Hyaluronic Acid: Is It Worth Trying?

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It keeps your skin healthy and hydrated, reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and eases joint pain. No, not collagen. Hyaluronic acid is one of the most popular anti-aging supplements on the market today.

If you’re so over adding collagen powder to your morning coffee to improve your skin’s strength and resilience, you may be considering a move to hyaluronic acid. But can it help? Maybe. Is it worth trying? Well, that depends. 

Read on to learn more about hyaluronic acid and what the research says about all its touted health benefits.

What is Hyaluronic Acid?

Hyaluronic acid (HA), also called hyaluronan, is a substance naturally found throughout your body, including the skin, eyes, and joints. It binds with water molecules, creating a gel-like substance that helps your skin retain moisture, prevents dry eye, and keeps your joints lubricated.

Because of its biocompatibility (meaning it’s not harmful to your body) and ability to form into a thick elastic gel, hyaluronic acid makes the perfect vehicle for the administration of medication. Many areas of medicine use hyaluronic acid, including dermatology, rheumatology, and ophthalmology.

Hyaluronic acid is found in eye drops for dry eye, dermal fillers to fill in wrinkles, and synovial joint injections for arthritis (viscosupplementation). But hyaluronic acid isn’t limited to only medical uses. It’s also available over-the-counter (OTC) in skin moisturizers, lotions, and creams, as well as dietary supplements.

Anti-aging cosmetic products are in high demand. Many people are looking for a more natural way to revitalize their look and may consider hyaluronic acid a viable option to add to their daily beauty routine. But is it really worth it?

What Does the Research Say?

The medical community uses hyaluronic acid to treat many healthy and beauty concerns. In some instances, medical professionals use needles to administer the gel-like substance like with dermal fillers and synovial joint injections.

But what about oral hyaluronic acid supplements? Can it help your skin and joint pain? The early research shows some promise for this dietary supplement, but more research is needed before definitive conclusion can be made.

May Have Anti-Aging Benefits 

Hyaluronic acid helps your skin retain moisture, keeping it plump and hydrated. Unfortunately, aging and sun exposure decreases hyaluronic acid levels in your skin, affecting moisture and water content. Loss of hyaluronic acid contributes to skin aging and the formation of lines and wrinkles.

Hyaluronic acid is one of the main ingredients in many popular cosmetic injections because it adds volume under the skin, smoothing out those wrinkles. But you may not need injections to get the anti-aging benefits of hyaluronic acid.

According to a 2021 clinical study published in Nutrients, daily supplementation with 120 milligrams of hyaluronic acid over 12 weeks decreases the appearance of wrinkles and improves skin elasticity. The researchers suggest that oral supplementation with hyaluronic acid may improve the look and health of your skin.

Though promising, this study included 40 total participants with only 20 taking the HA supplement. More research is needed to better understand how hyaluronic acid works as an anti-aging supplement.

May Alleviate Dry Skin

When your skin loses too much water, it gets dry. Though dry skin is common with aging, you can also develop this skin condition from a change in weather, using certain types of laundry detergent, or taking long showers. 

Skin moisturizers are the go-to treatment for dry, itchy, cracked skin. But taking hyaluronic acid supplements may help too, according to a 2014 review published in Nutrition Journal. The researchers say oral supplementation with HA triggers your skin cells to release more hyaluronic acid into the extracellular space, improving water content.

When struggling with dry skin, talk to a health care provider or schedule an appointment with a dermatologist for professional guidance.

May Improve Joint Pain, Depending on the Form

Hyaluronic acid injections are a treatment option for people with osteoarthritis (OA), a degenerative form of arthritis, in the knee. However, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) no longer recommends these injections as routine treatment for OA because of there's a lack of evidence that these injections work.

Though research is limited, a 2021 clinical study published in the scientific journal Medicine found that oral supplementation of a liquid hyaluronic acid reduced pain and improved knee function in a group of adults with mild osteoarthritis in the knee.

The researchers of this study suggest additional studies are needed to evaluate the long-term effects of supplementation, along with imaging tests to see how it affects joint structure.

