Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist - Written by Rithi Choudhury (Journalist) on 16th Sep 2020
Ferulic Acid For Skincare: Everything You Need To Know
The beauty world has seen, loved, and used many skin-friendly acids over the years. When it comes to choosing a particular acid for your specific skin concerns, the abundance of these acids may seem overwhelming.
Most of them work more or less in the same way.
Earlier, we have talked about similar working acid cousins Kojic Acid and Lactic Acid. Today we’ll walk you through another star ingredient: Ferulic Acid.
And, yes, you’re going to learn some of the most notable benefits it offers. So, brace yourselves.
Wait. What? Acids For The Skin?
Acids generally have a bad reputation, and most people view them as a nasty ingredient when it comes to skincare. But it is perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions - quite similar to "all alcohols used in skincare are drying for the skin".
Alcohol is a chemical term for compounds with an extra hydroxy (-OH) group in the molecule (school science classes, remember?). Several alcohols like cetyl alcohol (derived from coconuts) and stearyl alcohol (derived from coconut, palm kernel oil, etc.) moisturize the skin.
Similarly, acids like glycolic acid, kojic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, etc. are immensely beneficial to the skin when used in the right formula and concentration - and, of course, on the suitable skin types.
Fun Fact: The skin has a natural acidic medium. It is crucial to maintain this acidic mantle to ward off bacterial infections, fight pollutants, and provide the ideal medium in which the natural flora - the good bacteria present on our skin - can thrive.
Well, don't be.
Now that you know that every acid or alcohol isn’t bad for the skin. Similarly, there are good bacteria strains (called skin microbiome) that are important for maintaining our skin and gut health.
But how do these good bacteria protect our skin?
The answer is simple: a bacterial colony thrives when its number is in the majority.
If the number of good bacteria is high on the skin, it will outnumber the pathogenic bacteria (majority wins!). This is why dermatologists and estheticians emphasize maintaining the ideal pH (around 5.5) for the skin. As anything higher than that would make the skin alkaline and kill these microscopic friends that our skin proudly hosts.
Hyaluronic acid with larger molecule size provides surface hydration, which gives an instant plum look. However it is temporary effect. For longer sustainable hydration, the HA molecule size used in serums shall be small. Know more
What is Ferulic Acid?
Ferulic acid is an antioxidant naturally found in oats, rice, bran, carrots, tomato, avocado, apple seeds, citrus, etc.
As an antioxidant, it curbs the cell-damaging activity of the free radicals by neutralizing them. Free radicals are unpaired electrons (note: electrons always come in pairs) produced due to the body's natural metabolic activities. But these can also enter the body in dangerous amounts when exposed to UV rays, smoke, pollution, radiation, etc.
These unpaired (free electrons) are always trying to take electrons from the cells in the body. As a result, it alters the cell DNA causing damage like - premature aging, tumors, and cancer.
Free radicals are nasty, and we don’t want them. That is why we need antioxidants - both in our diet and in skincare - because these antioxidants bind with the free electrons and make them harmless.
Benefits of Ferulic Acid For Skin
- Reduces Wrinkles and Fine Lines: Quick quiz - what causes premature wrinkles and fine lines in the first place? Full points if you answered ‘free radicals’. Being an antioxidant, ferulic acid naturally keeps signs of aging at bay by rendering the free radicals neutral.
- Gives You A Youthful Skin: Antioxidants keep the skin young by scavenging the free radicals that break down collagen. Collagen is the natural protein fiber that gives our skin its elasticity and plumpness.
- Protects The Skin From Environmental Damage: Antioxidants reverse the damage on skin caused due to environmental damage like oxidative stress (which is again linked to free radical and UV activity).
- Prevents Dark Spots: Dark spots (sun spots) are often the skin's inflammatory response to the sun's harsh rays. As an antioxidant, ferulic acid happens to be anti-inflammatory. And so, it prevents/soothes inflammations, giving the skin the time to repair itself.
- Treats Uneven Tone: Uneven skin tone is often a result of excess melanin production in parts of the skin, which occurs when exposed to direct sunlight (without wearing protection). Since antioxidants are photo-protecting. They reduce the amount of photodamage from sun exposure, which helps prevent uneven skin tone.
