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For non-chemists, reading an ingredient label on a skincare product can be overwhelming, to say the least. As if it weren't difficult enough to keep track of every controversial ingredient to avoid or good-for-you ingredient to look out for, sometimes brands use different names for essentially the same ingredient. For instance, you might be more than familiar with the extremely popular skin hydrator hyaluronic acid, but how much do you know about sodium hyaluronate? You might be shocked to find out that the hyaluronic acid serum you've been applying to your skin actually contains sodium hyaluronate instead. As it turns out, aside from a few differences, the two ingredients are basically the same thing and serve a similar purpose in skincare. To find out why brands use the terms interchangeably, what exactly the difference is between the two, and why sodium hyaluronate should be on your radar, we spoke to dermatologists Mara Weinstein, MD, FAAD and Sejal Shah, MD, FAAD, founder of SmarterSkin Dermatology. Take note of everything they had to say below about the skincare ingredient you're probably already (and unknowingly) using.
Type of ingredient: Humectant.
Main benefits: Improves dryness, replenishes the skin, and provides structure and volume.
Who should use it: It is recommended for people of all ages and skin types and is especially beneficial for those with dry, dehydrated skin.
How often can you use it: Sodium hyaluronate is safe to use in concentrations of up to 2% twice daily, morning and night.
Works well with: Moisturizers.
Don't use with: Generally, sodium hyaluronate is safe to use with most, if not all, ingredients.
What Is Sodium Hyaluronate?
According to both dermatologists, sodium hyaluronate is a water-soluble salt that's derived from hyaluronic acid, which can be found naturally in the body. Like hyaluronic acid, sodium hyaluronate is incredibly hydrating, but this form can penetrate deeper into the skin and is more stable (meaning it will last longer) in cosmetic formulation. Weinstein describes sodium hyaluronate as a fiber- or cream-like powder, which can be found in moisturizers and serums. As a humectant, sodium hyaluronate works by pulling in moisture from the environment and the underlying layers of your skin into the epidermis. As Weinstein puts it, sodium hyaluronate "serves as a water reservoir in the skin, helping it to regulate the moisture content."
Benefits of Sodium Hyaluronate for Skin
Sodium hyaluronate has incredible hydrating benefits that address a number of skin concerns caused by a lack of moisture in the skin.
- Combats skin dryness: As a humectant, it pulls in water from the air and helps to retain moisture to keep your skin hydrated and flake-free.
- Repairs a compromised moisture barrier: It's essential for restoring and maintaining a healthy barrier to prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL), which can lead to inflammatory conditions.
- Improves signs of aging: Sodium hyaluronate works to replace lost moisture and hyaluronic acid naturally found in the skin that lessens with age. This added hydration, in turn, may smooth texture created by fine lines and wrinkles.
- Improves breakout-prone skin: According to Shah, it could help your acne by rebalancing the skin if you are overly drying it with harsh exfoliants, cleansers, and treatments. It's also generally considered to be non-comedogenic, which means it won't clog pores.
- Plumps: Sodium hyaluronate provides structure and volume and can create temporary but instantaneous plumpness in the skin.
- Leaves a non-greasy glow: It has a lightweight feel and imparts a dewy finish without leaving a thick, greasy residue.
- Helps eczema: Since the ingredient is so gentle, it's safe to use on sensitive skin and can be beneficial for severely dry skin types.
- Restores skin post-procedure: Weinstein and Shah both recommend the use of sodium hyaluronate to hydrate after in-office procedures, such as lasers or micro-needling, which make the skin vulnerable.
Sodium Hyaluronate vs. Hyaluronic Acid
On the front of a skincare product, you might see the term "hyaluronic acid" used, but flip over to the ingredients label, and you'll likely find it listed as "sodium hyaluronate." Shah says the reason for this discrepancy is because the terms are often used interchangeably in the beauty industry. "They are technically different things, but they are meant to do the same thing," Shah says. So what makes them different? Two main factors: stability and ability to penetrate. Shah says because it's in salt form, sodium hyaluronate is a more stable version of hyaluronic acid. Additionally, sodium hyaluronate has a lower molecular size. What this means is while hyaluronic acid hydrates the surface of the skin, sodium hyaluronate is able to absorb more effectively and penetrate deeper. "Sodium hyaluronate might penetrate the skin more readily, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that one is better than the other in terms of effect," Shah says.
