- Ferulic acid, a naturally-occurring compound in plants, is a powerful antioxidant that’s gaining popularity among dermatologists.
- Serums containing ferulic acid combined with vitamins C and E can help prevent skin aging and skin cancer.
- Most ferulic acid skin serums aren’t cheap, but given the benefits, many skin care experts believe that they are worth it.
What Is Ferulic Acid?
Ferulic acid, an organic compound also known as a hydroxycinnamic acid, gets its name from Ferula, a genus of plants in the carrot family.
As a powerful antioxidant, ferulic acid can help prevent skin damage and is gaining a reputation as an anti-aging agent, prompting dermatologists to use it in skincare products.
To understand how ferulic acid can be useful in skin care, it’s important to first to gain a better understanding of skin damage and aging.
What Causes Skin Aging?
Skin aging falls under two categories: intrinsic aging and extrinsic aging.
Intrinsic aging refers to the natural processes and factors that lead to skin aging regardless of any environmental influence. This includes the individual’s genetics, their cellular metabolism, hormone levels and metabolic processes.
Over time, the skin loses its elasticity and moisture which leads to the appearance of fine lines, thinning of the skin’s epidermis (outer layer of skin) and sagging. This is primarily due to the gradual — about 1% per year — breakdown of the protein collagen. Collagen serves to create a supportive tissue that binds cells together, giving the skin its natural taut and elasticity.
Extrinsic aging refers to external environmental factors that can prematurely age skin and affects the skin differently than intrinsically aged skin. In extrinsically aged skin, the epidermis becomes thicker while the dermis (inner layer of skin) becomes thinner. The skin develops coarse wrinkles, discolorations, and even skin growths.
The most commonly known and documented cause of extrinsic skin aging is sunlight damage (photoaging), with overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light being the primary cause of photoaging.
Other causes of extrinsic aging include smoking, poor diet, stress, lack of adequate sleep, and air pollution. Even exposure to excess heat, for example in activities like Bikram yoga, can cause premature aging and lead to blemishes normally associated with sun damage.
Aging and Free Radicals
UV damage can lead to the creation of free radicals, which can cause damage to the DNA in cells, and lead to cancer development.
Free radical damage is also one of the major causes of prematurely aged skin. In addition to damage at the cellular level, free radicals damage collagen and prevent its regrowth. Similarly, they reduce the amount of elastin, which is another protein that maintains skin tautness.
Antioxidants, like ferulic acid, are compounds that combat free radicals, thereby helping to keep the skin looking healthy and young.
How Does Ferulic Acid Help the Skin?
“As an antioxidant, ferulic acid is able to scavenge and neutralize free radicals and reactive oxygen species,” says Dr. Gabriele Weichert, dermatologist at Synergy Medical Aesthetics in Nanaimo, British Columbia. “This antioxidant behavior protects against DNA damage such as the carcinogenic effects of sun exposure. Newer data show ferulic acid also switches on protective cellular immunity and switches off damaging cellular signals.”
Ferulic acid is commonly combined with two other antioxidants, vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) and vitamin E, in a serum (a CE ferulic serum). A vitamin C-vitamin E combination provides protection from sun damage and combining them with ferulic acid gives an even stronger degree of protection.
In fact, there’s an eight-fold increase in photoprotection when ferulic acid is added to vitamins C and E because the combination of the three stabilizes the compound. This serum makes an excellent addition to sunscreen, as recommended by the National Institute of Health.
A CE ferulic serum can help the skin look younger in a few ways. First, due to its antioxidant properties, ferulic acid can help prevent fine lines and wrinkles due to photodamage.
Furthermore, Vitamin C is crucial to the development of collagen, and applying vitamin C serum topically can help regenerate collagen in skin of any age. High levels of collagen keep your skin looking healthy and young.
