Polyglutamic acid: the 'new' hydrating ingredient you need in your skincare routine

Here's everything you need to know about the hydrating powerhouse.

Harper's Bazaar India

For a very long time, skincare junkies swore by hyaluronic acid (HA). Given that it’s a humectant that can hold 1,000 times its weight in water and is quite the people pleaser—it suits most skin types—this 'IT' ingredient found its way into almost all products that promised radiant skin. However, this queen bee of skincare ingredients is getting serious competition from the upcoming kid on the block—polyglutamic acid (PGA). With its hydrating superpowers, it’s quickly rising in popularity in the skincare world, and we aren’t surprised. 

While PGA has been around for decades, it’s only now that we are recognising its true hydrating potential. The question is, should we have a hyaluronic acid bonfire? Let's find out. 

What is polyglutamic acid? 

Often derived from fermented soya beans, PGA is a natural polymer produced by the microbial fermentation of bacteria. According to Dr Nivedita Dadu, renowned dermatologist, founder and chairman of Dadu Medical Centre, “Polyglutamic acid (PGA) is a biodegradable, water-soluble biopolymer composed of repeating units of glutamic acid.”  

Dr Dadu goes on to explain that PGA is a high molecular weight polymer that is produced by certain types of bacteria such as bacillus subtilis. And unlike hyaluronic acid, PGA can hold about 5,000 times its weight in water due to its larger molecular size. As you can imagine, PGA offers a host of benefits that allow you to reach your skincare goals. 

Benefits of polyglutamic acid

PGA is known in the skincare world as a potent humectant due to its incredible water-absorbing capacity. It draws water to itself from the atmosphere and locks it within the skin, leaving it plump and moisturised. Dr Dadu explains that by sealing the moisture in the skin, PGA also enhances the skin’s elasticity and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. As a bonus, it suits all skin types, especially dry and dull skin that needs an instant boost of hydration. People with acne-prone skin can also use PGA as it controls sebum production. But could it potentially replace hyaluronic acid as the base ingredient in skincare products? 

Dr Dadu says, “While both PGA and HA are humectants and can improve skin hydration, PGA is more effective at retaining moisture due to its larger molecular size. PGA forms a cohesive film on the skin, leading to longer-lasting hydration and improved skin barrier function. HA, on the other hand, has a smaller molecular size, making it better suited for deeper skin penetration.”   

So essentially, you could use your HA with a PGA-infused serum for double hydration. The two ingredients aren’t competitors but colleagues. However, remember to apply the hyaluronic acid first so it can get absorbed deeper while the PGA can seal the goodness into your skin. Dr Dadu says, “PGA is typically used once or twice daily and can be incorporated into a skincare routine as a serum, moisturiser, or sheet mask.”

Another benefit of PGA is its anti-ageing powers. Part of our skin’s anti-ageing process involves the loss of hyaluronic acid in the skin due to an enzyme called hyaluronidase, which breaks it down as we grow older. PGA inhibits hyaluronidase's destructive action, resulting in the retention of hyaluronic acid, leaving the skin with a youthful and radiant glow.  

What are the side effects of polyglutamic acid?  

Dr Dadu explains that, like with any active skincare product, an allergic reaction or skin irritation is possible. The signs include tingling, itching, breakouts or hive. And while the chances are rare with PGA, since it’s not particularly harsh on the skin, starting with a patch test is always advisable to avoid adverse reactions. With acids it’s always a good idea to increase the usage gradually rather than all at once. So, if you start with once a week and build it up, it will give your skin time to adjust to it instead of rebelling.