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Everything you should know about ferulic acid in skincare

This powerful antioxidant is in more products than you may realize.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 24, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
Ferulic Acid Is Used in Many Skincare Products
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 24, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

There are dozens of ingredients used to formulate different skincare products, from acids and oils to extracts and essences, and everything in between. Every ingredient has unique qualities and different purposes.

Some are easily recognizable, mainly because they’re talked about so much and used in so many things—such as salicylic acidjojoba oil, or niacinamide. But there’s one ingredient used all the time in skincare that we don’t hear much about, despite its powerful antioxidant properties and its ability to enhance the effectiveness of certain ingredients.

We’re talking about ferulic acid, an organic compound commonly found in fruits and vegetables. Allow Curology’s skincare providers to explain everything you need to know about the uses and effects of ferulic acid in skincare.

What is ferulic acid?

Ferulic acid is a naturally occurring chemical compound that’s found in the seeds and leaves of many different plants, including tomatoes, sweet corn, and rice bran.¹ It’s a strong antioxidant, which means that it helps your body protect itself against all sorts of cell damage by combating oxidative stress caused by unstable molecules called “free radicals.”²

Free radicals are produced in the body through natural metabolic processes. They’re also produced as a response to environmental irritants and contaminants such as tobacco smoke, pesticides, alcohol, particulate pollution, certain pharmaceuticals, and even ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from sunlight.³ ⁴

It’s estimated that UVR is a factor in the formation of up to 80% of environmental free radicals.⁵ UVR has also been identified as the most significant environmental factor in skin aging (such as wrinkles and sunspots) as well as the development of skin cancer.⁵ That’s one of the main reasons that applying sunscreen every day is so important!

Antioxidants have a special molecular structure that makes them act as a kind of switch that, in effect, will neutralize or “turn off” a free radical by stabilizing it.⁷ Ferulic acid is one of the more common antioxidants, which also include alpha- and beta-carotenevitamin C, and vitamin E, among others. One special property of ferulic acid is that it actually makes other antioxidants more powerful and effective.⁸

Purposes of ferulic acid in skincare

Antioxidants like ferulic acid have lots of excellent benefits in skincare. It can help reduce fine wrinkles by protecting skin structures like collagen and elastin,⁹ which are proteins that keep our skin firm and flexible. It’s also been shown to be very effective in promoting skin regeneration and accelerating wound healing.¹⁰

Ferulic acid also has the ability to protect skin from sun damage by increasing the effectiveness of other antioxidants. It’s been shown to help stabilize solutions containing vitamins C and E while also doubling their effectiveness in protecting the skin against photodamage.¹¹ However, it shouldn’t be seen as an alternative or replacement for sunscreen, but instead as an effective addition to a skin protection regimen.

It can also help to even out skin tone. Ferulic acid has been shown to help prevent the overproduction of melanin that can lead to hyperpigmentation as well as help to reduce the appearance of any dark spots that already exist.¹² 

Ferulic acid has anti-inflammatory properties as well.¹³ While inflammation is a natural part of healing from injury or infection,¹⁴ inflammation in healthy tissues can be damaging and can lead to skin conditions like acne¹⁵ and dermatitis.¹⁶ Antioxidants like ferulic acid can help reduce inflammation while providing protection from additional skin damage.¹⁷

Where to find ferulic acid

It’s widely accepted that the best source of antioxidants like ferulic acid is in foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains rather than supplements.¹⁸ When it comes to skincare, topical applications of antioxidants can provide a physical barrier in the upper layer of the skin to help protect against environmental damage.¹⁹ Ferulic acid in particular has been shown to be very effective in skincare when used in topical applications.²⁰ This is especially true regarding the photoprotective properties of ferulic acid.

Because of ferulic acid’s photoprotective properties, some sunscreens that contain ferulic acid may protect the skin more effectively than sunscreens without it.²¹ The Sunscreen and The Lip Balm from Curology both contain ethyl ferulate, an ester of ferulic acid that is even more effective in its photoprotective, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.²²

Aside from a diet rich in antioxidants, the easiest way to add ferulic acid to your skincare routine is through creams or serums—these products may have ferulic acid as an addition to other antioxidants or active ingredients, such as retinol. Here are just a few products that contain ferulic acid.

  • The Sunscreen by Curology: This non-comedogenic formula offers excellent UV protection, using zinc oxide and ethyl ferulate without leaving streaks for a silky finish that leaves your skin feeling smooth.

  • Curology The Lip Balm - Broad-Spectrum SPF 30: A sun-protection lip balm with a moisturizing, vegan formula crafted from nourishing oils, natural butters, and ethyl ferulate for added photoprotection.

  • Yeouth Hyaluronic Acid Cream: An anti-aging cream that combines ferulic acid with vitamins C and E for powerful antioxidant treatment to help enhance the skin’s natural processes.

  • Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Intense Wrinkle Cream: A hydrating wrinkle cream that combines retinol and ferulic acid to help combat fine lines and wrinkles and to support the skin’s natural collagen production to keep the skin firm and flexible.

  • Kiehl's Ferulic Brew Facial Treatment Essence with Lactic Acid: This facial essence brew is formulated for all skin types and combines ferulic acid, lactic acid, and squalane to hydrate the skin and smooth out fine lines while providing anti-aging free radical protection.

  • NOW Solutions Vitamin C + Ferulic Acid Serum: This serum contains highly concentrated vitamin C and ferulic acid for antioxidant protection and hyaluronic acid for moisturizing—it brightens the complexion and minimizes visible signs of aging.

  • ZitSitcka MEGASHADE Breakout-proof SPF 50 Serum: The MEGASHADE SPF 50 serum by ZitSitcka is a chemical-mineral hybrid that’s specially formulated for acne-prone skin, combining ferulic acid, hyaluronic acid, and aloe to give superior sun protection without clogging pores.

