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Hoora! You you finally learned how to pronounce hyaluronic acid (thanks, Eva Longoria in that one commercial). Well, did you know you’re probably talking about sodium hyaluronate? Here are the deets:

Sodium hyaluronate fast facts

  • Sodium hyaluronate is a water-soluble form of hyaluronic acid.
  • It’s used in skin care to help firm, hydrate, and encourage moisture retention.
  • It penetrates deeper than hyaluronic acid.
  • Look for it in serums and moisturizers.
  • It can be applied morning and night.
  • It’s good for dry, acne-prone, and dull skin.
  • Too much sodium hyaluronate can cause dryness.

Turn your favorite hyaluronic acid serum around — there’s a good chance you might find sodium hyaluronate on the ingredient label instead.

It’s true, these sister ingredients can be considered interchangeable in the beauty industry, but some peeps (re: the internet) are wising up to the important differences between the two.

Keep reading for all the deets, expert commentary, plus our shopping picks.

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Sodium hyaluronate (HA) is essentially a water-soluble salt form of hyaluronic acid. It’s found naturally in the body acting as a lubricant and a hydrator for you joints, hair, eyes, skin, and nerves. HA is the hydration holy grail and can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water.

Both sodium hyaluronate and hyaluronic acid work by binding to water molecules and drawing water into the cells, leaving your skin looking plump and hydrated.

So why is sodium hyaluronate a big deal?

According to a 2012 study, the most dramatic change scientists observed in aging skin is the disappearance of sodium hyaluronate, especially in the top layer of the skin. Hence, why you might notice your skin getting drier and losing that youthful plump as the years go by.

Okay, so if they’re so interchangeable, then why even make the distinction?

“That difference is in the molecule size,” explains David Petrillo, chemist and founder of skin care company Perfect Image.

“Sodium hyaluronate has smaller molecules than hyaluronic acid, which is why, for topical use, it is sometimes better as it penetrates the skin more easily and helps it to absorb the benefits of the ingredients in your beauty product, be it a serum, a moisturizer, or a mask,” he says.

And because sodium hyaluronate is literally the salt counterpart to HA, it’s more stable when used in beauty products. “The defining factor,” Petrillo sums up, “would be how deeply one wants the product to penetrate.”

The lower-weight of the sodium hyaluronate molecules will inevitably soak deeper into your beautiful skin, while the bigger hyaluronic acid will simply sit on the surface. And that’s not always a bad thing — your topmost layers of skin need love, too.

You might also peep hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid on ingredient labels. That is what’s considered a “low-molecule weight” form of hyaluronic acid, somewhere between regular HA and sodium hyaluronate.

Quick recap…

Hyaluronic acid sits at the skin’s surface to smooth and hydrate skin. Sodium hyaluronate’s lighter molecules penetrate deep below the skin’s surface to do the same, plus reduce fine lines.

This skin care superstar’s claim to fame is definitely hydration. But believe it or not, so many common skin woes are due to a lack of moisture. Here’s how sodium hyaluronate can help:

  • Bye-bye, dry skin. Unlike moisturizing ingredients that impart moisture like coconut oil or shea butter, sodium hyaluronate is a humectant, which means it pulls in water from the air and helps keep it in for maximum hydration.
  • A band-aid for your moisture barrier. Transepidermal water loss (TEWL) is when water passes from inside your body through the skin and out into the air and evaporates. RUDE! Sodium hyaluronate can restore and maintain your skin’s moisture barrier, keeping that hydration where you need it.
  • Plump it up. Sodium hyaluronate gives your skin an almost instant drink, which can have a temporary plumping result. Not mad about that. Fun fact: hyaluronic acid is also used in injectable fillers. So, that checks out.
  • Keeps your skin looking youthful. Not so fun fact: we lose about one-third of our hyaluronic acid reserves each day. And as we get older, the speed at which our bods replace it gets slower and slower (…like everything else). Sodium hyaluronate not only helps replace that lost moisture, but it also smooths out fine lines and wrinkles with that sweet plumping action.
  • Promising for pimple-prone faces. Adding hydration deep into your skin’s layers can help balance out overactive sebaceous oil glands, which may be overcompensating due to excess dryness. The right amount of oil = less breakouts. Yass!

