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.
Meet the Expert
- Mara Weinstein, MD, FAAD is a dermatologist in Rochester, New York.
- Sejal Shah, MD, FAAD, is a dermatologist and the founder of SmarterSkin Dermatology.
Keep reading for 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 and reduces wrinkles, replenishes the skin, and provides structure and volume.
How often can you use it: Sodium hyaluronate is safe to use in concentrations of up to percent 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 the 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 skin: Sodium hyaluronate provides structure and volume and can create temporary but instantaneous plumpness in the skin.
- Reduces wrinkles: Due to its ability to instantly plump the skin, sodium hyaluronate can help reduce wrinkles and fine lines.
- Eases inflammation: A 2013 study found that a cream containing sodium hyaluronate helped ease inflammatory disorders of 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.
Who Should Use Sodium Hyaluronate
Sodium hyaluronate is recommended for people of all ages and skin types for healthier-looking skin. It is especially beneficial for those with dry, dehydrated skin.
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.
Forms of Sodium Hyaluronate for Skincare
There are a few different mediums in which one can purchase sodium hyaluronate for skin, including face washes, serums, lotions, and gels. A face wash containing sodium hyaluronate will help remove dirt and impurities, without stripping the skin. Serums, which are applied prior to night cream or moisturizer, will help soothe the skin and work in conjunction with whatever is applied on top, to keep skin dewy. Lotions and gels will work similarly, improving the skin's moisture barrier and acting as a protective product.
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."
Can sodium hyaluronate dry skin?
Sodium hyaluronate combats dry skin. As a humectant, it pulls in water from the air and helps to retain moisture to keep your skin hydrated and flake-free.
Who is sodium hyaluronate recommended for?
How often should you use sodium hyaluronate on your skin?
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.
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