Over the last decade, hyaluronic acid has gained a glowing reputation, and with good reason. This naturally occurring substance is one of the most hydrating skincare ingredients out there. It’s like a magnet for moisture, holding 1,000 times its weight in water to keep your skin supple and plump.
The popular ingredient relieves dry skin, reduces the appearance of fine lines, and restores your skin’s youthful glow. It’s light enough to keep oily skin hydrated without feeling greasy and it calms inflammation down too. So… what’s not to love about it?
Well, here’s the caveat: Too much of a good thing can be bad. Numerous users on the Asian Beauty subreddit noticed they developed skin sensitivities after using products infused with hyaluronic acid for a period of time. While it’s not an exfoliating acid, turns out, you can still overdo it.
If you’ve cut out physical and chemical exfoliants from your routine, but the redness and irritation persist, your favourite hyaluronic acid serum might just be the culprit. Don’t despair. There are more hydrating skincare ingredients in the beauty world to lock in moisture and heal your skin barrier.
Keep reading to meet your new skin BFFs and our hyaluronic acid-free picks.
Hydrating skincare ingredients to replace hyaluronic acid
Beta-glucan is a nice big molecule composed of many smaller sugar molecules. It can be found in the cell walls of yeast, some mushrooms, seaweeds, and cereals. When used topically, it’s able to do a bunch of great things for your skin.
The ingredient speeds up wound healing as it soothes dry, irritated skin. It’s an antioxidant too, and it even shows promising anti-ageing benefits. Beta-glucan acts as a humectant, which means it locks hydration in and prevents moisture loss. Here’s the best part: Scientists have said that beta-glucan can do the same job as hyaluronic acid – if not better.
Beta-glucan is chock full of health benefits too. It lowers blood cholesterol, regulates blood sugar levels, and boosts the immune system. Some magic ingredient we’ve got here.
If you want to treat your skin to a calming, hydrating treatment, try the REN Evercalm Ultra Comforting Rescue Mask (left). It’s a ten-minute treatment that works to soothe and strengthen dry, sensitive skin by fighting the damaging effects of stress and pollution.
For those who like to layer on a hyaluronic acid serum before moisturiser, you can replace it with IUNIK’s Beta-Glucan Power Moisture Serum (right). The texture of the serum can feel like gooey snail mucin at first. But after you’ve massaged it in completely, the stickiness disappears.
Ceramides are waxy lipids that can be found naturally in the outer layer of our skin, and they’re present in huge amounts. This ingredient plays an important role in keeping our skin barrier healthy and hydrated. When ceramide levels in our skin decrease, it allows more water to escape and evaporate, so there’s less water in the skin.
What ceramides do is form a kind of “water-proof” layer to protect our skin and make sure it stays nice and hydrated. When mixed with cholesterol and fatty acids in a skincare formula, ceramides can definitely help to repair the skin barrier.
Oh, and here’s why you should opt for a pH-balanced cleanser. An alkaline pH can inhibit the formation of ceramides in our skin. This explains why your face can feel increasingly dry when you use a cleanser that’s too stripping.
To give your skin a tall glass of water, try Skin Inc’s Ceramide Serum (left). It uses four different types of ceramides to strengthen your skin barrier. The serum’s refreshing formula can also soothe dehydrated and eczema-prone skin.
For a lightweight gel moisturiser that can be used on both your face and body, pick up Illiyoon’s Ceramide Ato Soothing Gel (right). It calms sensitive skin right away with its cooling texture and ceramide-packed formula. The gel also contains squalane, which is another hydrating ingredient on our list.
Niacinamide, or vitamin B3, is a real skincare superstar that has plenty of skin benefits we’d like to rave about. The water-soluble vitamin can aid in repairing the skin barrier, keeping it healthy and hydrated. It does this by increasing the production of fatty acids and ceramides (like we talked about above) to better hydrate the skin.
Apart from replenishing moisture levels, niacinamide is also known to visibly minimise the appearance of pores, reduce skin congestion, and calm active breakouts. If you have dry, acne-prone skin that tends to scar easily, look for this ingredient the next time you’re stocking up on skincare products.
On top of that, niacinamide can soften fine lines and wrinkles too, so we’re looking forward to growing old with this ingredient.
We adore Good Molecules’ Niacinamide Brightening Toner (left). It’s formulated with a soothing blend of brightening ingredients that work to brighten and hydrate the skin while shrinking the appearance of large pores. There’s licorice root extract to soothe inflammation too.
Of course, we had to include The Ordinary’s Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% serum (right) too. It is particularly good for those who have rosacea or oily, blemish-prone skin. For more recommendations on niacinamide serums, check out our list and find out how you should use them in your routine.
An ingredient that occurs naturally in certain fish, plant oils, and our sebum, squalane is an emollient that deserves more attention. It stops our skin from losing moisture to keep it soft and hydrated without being heavy or greasy.
Squalane is pretty much compatible with all skin types and conditions too, so it makes a lovely addition to almost every skincare routine. It’s non-comedogenic, so those with acne-prone skin can use it to up their moisture levels without the fear of breaking out. Squalane is also safe for those who are struggling to keep fungal acne at bay.
The best way to get a good dose of this ingredient is by introducing a squalane oil to your current routine. Plant-derived squalane oils from The Inkey List (left), The Ordinary (centre), and Good Molecules (right) all work well to keep your skin plump and hydrated. A couple of drops after or mixed into your moisturiser will help bolster your skin’s barrier.
A commonly used but also commonly neglected ingredient in skincare is panthenol. Also known as pro-vitamin B5, panthenol’s main job in skincare formulations is to moisturise the skin and it’s one of the most hydrating skincare ingredients. It can attract water and hold onto it. Plus, there’s an abundance of research that proves the ingredient is able to produce lipids in our skin. This helps to hug in the moisture to create a strong and healthy skin barrier.
A light but deeply hydrating essence like Cremorlab’s T.E.N Miracle Essence can heal your skin and improve its elasticity. Combined with thermal spring water and red ginseng, the formula will help restore your skin to its baby-smooth state.