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 hair care products, this is one ingredient you'll want to start seeking out. But just a 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. To learn even more about how to use this skincare favorite on your hair, we turned to King and experts Dr. Sheila Farhang, and Bridgette Hill.
Meet the Expert
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 found naturally in your body although it can also be made synthetically. As a humectant, it can retain moisture and bind approximately 1000 times its weight in water.
Type of ingredient: Humectant
Main benefits: Hydrates the hair and scalp and reduces 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 daily or as needed on your wash days.
Works well with: Water and Vitamin E
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). It works by retaining water and drawing moisture to the skin’s surface. This benefits the hair and scalp in several ways:
- Hydrates the hair: According to Hill, 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.
- Reduces frizziness: Hyaluronic acid also helps to seal the cuticle, which prevents unwanted moisture that causes frizzy hair and curl shrinkage from entering it, explains Hill.
- 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, she adds.
- 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 and prevent dry scalp.
- Revitalizes high porosity hair: Dry, damaged hair does not easily retain water but hyaluronic acid helps to fill in the cracks of the porous hair shaft and moisturize, explains King.
Hair Type Considerations
All hair types and textures could benefit from using any hyaluronic acid-based products on their hair fibers, says Hill. She explains that the ingredient's ability to bind to moisture helps hair 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. She notes that the ingredient is particularly great for not weighing down curls and not leaving a greasy feel on the hair. King adds that even color-treated and chemically processed strands can benefit from hyaluronic acid; in fact, the more damaged the hair, the better, she stresses.
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," she 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.
- 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 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 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.
The Best Products With Hyaluronic Acid
Italian haircare brand Noah for Beauty prides itself on its natural, cruelty-free products. Among them is this nourishing hair mask with shine-inducing avocado oil. It's part of their Yal, line which is formulated with a key ingredient (you guessed it), hyaluronic acid. The best part? You need only to leave this hair mask on for three to five minutes before rinsing it out. Let's call it hair health for busy people.
When applied to damp hair, hyaluronic acid can use water to help pull the moisture into strands. What better way to put this theory to the test than in the shower? This Hydro Boost Shampoo by Neutrogena is paraben-free, suitable for all hair types—not to mention, color-treated hair—and can be found in the aisle of your favorite drugstore. And thanks to its slew of positive ratings and accessible price point, it gets the "Amazon's Choice" seal of approval.
With a name like "Grow Gorgeous," how can you not be intrigued? This thickening conditioner boasts a host of ingredients that promote healthy hair and scalp: Amla oil, caffeine, and hyaluronic acid, to name a few. It also encourages hair density which, if thinning hair is a concern of yours, is a major win.
Those with chemically-treated strands will love the effects of this lightweight hair mist. Rich in HA, antioxidants, plant oils, and butters, it protects hair from environmental stressors and seals in moisture leaving locks oh-so-shiny. And if that's not enough, its delicious scent of violet and almond will have you hooked.
Not gonna lie: Out of all of the hair styling products out there, mousses used to hover at the bottom of our list. Maybe it was because we associated them with (bad) '80s hair or perhaps they were a reminder of the crunchy coifs we rocked back in middle school (what? just us?). However, once we put our preconceived notions aside, we discovered just how wrong and foolish we were. Mousses, like this lightweight number by Kérastase, wield a number of benefits for hair, among them: fighting humidity, inducing shine, moisturizing, strengthening, and giving life to limp strands.
Can you use hyaluronic acid skincare products to treat 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," recommends Hill. "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.
Does using hyaluronic acid on hair have any side effects?
Generally speaking, topical versions of HA do not have any known side effects; however, it's worth noting that in an environment where there is low humidity, HA can actually draw moisture away from hair and into the air. So it's best to apply with a mix of oils and other moisturizing agents.
How long should I leave hyaluronic acid in my hair?
Depending on the hyaluronic acid hair product you are using, time will vary. Some products will require that you leave them in your hair for only a few minutes before rinsing out. Others can be applied and left in. It's best to check product instructions.
Harvard Health Publishing. "The Hype on Hyaluronic Acid." 2020.