Ferulic Acid

Ferulic acid occurs naturally in grains and in the cell walls of many plants. There is some evidence that it acts as an antioxidant and can protect the skin from damage caused by UV light.


Grade Level of Evidence
A Multiple double-blind, controlled clinical trials.
B 1 double-blind, controlled clinical trial.
C At least 1 controlled or comparative clinical trial.
D Uncontrolled, observational, animal or in-vitro studies only.
Grade Effect Size of Effect Comments




Scavenges free radicals and helps terminate radical chain reactions.




Absorbs UV light and inhibits UV-induced skin damage such as erythema, collagen degradation, abnormal accumulation of elastic fibers and epidermal hyperplasma.

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Scientific Research

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Table of contents:

1. Sources

Ferulic acid is the most abundant hydroxycinnamic acid in the plant world.[1] It is bound to the hemicellulose chains of unlignified primary cell walls through ester linkages, and is also polymerized with lignin, a component of the secondary cell wall, through ether bonds.[2][3][4]

Ferulic acid is found in grains such as rice,[5] wheat,[3][6] oats,[7] barley,[8] rye[9] and maize.[10] It is also present in coffee beans,[11] hazelnuts,[12] apples[13] and tomatoes.[14]

2. Bioavailability

2.1 Oral administration

The bioavailability of dietary ferulic acid varies widely and is governed by the food matrix.[15] Ferulic acid in cereals is bound to arabinoxylans and lignin, restricting its release in the small intestine.[16][16][17] After intestinal absorption, ferulic acid appears in the plasma mainly as its sulfoconjugates, and is excreted in the urine.[18][19]

2.2 Topical administration

The use of ferulic acid in cosmetics is hindered by its pH- and temperature-related instabilities.[20] pH also impacts the permeation of ferulic acid, with faster permeation observed for a solution / gel of ferulic acid at pH 6 compared to at pH 7.4. This is thought to be due to the carboxylic moiety, which is believed to be more in the ionized form at pH 7.4 than at pH 6.[21] The non-ionized form is beneficial to skin partitioning because of its lipophilicity.[22]

To improve the physicochemical stability of ferulic acid in formulations, attempts have been made to protect it from decomposition using controlled release technologies. For instance, ferulic acid chemically incorporated into a polymer backbone protects it from premature degradation without compromising its antioxidant and antibacterial activities.[23] In addition, the inclusion of ferulic acid with α-cyclodextrin not only improves its photostability but also slows its delivery, increasing its bioavailability in the skin.[24]

Ferulic acid has been shown to penetrate the skin up to a depth of at least 500 μm when incorporated in oil-in-water emulsions or gels.[21] The penetration enhancer oleic acid as well as various vesicular liposomal systems can improve permeation and skin deposition.[22] [25]

The transdermal penetration level of ferulic acid is relatively low; more ferulic acid is retained in the skin rather than penetrating through it.[22] Transdermal absorption is further retarded by entrapping ferulic acid within niosomes.[26] However, a transdermal hydrogel patch is under development.[27]

3. Effects on the skin

3.1 Antioxidant effect

Ferulic acid is a potent antioxidant -- in one study, it was found to be more effective than α-tocopherol (vitamin E), β-carotene, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).[28] It has the ability to inhibit lipid peroxidation and to scavenge reactive oxygen species and free radicals such as hydroxyl radicals, hypochlorous acid, peroxyl radicals and DPPH radicals.[29][30][31]

Ferulic acid has distinctive structural motifs that may contribute to its free radical scavenging capability. The carboxylic acid group with an adjacent unsaturated C-C double bond not only provides attack sites for free radicals, preventing them from attacking the membrane, but also acts as an anchor for the molecule, binding it to the lipid bilayer and thus providing some protection against lipid peroxidation. In addition, any reactive radical colliding with ferulic acid easily abstracts a hydrogen atom to form a highly resonance-stabilized phenoxy radical that is unable to initiate or propagate a radical chain reaction.[32]

3.2 Photoprotection

Ferulic acid absorbs UV radiation with an absorption maximum at 307 nm, which theoretically can result in a sunscreen effect.[29] Also, by scavenging free radicals and suppressing radiation-induced oxidative reactions, ferulic acid may help preserve the physiological integrity of cells exposed to air and impinging UV radiation.[29] Indeed, ferulic acid dissolved in a saturated aqueous solution has been shown to afford significant protection to human skin against UVB-induced erythema, an indicator of UV-induced skin damage.[33]

Ferulic acid also attenuates the UV-induced degradation of collagen fibers by inhibiting the activities of matrix metalloproteinase-1, 2 and 9. In mouse skin, it also suppressed the abnormal accumulation of elastic fibers and epidermal hyperplasia induced by UVB irradiation.[34][35]