- Amplifies Other Antioxidant Activity: Ferulic acid is most popularly used in combination with other antioxidants like Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Resveratrol. Studies also reveal that Ferulic Acid enhances the properties of these antioxidants when it comes to topical skincare. So, they're best together.
Ferulic Acid and Vitamin C: The Golden Duo
Does Vitamin C (technically known as Ascorbic Acid) need any introduction?
It is literally and figuratively the holy grail for skin health and beauty.
It helps to :
- Brighten the skin complexion: Vitamin C inhibits the activity of tyrosinase, an enzyme that is responsible for melanin production. Note that melanin is the pigment responsible for giving skin, eye, and hair its respective colors. When it comes to skin color - lighter skin has less melanin, while darker skin has more melanin.
What’s the science behind Vitamin C's brightening ability? Well, when the skin is exposed to direct sunlight, the copper ions present in the tyrosinase get activated, producing more melanin than usual. This leads to tanning, hyperpigmentation - sun spots, dark spots, uneven patches, etc. By directly suppressing melanin production in the melanocytes (melanin making cells), Vitamin C helps to visibly lighten and even out the skin.
- Repair the skin from environmental damage: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. And as mentioned earlier, antioxidants help in maintaining our skin’s health. Regular usage of Vitamin C, thus, can do wonders in repairing the skin from environmental damage.
- Reduce hyperpigmentation and spots: As it inhibits the melanin production in excess and also acts as a photo protector, Vitamin C is effective in treating hyperpigmentation, melasma, dark spots, and blemishes.
- Keep the skin young and plump: The antioxidant properties of Vitamin C help protect the skin from environmental damage.
- Boost collagen production: Research reveals that Vitamin C helps stimulate collagen production in the skin and, thus, keeps it firm.
No wonder it is a dermatologist and cult-favorite skincare ingredient.
But the downside of Vitamin C is that it is unstable and oxidizes.
Well, it goes bad when exposed to air and sunlight.
It is also not used in its purest form in skin care formulations because it is not water-soluble. Water, being the first ingredient in most skincare formulations, poses a problem for pure Vitamin C. That's why its water-soluble and stable derivatives are used in many skincare products. Examples include Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate and Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate.
Ferulic acid, when formulated with Vitamin C, acts as a loyal sidekick. It not just stabilizes the very restless Vitamin C but also maximizes its photoprotection ability (protection from the sun's damaging rays).
Side Effects and Safety of Ferulic Acid
Generally, ferulic acid is a safe skincare ingredient for all skin types. Still, sensitive skinned people should always consult their dermatologists and do a patch test before using it - like with any other ingredient.
It is hard to determine if ferulic acid is behind skin allergies as it is rarely used on its own but in combination with other ingredients. Often the source of this acid is responsible for allergies like redness, itchiness, rashes, etc. For example, if one is allergic to bran, then they may also be allergic to ferulic acid derived from it.
Also, sometimes the skin needs time to adjust to a new ingredient resulting in mild side effects. However, you should stop using ferulic acid products if the side effects worsen or persist for longer than usual.
Ferulic acid should not be used alongside other exfoliating acids like glycolic or salicylic acid, as that can change the skin’s ideal pH (around 5.5).
As ferulic acid protects the sun from sun damage, it is ideal to be used in the morning. Your nighttime skincare routine can be reserved for Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) if needed.
No matter what photo-protecting ingredient you are using, never skip the sunscreen - particularly a broad spectrum one.
The Bottom Line
Ferulic acid is an antioxidant that helps in slowing down the signs of aging. It is a great anti-aging ingredient to add to your skincare regime, provided your skin type can tolerate it.
And it suits normal and oily skin types pretty well.
Dry skinned people should follow up with a moisturizer if using a serum-based product containing ferulic acid. They can even go for cream-based formulations, if accessible.
Sensitive skin beauties should be careful while choosing the concentration of ferulic acid in a formula. That's because stronger concentration, like 3%, can be irritating to their skin.
That said, ferulic acid works best when combined with Vitamin C and E. Make the most of this combination. You’ll love the skin you’ll be in.