The serum can also serve as a brightening agent since both vitamin C and ferulic acid inhibit melanin production, thereby decreasing sunspots and blemishes. “Vitamin C in these serums acts to inhibit pigmentation and overall lightens skin with regular use,” says Dr. Weichert.
Ferulic acid can help skin repair itself. According to Dr. Jennifer T. Trent, Fellow of the American Association of Dermatology, “ferulic acid not only prevents free radical damage, but also repairs it by boosting the skin’s regenerative properties.”
Which Ferulic Acid Serum Works Best?
Most of these serums aren’t cheap, but given the benefits, they may be well worth it. It all depends how much you value your skin, or how concerned you are about skin cancer.
Dr. Daniel Ward of Form Med Spa in Salt Lake City has some wise words in regards to choosing products. He says, “I advise that my patients don’t skimp when it comes to their skin. With skin care products, ingredients matter.”
Dr. Ward suggests two things to look for when considering a product. First, look for high percentages of active ingredients. Second, buy from a physician or reputable source in order to ensure that products are legitimate and haven’t expired or lost their effectiveness.
SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic
When it comes to choosing a brand, skin care professionals agree on SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic. Dr. Weichert attests, “The SkinCeuticals brand CE Ferulic serum is an industry ‘gold star’ in the antioxidant serum category.”
Onna Feuchter, RN under the supervision of Dr. Sacha Obaid of North Texas Plastic Surgery agrees, “We carry one product with ferulic acid. It is a serum from SkinCeuticals called CE Ferulic. We sell this product a lot due to high quality, reasonable price, and high effectiveness… It’s a great anti-aging product.”
“I love CE Ferulic from SkinCeuticals,” Dr. Trent concurs.
It stands out as the most expensive option, but Dr. Weichert explains why: “It has a high concentration in a stable preparation with proven results. This company publishes in high-quality scientific journals with CE Ferulic showing protective effects in the laboratory but also in patients with sun sensitivity disorders like polymorphous light eruption (recurrent severe sun rash). It is a pricier product, but for good reason.”
Other Top Brands
In addition to SkinCeuticals’ serum, Dr. Ward suggests FormRX Complete Vitamin C Serum with Ferulic Acid. It has unique ingredients that help to penetrate skin for maximum protection, and FormRX claims their product reduces sunburned cells by 96%.
Dr. Weichert suggests several brands at lower price points as “second choice” brands. These include:
Cosmetic Skin Solutions Vitamin C 20% +
In addition to fighting free radicals and preventing sun damage, this serum contains hyaluronic acid, which helps keep skin moist. It helps out to even skin discolorations and boost collagen growth, giving skin a healthy, young glow.
Advanced Skin Care CE Ferulic Acid Serum
This one is an all-rounder: it brightens skin, prevents sun damage, helps with collagen formation, and neutralizes free radicals. Its formula also helps to penetrate skin and smooth fine lines.
Timeless 20% C+E Ferulic Acid Serum
Guaranteed fresh for three months, this serum promises to reduce wrinkles and exfoliate while slowing the oxidation process, helping skin look as healthy as possible.
- A Topical Antioxidant Solution Containing Vitamins C and E Stabilized by Ferulic Acid Provides Protection for Human Skin Against Damage Caused by Ultraviolet Irradiation (2008) ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18603326
- Ferulic Acid Stabilizes a Solution of Vitamins C and E and Doubles Its Photoprotection of Skin (2005) ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16185284
- Ganceviciene, R., Liakou, A. I., Theodoridis, A., Makrantonaki, E., & Zouboulis, C. C. (2012). Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermato-Endocrinology, 4(3), 308–319. doi.org/10.4161/derm.22804
- Potential Applications of Ferulic Acid from Natural Sources (2014) doi.org/10.1016/j.btre.2014.09.002
- Rice University: Antioxidants and Free Radicals (1996) rice.edu/~jenky/sports/antiox.html
- Telang, P. S. (2013). Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal, 4(2), 143–146. doi.org/10.4103/2229-5178.110593