We know hyaluronic acid as the ingredient responsible for hydrating and temporarily plumping up the skin to lessen the appearance of superfine lines—but did you know that it could benefit your hair as well? If you have yet to use hyaluronic acid in your haircare products, this is one ingredient you'll want to start seeking out, but heads-up—it might not appear as "hyaluronic acid" on your product's label. "Hyaluronic acid comes in different forms, and the least expensive version is sodium hyaluronate, more commonly seen for haircare," explains cosmetic chemist Ginger King of Grace Kingdom Beauty. To learn even more about how to use this skincare favorite on your hair, we turned to King as well as board-certified dermatologist Sheila Farhang, MD, founder of Avant Dermatology & Aesthetics, and certified trichologist Bridgette Hill. Keep reading to find out all the hair benefits of hyaluronic acid, according to the experts.
What is Hyaluronic Acid?
Hyaluronic acid is a substance naturally found in your body that can also be made synthetically. As a humectant, it has the ability to draw moisture from the air and hold approximately 1,000 times its weight in water.
Meet the Expert
Type of ingredient: Humectant
Main benefits: Hydrate the hair and scalp and reduce frizziness.
Who should use it: According to Hill, the moisture-binding property of hyaluronic acid is beneficial to all hair types and textures by helping retain the proper balance of lipids, humectants, and proteins required for healthy hair.
How often can you use it: Hyaluronic acid can be applied topically on a daily basis or as needed on your wash days.
Works well with: Hyaluronic acid works best when used with water. When applied to damp hair, hyaluronic acid can use the water to help pull the moisture into the hair. More specifically, Farhang recommends pairing it with jojoba and argan oils for dry hair or with collagen and proteins, like keratin, for strengthening the hair.
Don't use with: Hyaluronic acid works well with most, if not all, ingredients. As Farhang explains, hyaluronic acid is a very easy ingredient to formulate into products, which is why it is so commonly used.
Benefits of Hyaluronic Acid for Hair
To be clear, hyaluronic acid is not a moisturizer (it's a humectant), but it helps by pulling moisture in from the environment. Here's how this works to benefit the hair and scalp.
- Hydrates the hair: The humectant-binding properties of hyaluronic acid perform similarly on hair fibers as it does on the skin, allowing the hair fibers to retain and seal moisture from products, according to Hill.
- Reduces frizziness: Hill adds that hyaluronic acid also helps to seal the cuticle, which prevents unwanted moisture from entering it, leading to frizzy hair and shrinkage in highly curly and coil-y hair textures.
- Plumps the hair: Farhang says that although more studies are needed, theoretically hyaluronic acid could help plump up dry, damaged hair. This plumping effect could be used for added volume at the roots, but additional ingredients would be needed to actually repair the damage, according to Farhang.
- Hydrates the scalp: Not only does hyaluronic acid benefit the hair strands, but both Hill and King highlight its benefits for the scalp as well. "Humectant molecules attract and bind moisture to the skin, allowing collagen to thrive in the skin and scalp," Hill explains. King adds that it can keep the scalp hydrated to avoid the issue of dry scalp.
Hair Type Considerations
According to Hill, all hair types and textures could benefit from using any hyaluronic acid–based products on their hair fibers. Hill explains that the ingredient's ability to bind to moisture helps all hair types and textures retain the proper balance of lipids, humectants, and proteins required for hair strength and elasticity.
More specifically, Farhang says hyaluronic acid would most benefit those with dry, brittle, and perhaps damaged hair as well as frizzy hair. King adds that even color-treated and chemically processed strands can benefit from hyaluronic acid and stresses that the more damaged the hair, the better. King explains that the hair shaft tends to be porous and hyaluronic acid can help to fill the cracks and moisturize. Farhang adds that the ingredient is particularly great for not weighing down curls and not leaving a greasy feel on the hair.
How to Use Hyaluronic Acid for Hair
- Apply it to your scalp as a pre-shampoo treatment: Before shampooing, Hill suggests applying hyaluronic acid liberally all over your scalp and massaging it in with your fingers in circular motions, focusing on areas that are more problematic than others.
- Use it on wet or damp hair: Farhang recommends applying hyaluronic acid post-shower while your strands are still wet. Not only is this when the hair is most receptive to products, but water is also key when using hyaluronic acid. Because hyaluronic acid absorbs water, King says using the ingredient on damp hair can accelerate the effect. "Hyaluronic acid thrives when there is moisture, so make sure whenever you use hyaluronic acid, you mist plenty of water or tonic so hyaluronic acid can bind it and form a coating to keep the moisture in for maximum effect," King explains.
- Choose products formulated with hyaluronic acid: Instead of experimenting with your own hair concoction made with your hyaluronic acid skincare products, Hill suggests using a formula specifically designed for the hair. "I advise only using skin-based hyaluronic acid products to the scalp under the supervision of a certified trichologist, hair replacement practitioner, or medical professional," Hill says. "Before applying product to the scalp, it is imperative to have a keen understanding of the root causes leading you to use hyaluronic acid to treat conditions." Not only that, but King points out that hyaluronic acid skincare products can be costly, and you wouldn't necessarily want to waste it on your hair, which is technically dead.
- Use it as a leave-in conditioner: Farhang adds that hyaluronic acid hair serums could be helpful as styling treatments on damp hair or as a part of a hair mask. Hill recommends applying the hyaluronic acid to damp hair as the first layer to your styling product. Apply it from root to ends, comb through for even distribution, then layer your preferred styling product on top.
- Combine it with oils: Although hyaluronic acid could be beneficial in plumping the hair, Farhang suggests using the ingredient in conjunction with other ingredients to actually help repair the damaged hair. Farhang's top picks: jojoba and argan oils for dry hair and collagen and proteins, like keratin, for strengthening the hair.