Potential Dangers

You always want to consult with a health care provider before adding any dietary supplements to your daily routine. However, there are no known potential dangers in taking hyaluronic acid supplements. A review article in Nutrition Journal says that clinical trials indicate that hyaluronic acid is a safe dietary supplement that causes no harm when ingested in humans.

But hyaluronic acid supplements may not work for everyone. If you have food allergies, you want to carefully read the label of your supplements to make sure it doesn't contain any of your allergens. The hyaluronic acid used in dietary supplements comes from chicken comb (the fleshy red growth on a chicken's head) or through microbial fermentation. If you have an allergy to poultry or eggs, hyaluronic acid supplements may cause an allergic reaction.

You also want to avoid oral supplementation with hyaluronic acid if you have a history of cancer. Hyaluronic acid stimulates cellular growth, which may trigger the production of any hibernating cancer cells.

Hyaluronic Acid vs. Food

Though there’s some evidence that hyaluronic acid supplements offer benefits, they can’t replace a balanced diet. Poor nutrition affects skin health and puts you at risk of developing degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis.

When it comes to beauty and health, prevention goes a long way. For skin health, eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods ensures that the skin (the largest organ in the body) gets everything it needs so it can function at its best. Including foods rich in antioxidants like beta carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E, protects your skin from damaging and skin-aging free radicals.

The Mediterranean diet may help prevent chronic conditions, according to a 2021 article published in Nutrients. This diet emphasizes nutrient-rich foods like olive oil, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and fish. Eating more of these foods and less red meat and dairy may reduce inflammation (joint pain) and the risk of chronic health problems.

Bone broth, made from slow-cooking of the bones of animals like chicken, beef, and fish, is rich in collagen and hyaluronic acid. Organ meats and chlorella, a green algae, are also rich in hyaluronic acid. If you do not want to consume these foods, there are many other options to turn to. For example, there are multiple nutrients that support the production of hyaluronic acid in the body.

Nutrients that Support Hyaluronic Production

Here is a list of nutrients that support hyaluronic production and common foods they are found in.

  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli
  • Zinc: chickpeas, almonds, oysters, red meat, poultry
  • Magnesium: almonds, dark/leafy greens, lentils, dairy foods
  • Phytoestrogens: tofu, soy products, flaxseed, edamame
  • Naringenin (a flavonoid): citrus fruits, tomato

A Word From Verywell

Even if you think hyaluronic acid supplements are worth trying, talk to a health care provider before buying. Though evidence suggests that the supplement may offer some benefits, more research is needed to better understand how hyaluronic acid works and the effects of long-term use.

Dietary supplements can’t replace lifestyle habits that promote health and well-being, like eating a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, and finding healthy outlets for stress. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it better to ingest or apply hyaluronic acid?

    Whether it’s better to ingest or apply hyaluronic acid depends on many factors, including the reason you’re taking the supplement. The one concern about using a topical hyaluronic acid supplement is whether the molecule can penetrate the skin or not. Many OTC cosmetic products with HA contain molecules that are too large to make it through the skin’s barrier.

  • What foods are rich in hyaluronic acid?

    Chicken comb is rich in hyaluronic acid and is considered a delicacy in some cultures. There’s no available nutrition information for the hyaluronic content in any other foods. It’s suggested that organ meats and bone broth may contain the molecule, but the USDA FoodData Central doesn’t provide nutrition information for hyaluronic acid-containing foods. That said, there are many commonly-found foods that contain the nutrient building blocks for or support the production of hyaluronic acid,

  • Is hyaluronic acid the same as collagen?

    Though they both play a role in keeping your skin looking youthful, hyaluronic acid and collagen aren’t the same. Hyaluronic acid is a glycosaminoglycan (GAG), which is a string of sugar molecules that has the ability to hold onto water, helping your skin retain moisture. Collagen is a structural protein your body uses to support skin, cartilage, bone, and muscle health. In the skin, collagen provides strength and elasticity.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Jill Corleone, RD
Jill is a registered dietitian who's been learning and writing about nutrition for more than 20 years.