Possible side effects of ferulic acid

Ferulic acid is generally well-tolerated, so it can be applied multiple times a day. There are no known side effects of ferulic acid—in a safety study, a 24-hour topical application of ferulic acid and related compounds did not result in any skin irritation.²³ 

However, that’s not to say that any individual’s unique skin type might not have any reaction at all. It also doesn’t imply that certain combinations of ingredients might not lead to a reaction. If you have concerns about how your skin might react to a product, we recommend doing a patch test with the new skincare product to test your skin for a possible reaction before applying the product in question to larger areas or to your face.

Protect your skin with effective skincare

Using ferulic acid in skincare is generally considered to be a safe and effective way to protect against harsh environmental factors like particulate pollution and ultraviolet radiation. It is generally very well tolerated so it can be used daily, even multiple times a day, without much to worry about. Still, everyone’s skin is different, and it can be helpful to consult a dermatology professional before making changes or adding products to your skincare routine.

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FAQs

Which is better for the skin—hyaluronic acid or ferulic acid?

Ferulic acid and hyaluronic acid are both great ingredients in skincare products, but they're very different in properties and uses, and neither one is superior to the other.

Hyaluronic acid is a humectant, which means that it’s deeply hydrating and actually attracts moisture from the air. You can find it in Curology’s Gel Moisturizer and Rich Moisturizer. Like ferulic acid, it does help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and it also helps to boost collagen production. But it doesn’t have the same antioxidant properties that ferulic acid has.

Is ferulic acid a necessary ingredient in a vitamin C serum?

No, but ferulic acid does have the unique ability to work synergistically to boost the effectiveness of other antioxidants like vitamin C.²⁴ It’s not exactly necessary in a vitamin C serum, but it does seem to help.

Should I use ferulic acid in the morning or at night?

Both! Ferulic acid is mild and generally well-tolerated by most people’s skin. There are no known side effects of using ferulic acid, so it can be applied every day, even multiple times a day. 

It does have photoprotective qualities, so applying sunscreen with ferulic acid in the morning can help keep your skin safe from UV rays all day. It also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, so applying it at night can help to relieve some of the oxidizing stress from your daily travels.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to: 

  1. Srinivasan, M, et al. Ferulic Acid: Therapeutic Potential Through Its Antioxidant Property. J Clin Biochem Nutr. (2007, March 14).

  2. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Antioxidants: In Depth. (October 2013).

  3. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Antioxidants: In Depth. Ibid.

  4. Phaniendra, A., et al. Free Radicals: Properties, Sources, Targets, and Their Implication in Various Diseases. Indian J Clin Biochem. (2014, July 15).

  5. Poljšak, B. and Dahmane, R. Free Radicals and Extrinsic Skin Aging. Dermatol Res Pract. (2012, February 29).

  6. Poljšak, B. and Dahmane, R. Free Radicals and Extrinsic Skin Aging. Dermatol Res Pract. Ibid.

  7. Srinivasan, M, et al. Ferulic Acid: Therapeutic Potential Through Its Antioxidant Property. J Clin Biochem Nutr. Ibid.

  8. Drăgan, M., et al. Ferulic acid - A versatile molecule. Acta Biologica Marisiensis. (2018, December 15).

  9. Zduńska, K., et al. Antioxidant Properties of Ferulic Acid and Its Possible Application. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. (2018, September 20).

  10.  Drăgan, M., et al. Ferulic acid - A versatile molecule. Acta Biologica Marisiensis. Ibid.

  11. Lin, F.H., et al. Ferulic acid stabilizes a solution of vitamins C and E and doubles its photoprotection of skin. J Invest Dermatol. (October 2015).

  12. Zduńska, K., et al. Antioxidant Properties of Ferulic Acid and Its Possible Application. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. Ibid.

  13. Liu, Y., et al. Ferulic acid exhibits anti-inflammatory effects by inducing autophagy and blocking NLRP3 inflammasome activation. Mol Cell Toxicol. (2022, January 10).

  14. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Inflammation. (2021, April 28).

  15. Tanghetti, E.A. The Role of Inflammation in the Pathology of Acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (September 2013).

  16. Buhl, T. and Werfel, T. Atopic dermatitis - Perspectives and unmet medical needs. Journal of the German Society of Dermatology. (2023, March 24).

  17. Zduńska, K., et al. Antioxidant Properties of Ferulic Acid and Its Possible Application. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. Ibid.

  18. Nguyen, G. and Torres, A. Systemic antioxidants and skin health. J Drugs Dermatol. (September 2012).

  19. Martins, T.E.A., et al. Contribution of Topical Antioxidants to Maintain Healthy Skin—A Review. Scientia Pharmaceutica. (2020, June 3).

  20. Zhang, L.W., et al. A comparison of skin delivery of ferulic acid and its derivatives: evaluation of their efficacy and safety. Int J Pharm. (2010, August 6).

  21. Perez, D.D., et al. Ferulic acid photoprotective properties in association with UV filters: multifunctional sunscreen with improved SPF and UVA-PF. J Photochem Photobiol B. (2018, May 26).

  22. Nazaré, A.C., et al. Ethyl Ferulate, a Component with Anti-Inflammatory Properties for Emulsion-Based Creams. Molecules. (2014, June 17).

  23. Zhang, L.W., et al. A comparison of skin delivery of ferulic acid and its derivatives: evaluation of their efficacy and safety. Int J Pharm. Ibid.

  24. Drăgan, M., et al. Ferulic acid - A versatile molecule. Acta Biologica Marisiensis. Ibid. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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