Background: Due to its strong water binding potential, hyaluronic acid (HA) is a well-known active ingredient for cosmetic applications. However, based on its varying molecular size, skin penetration of HA may be limited. Recent studies have demonstrated that low-molecular-weight HA (LMW HA) may show a certain proinflammatory activity. We thus aimed to characterize an LMW-sized HA molecule that combines strong anti-aging abilities with efficient skin penetration but lacks potential proinflammatory effects. Methods: Total RNA and total protein were isolated from reconstituted human epidermis following incubation with HAs of various molecular weights (20, 50, 130, 300, 800 and 1,500 kDa). Tumor necrosis factor-α expression was determined using quantitative PCR. Genomic and proteomic expression of various junctional proteins was determined using Affymetrix and common Western blotting techniques. Results: LMWHA of approximately 50 kDa did not significantly alter tumor necrosis factor-α expression compared to 20-kDa HA, but revealed significantly higher skin penetration rates than larger sized HA associated with increased expression of genes and proteins known to be involved in tight junction formation and keratinocyte cohesion. Conclusion: LMW HA of approximately 50 kDa shows better penetration abilities than larger-sized HA. In addition, LMW HA influences the expression of various genes including those contributing to keratinocyte differentiation and formation of intercellular tight junction complexes without showing proinflammatory activity. These observations contribute to current knowledge on the effects of LMW HA on keratinocyte biology and cutaneous physiology.

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