hydrating skincare ingredients that are a bit more versatile.


Here are 5 hyaluronic acid alternatives that are worth considering…


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The 5 Best Hyaluronic Acid Alternatives



Glycerin, or glycerol, is considered to be the most effective humectant as it can easily penetrate your skin. It’s the third most frequently used ingredient in cosmetics, after water and fragrance.


Research suggests that glycerin has a number of benefits for your skin, including:

  • Improving skin barrier function and hydration
  • Improving the mechanical properties of your skin – including regulating cellular renewal
  • Helping break down the bonds that hold your dead skin cells together and facilitating your skin’s natural exfoliation process.
  • Protecting your skin
  • Improving wound healing (faster healing)
  • Preventing the growth of bacteria


There’s not a huge amount of research comparing glycerin vs hyaluronic acid, but one study did find that glycerin was better at reducing trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL; water lost from your skin).

Glycerin is so widely used in skincare products that you may even find it in your hyaluronic acid serum. It’s usually higher up in the ingredients list as well – meaning that there’s more glycerin than hyaluronic acid in the product.


Best Products With Glycerin:

Paula’s Choice Water-Infusing Electrolyte Moisturizer

La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5

Avant Skincare Satin-Soft Imperial Polyglutamic Acid Duo Moisturiser



Polyglutamic acid

Polyglutamic acid is a polypeptide made from chains of the amino acid glutamic acid. Like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, it’s also a humectant but it has the added bonus of increasing the production of your skin’s natural moisturizing factors.


When compared to hyaluronic acid, research suggests that polyglutamic acid is more hydrating as it can absorb 5000x its own weight in moisture compared to hyaluronic acid’s 1000x absorption. It was also better at increasing skin elasticity than hyaluronic acid.


One of the biggest reasons to consider using polyglutamic acid as an alternative to hyaluronic acid is that it helps protect your skin’s natural hyaluronic acid.


Polyglutamic acid does this by preventing the activity of (inhibiting) hyaluronidase – an enzyme that breaks down hyaluronic acid.


Less hyaluronidase activity = more HA


Best Polyglutamic Acid Products:

Avant Skincare Satin-Soft Imperial Polyglutamic Acid Duo Moisturiser

The Inkey List Polyglutamic Acid

Oskia Isotonic Hydra-Serum



N-Acetyl Glucosamine

N-Acetyl Glucosamine (NAG) is a monosaccharide (amino sugar) that’s involved in the production of hyaluronic acid. When applied to your skin, research suggests that it can increase the hyaluronic acid content of your skin.


More NAG = More HA


One study found that the topical application of NAG increased skin moisturization, reduced flakiness, and normalized the skin’s natural exfoliation process.


NAG may be a better alternative to hyaluronic acid if you’re looking to treat certain skin concerns rather than just hydrate your skin. 


As well as hydrating your skin, it’s benefits include:


  • Brightening skin by interfering with the melanin production process
  • Reducing irritation and soothing skin
  • Indirectly boosting collagen production
  • Mildly exfoliating skin
  • Preventing the growth of bacteria


It also pairs particularly well with niacinamide!


Best NAG products:

NeoStrata Enlighten Illuminating Serum

Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster



Centella Asiatica

Centella Asiatica is a green leafy plant that is native to Southeast Asia and contains four key components (or saponins) – Asiaticoside, Asiatic Acid, Madecassoside, and Madasiatic Acid. It’s been used for centuries to heal skin but has only recently become popular as an ingredient in cosmetics.

Research suggests that, not only does centella asiatica boost your skin’s natural production of hyaluronic acid but it also prevents it from breaking down by inhibiting hyaluronidase.

As well as increasing hyaluronic acid and skin hydration, It also:

  • Prevents the growth of bacteria
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Reduces redness
  • Increases the antioxidant content of your skin (vitamins A, C, & E)
  • Boosts collagen production
  • Improves wound healing

So, if you’re looking to treat a wide range of skin concerns, centella asiatica may be a better alternative to hyaluronic acid.


Best Centella Asiatica Products:

La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5

Purito Centella Unscented Serum

Dermalogica Intensive Moisture Balance



Beta-glucan is naturally derived from oats and other cereals and has hydrating and healing properties. It’s allegedly 20x more hydrating than hyaluronic acid (although I can’t find a reliable source for this).

It also:


Best Beta-Glucan Products:

Skinceuticals Epidermal Repair

REN Evercalm Ultra Calming Rescue Mask

IUNIK Beta Glucan Moisturizing Cream


So Should You Ditch The Hyaluronic Acid?

Not necessarily!

If hyaluronic acid works well for you then please be reassured that it is a fantastic humectant.

However, if you’re one of the people who doesn’t get on too well with hyaluronic acid (formulation matters so it might be that you just haven’t found the right product yet) – you could consider one of these hyaluronic acid alternatives – especially if you’re looking for something that does more than just hydrate your skin.

There’s also nothing stopping you from using these ingredients alongside hyaluronic acid, especially as polyglutamic acid and Centella Asiatica can help prevent the enzymes in your skin from breaking it down!

Hyaluronic Acid Alternatives

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