To get the most out of this hydration superstar, look for it in serums and moisturizers. Just be sure to check the ingredient list, first. “Many products display hyaluronic acid on the label, but are really sodium hyaluronate,” says Petrillo.

Then, choose the right concentration. Petrillo recommends a 2 percent concentration. “Look for products that have added benefits like vitamin C or niacinamide,” he adds.

Finally, if you’re going for a serum be sure to lock in that hydrating goodness with a moisturizer right after — sodium hyaluronate needs that extra step to really seal in the benefits.

Unfortunately, yes. “Both hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate are so powerful in attracting water, that, if there is too much in a product, it can have the opposite effect and dry out the skin,” warns Petrillo.

Start with applying your new sodium hyaluronate product in the morning. If your skin is remaining soft and plump and not drying out, upgrade your routine to morning and night.

If you’ve used sodium hyaluronate in the past and didn’t see any results, it could be your environment. If you live in a super dry climate, you might not have enough moisture in the air around you for the sodium hyaluronate to pull from.

Pricing guide

$ = under $20
$$ = $20–$35
$$$ = over $35

Shop sodium hyaluronate products

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel

Perfect example of a product that says “hyaluronic acid” on the literal front of the jar, but actually contains sodium hyaluronate. The super lightweight, oil-free moisturizer is affordable but performs like a prestige product. Plus, it’s kind of a cult fave. 20K Amazon reviews (probably) don’t lie.

Price: $

Buy Neutrogena Hydro Boost.

SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel

If heavy, creamy moisturizers are your kryptonite, this super simple, 4-ingredient gel is for you. This is perfect to layer with vitamin C treatments, and we love the addition of soothing B5.

Price: $$$

Buy SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel online.

Kylie Skin Face Moisturizer

Say what you will, but this moisturizer has a pretty impressive ingredient list — obviously including sodium hyaluronate — and is surprisingly fragrance-free.

Price: $$

Buy Kylie Skin Face Moisturizer online.

Shop Sodium hyaluronate *and* hyaluronic acid products

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

For less than seven bucks, you get three different weights of hyaluronic acid to moisturize your skin at every level. What else is there to say?

Price: $

Buy The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 online.

Glossier Bubblewrap

This fan fave gives your skin a one-two punch of moisture with both forms of hyaluronic acid. It’s super fast absorbing and not greasy, but somehow gives you a little glow. Genius.

Price: $$

Buy Glossier Bubblewrap online.

Farmacy Honey Drop Lightweight Moisturizer

This clean cutie is like the Oprah of humectants — just giving them out in all forms, including a honey blend that helps support the hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate (two types!) at work.

Price: $$$

Buy Farmacy Honey Drop Lightweight Moisturizer online.

Sodium hyaluronate is a water-soluble salt form of hyaluronic acid. One isn’t necessarily better than the other — it’s a matter of how far you want your product to penetrate the skin.

Hyaluronic acid’s heavy molecules sits on the surface of the skin and treat the topmost layer, while sodium hyaluronate has a lighter molecular weight that goes deeper.

It’s used in serums and moisturizers for hydration, plumping, and firming. It also helps your skin repair and maintain its moisture barrier to prevent water loss.

Some products say “hyaluronic acid” on the packaging, but the ingredient label says sodium hyaluronate. Look for products with 2 percent concentration. Or better yet, choose a product with both types for a double shot of moisture.

Just beware: Both hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate are so powerful in attracting water that if there’s too much in a product, it can have the opposite effect and dry out the skin.

Start slowly by applying a moisturizer or serum with sodium hyaluronate in the morning, and gradually work up to morning and night.