Side Effects of Sodium Hyaluronate
Sodium hyaluronate has no known side effects; however, Weinstein recommends always spot testing new products before applying them to your face. Shah also notes that if you're in a very dry environment, it's possible that there wouldn't be enough moisture present in the air to pull into the skin, which could render the ingredient ineffective.
How to Use It
Weinstein says most moisturizers need water to work well, so she suggests applying your sodium hyaluronate serum or moisturizer once or twice daily after showering or washing your face when your skin is still damp. Additionally, Weinstein suggests trapping the moisture in with an emollient moisturizer on top to get the full hydrating effects of a sodium hyaluronate serum. "It is especially great to use as a layer in the wintertime or with dry skin before applying a thicker moisturizer," Weinstein says. "It really helps to lock in the moisture."
The Best Products With Sodium Hyaluronate
One of Weinstein's top recommendations, this serum is packed with skin-loving ingredients to moisturize and soften. In addition to sodium hyaluronate, the fast-absorbing, non-sticky formula contains a blend of antioxidants (vitamin E, pomegranate extract, and other fruit extracts) and palmitoyl tripeptide-5 for skin firmness.
Weinstein is also a big fan of this lightweight, oil- and alcohol-free moisturizer, and once you give it a try, you'll be a fan of it, too. Not only is it easy to find at the drugstore and available at a reasonable price, but its hydrating benefits and smoothing effects (thanks to the sodium hyaluronate) also rival those of more expensive, prestige formulas.
Shah recommends this correcting serum to anyone looking for an increase in plumpness and firmness in the skin. "What’s nice about it is it delivers sodium hyaluronate but it also includes ingredients that support, boost, and preserve the hyaluronic acid levels," Shah says. So, just what are these other ingredients that help maintain the hyaluronic acid? Licorice root and purple rice extracts. "It's nicer in that regard because it's not like you're just delivering [the hyaluronic acid] and then once you stop using it, it completely goes away," she says.
This vegan serum contains hyaluronic acid at varying molecular weights from low to high to ensure hydration on multiple levels. As if that wasn't enough, it also contains another humectant called vitamin B5 to further hydrate the skin, which is why this formula is a Byrdie favorite. Oh, and did we mention it's only $7?
CeraVe is famous for its use of ceramides to repair the skin's protective barrier, but this serum goes a step further and also contains a combination of sodium hyaluronate and vitamin B5 to restore lost moisture in the skin. It's easy to see why this gel-cream formula comes so highly recommended by Weinstein and other dermatologists.
Sodium hyaluronate is just one of five hydrators in this fragrance-free serum. The added peptides and vitamin E work to further smooth out and prevent texture caused by fine lines and wrinkles. Byrdie's editorial director says this velvety serum even doubles as a hydrating makeup primer for plump skin and a smooth finish.
There's a reason this moisturizer has reached cult status among shoppers, Byrdie's own editors, and dermatologists: it's that good. "What’s nice is it has [sodium hyaluronate] in it, but it also has ceramides and proteins that are good for maintaining the skin barrier and helping with skin moisture and helping maintain skin hydration," Shah says. The lightweight, airy texture (hence the name "cloud") quenches dehydrated skin and leaves it feeling soft and supple.
For optimal hydration without all the rich, heavy emollients, try this Byrdie editor- and Weinstein-approved formula. With just four ingredients, this gel-like moisturizer is ideal for someone with a breakout-prone complexion who favors lighter formulas. In addition to sodium hyaluronate and water, this moisturizing gel also contains B5 meant to promote a healthy moisture barrier and protect the skin from irritation.
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