NEW YORK • After spending hours on aeroplanes to help run her family's photography business, Ms Sonia Deasy was desperate for a quick solution to her dehydrated skin. "I'm a mother of five," she said. "I don't have time for a fuss."
So Ms Deasy, who lives in Dublin, enlisted her sister, a biochemist, to help make a hyaluronic acid serum. Within a week of its release last year, the product, Pestle & Mortar Pure Hyaluronic Serum, sold out.
Mr Cameron Silver, who owns Decades, a vintage boutique in Los Angeles, described the serum as being "like Xanax for your skin: It kind of takes the edge off".
Mr Silver, who often appears on television, added: "It's like Vaseline around the lens. It just makes the skin a little bit smoother, a little bit dewier."
Hyaluronic acid - a clear, sugary goo that occurs naturally in the body, where it lubricates joints and even sustains the shape of the eyeballs - is not a new beauty product.
Dermatologists have long touted its plumping and moisturising ability because it can carry up to 1,000 times its weight in water. Its downside: The molecules were too big to penetrate the skin's surface (scientists call this high molecular weight), so results could be easily washed away.
However, new formulations have solved that problem, potentially making them more effective and with longer-lasting results.
Products such as La Prairie's eight-month-old Anti-Aging Rapid Response Booster and Eve Lom's Brightening Mask, launching next month, offer a cocktail of molecules at lower weights, which can make their way into the lower layers of skin.
Once there, there is evidence that they may stimulate collagen growth, said Dr S. Tyler Hollmig, director of laser and aesthetic dermatology at Stanford University.
Fillerina, a 14-day topical treatment designed to mimic a filler (only without the needle), includes six different weights of hyaluronic acid molecules that scientists spent six years testing.
"The largest molecules give good plumping of the skin in the outer layer," said Ms Manuela Guglielmo, director of marketing for Italian company Labo, which makes Fillerina. "The smaller ones go deeper." (The big molecules are better at moisturising, hence the need for both.)
A study published in the 2014 Journal Of Cosmetic Dermatology showed that Fillerina measurably reduced wrinkle depth and skin sagging and increased lip and cheek volume. The study, which took 30 days, did not address collagen growth, as collagen takes at least six weeks to form.
Similarly, studies of La Prairie Anti-Aging Rapid Response Booster and Kane NY Serum Savant, which have lower-weight molecules, showed that they measurably improved skin at the two- and four-week mark.
However, they, too, did not measure collagen growth. Kane NY's study was done independently; La Prairie's was not.
Dr Barbara Sturm, a dermatologist in Dusseldorf, Germany, recently introduced hyaluronic acid ampoules, available on online fashion store Net-a-Porter, that you snap open and apply directly to deep wrinkles.
"It's like a therapeutic serum: It has a long-term effect," said
Dr Sturm, who created the product in part because she wanted her patients to be able to apply it at home after invasive procedures. "It's not just, 'I apply my skincare product and tomorrow I have to do it again because the effect is gone.'"
Ms Tiffany Masterson, founder of skincare company Drunk Elephant, uses a bioengineered form of hyaluronic acid that she says breaks down more slowly, "so it can be delivered over longer periods of time". Ms Masterson is so pleased with the ingredient, which she offers in a serum, that next year, she will include it in two new products, her Hydra B Vitamin Gel and Lala Day Cream.
The consumer appeal of hyaluronic acid is that it is a natural component of skin - "People like it because it's not foreign," Dr Hollmig said - and it is turning up in a baffling array of products, although not all are created equal.
How to tell what grade of hyaluronic acid is in a product? You cannot, unless companies choose to tell you. They are required to only list ingredients.
"Ten years ago, you saw hyaluronic acid only in a few high-end moisturisers," said Mr Randy Schueller, a cosmetic chemist who founded thebeautybrains.com, a website and podcast where scientists examine skincare ingredients and industry claims. "Now you see it even in powdered make-up, which is kind of ridiculous."
That is because hyaluronic acid absorbs moisture, so if there is an appreciable amount in a powder, the product is more likely to clump. Cosmetic powders in general are not a good delivery system for moisturising and anti-ageing ingredients because they are not applied all over the face and they do not provide a uniform coating, he said.
If you choose just one product, Mr Schueller suggested a serum is best.
They traditionally have the highest levels of hyaluronic acid, he said, "so in that sense, they give you the most bang for your buck".
NEW YORK TIMES