Spotlight on: Ferulic Acid

ferulic acid

Ferulic acid is one of the main ingredients popping up in skincare products these days. In fact this plant-based ingredient is touted as a ‘powerhouse’ due to its antioxidant benefits. You may have heard of it and even tried a product that contains it, but how much do you truly know about this skincare ingredient? And more importantly, does it live up to the hype?

Through our ever popular hashtag #AskPedro, I have recently received several enquiries about Ferulic Acid and why products containing this ingredient tend to smell so bad (a “metallic smell” was noted by many of you). As a natural skincare formulator I have the utmost respect for products created by fellow colleagues in the sector, as I know only too well the time and dedication it takes to launch a new formula. I myself have dedicated decades of extensive research into natural antioxidants, including Ferulic Acid, so I am only too happy to share with you all some of my findings regarding this sought after ingredient.


Ferulic acid is derived from cinnamic acid, a compound found in plant tissues and is therefore considered a bioactive ingredient in many foods. Found mainly in the leaves and seeds of most plants, and in especially high concentration in the brans of grasses such as rice.


The first recorded mention of FA dates back to 1866, in Innsbruck, Austria. Scientists Barth and Hlasiwetz isolated FA from Ferula Foetida plant resin. The biological benefits of Ferulic Acid became apparent in 1970, when Japanese researchers discovered its antioxidant properties.


Experts in the skincare field are opting to use multifunctional active ingredients ever more these days and for this reason Ferulic Acid has gained so much popularity. Widely used as a component in creams and lotions due to the fact it can protect the final formula, it also helps to protect the skin from external oxidative stress. Moreover, it’s powerful photoprotective qualities make FA a key UV filter ingredient in Japan.


Unfortunately, studies show that when exposed to certain external factors such as moisture, air and light, Ferulic Acid can become unstable and rapidly begin to degrade (hence the rancid “metallic smell”), altering both the function and the effectiveness of the product it is in.


To avoid Ferulic Acid oxidising in this way it needs to be ‘encapsulated’ in order to protect the formula that contains it, yet be bio available to the skin. The process of encapsulation is a very lengthy and complex one, requiring a difficult method of analysis to verify the end result. So although it’s possible, it can only be carried in small amounts, making the process unsuitable for proper industrial production.

Here is an example of one of my own controlled tests done on FA in the Studio:

TEST 1: 5% of encapsulated Ferulic acid was included in our Essential Bio-technological Moisturiser and left the mixture for 24 hours, after which no evidence of deterioration was present.

TEST 2: 5% of free Ferulic acid was included in our Essential Bio-technological Moisturiser and left the mixture for 24 hours, after which there was clear evidence of deterioration present. (Both a change of colour and smell)


Although Ferulic Acid has become very popular in many skincare products due to its proven free-radical scavenging effects, I believe a lot more research is needed in order to make this antioxidant safe and effective to use.


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