In practice, ferulic acid is often combined with vitamin C and vitamin E as this combination provides synergistic photoprotection of the skin.[36] One such commercially available solution containing 15% ascorbic acid (vitamin C), 1% vitamin E and 0.5% ferulic acid (SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic) has been tested in several studies and has been shown to reduce erythema, the formation of thymine dimers and sunburn cells, and to inhibit the development of malignant skin tumours induced by chronic UV exposure.[37][38][39] It has also been found to provide more effective photoprotection than 3 other commercial creams containing 0.1% kinetin (Kinerase), 1% idebenone (Prevage) or 0.5% idebenone (TRUE Youth Revealing Complex).[40]

Another combination that has been tested is vitamin C, ferulic acid and phloretin, which attenuates UV-induced immunosuppression, sunburn cell formation, thymine dimer formation, matrix metalloproteinase-9 expression, and p53 protein expression.[41]

Ferulic acid, γ-oryzanol and phytic acid from rice bran extracts are known to hydrate, lighten, smoothen and thicken the skin as well as increase its elasticity when entrapped in niosomes and incorporated in gel or cream formulations,[42][43] but it is not clear which of the active ingredients are responsible for these effects.

4. Side Effects

Topical application of ferulic acid for up to 24h did not cause skin irritation as measured by transepidermal water loss, erythema and skin pH value in a safety study. Moreover, ferulic acid does not penetrate well through the skin, indicating a lower systemic risk.[22]

Scientific References

  1. Mathew S, Abraham TE. Ferulic acid: an antioxidant found naturally in plant cell walls and feruloyl esterases involved in its release and their applications. Crit Rev Biotechnol. (2004)
  2. Carnachan SM, Harris PJ. Ferulic acid is bound to the primary cell walls of all gymnosperm families. Biochem Syst Ecol. (2000)
  3. Klepacka J, Fornal Ł. Ferulic acid and its position among the phenolic compounds of wheat. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. (2006)
  4. Scalbert A, et. al. Ether linkage between phenolic acids and lignin fractions from wheat straw. Phytochem. (1985)
  5. Shao Y, et. al. Phenolic acids, anthocyanins, and antioxidant capacity in rice (Oryza sativa L.) grains at four stages of development after flowering. Food Chem. (2014)
  6. Hernández L, et. al. Phenolic compounds in wheat grain cultivars. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. (2011)
  7. Emmons CL, Peterson DM, Paul GL. Antioxidant capacity of oat (Avena sativa L.) extracts. 2. In vitro antioxidant activity and contents of phenolic and tocol antioxidants. J Agric Food Chem. (1999)
  8. Hernanz D, et. al. Hydroxycinnamic acids and ferulic acid dehydrodimers in barley and processed barley. J Agric Food Chem. (2001)
  9. Andreasen MF, et. al. Content of phenolic acids and ferulic acid dehydrodimers in 17 rye (Secale cereale L.) varieties. J Agric Food Chem. (2000)
  10. Cuevas Montilla E, et. al. Soluble and bound phenolic compounds in different Bolivian purple corn ( Zea mays L.) cultivars. J Agric Food Chem. (2011)
  11. Alonso-Salces RM, Guillou C, Berrueta LA. Liquid chromatography coupled with ultraviolet absorbance detection, electrospray ionization, collision-induced dissociation and tandem mass spectrometry on a triple quadrupole for the on-line characterization of polyphenols and methylxanthines in green coffee beans. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom. (2009)
  12. Shahidi F, Alasalvar C, Liyana-Pathirana CM. Antioxidant phytochemicals in hazelnut kernel (Corylus avellana L.) and hazelnut byproducts. J Agric Food Chem. (2007)
  13. Can Z, et. al. Polyphenol oxidase activity and antioxidant properties of Yomra apple (Malus communis L.) from Turkey. J Enzyme Inhib Med Chem. (2013)
  14. Carrillo-López A, Yahia E. HPLC-DAD-ESI-MS analysis of phenolic compounds during ripening in exocarp and mesocarp of tomato fruit. J Food Sci. (2013)
  15. Adam A, et. al. The bioavailability of ferulic acid is governed primarily by the food matrix rather than its metabolism in intestine and liver in rats. J Nutr. (2002)
  16. Anson NM, et. al. Bioavailability of ferulic acid is determined by its bioaccessibility. J Cer Sci. (2009)
  17. Rondini L, et. al. Bound ferulic acid from bran is more bioavailable than the free compound in rat. J Agric Food Chem. (2004)
  18. Rondini L, et. al. Sulfated ferulic acid is the main in vivo metabolite found after short-term ingestion of free ferulic acid in rats. J Agric Food Chem. (2002)
  19. Bourne LC, Rice-Evans CA. Detecting and measuring bioavailability of phenolics and flavonoids in humans: pharmacokinetics of urinary excretion of dietary ferulic acid. Methods Enzymol. (1999)
  20. Wang QJ, et. al. Chemical stability and degradation mechanisms of ferulic acid (F.A) within various cosmetic formulations. J Cosmet Sci. (2011)
  21. Monti D, et. al. Permeation and distribution of ferulic acid and its α-cyclodextrin complex from different formulations in hairless rat skin. AAPS PharmSciTech. (2011)
  22. Zhang LW, et. al. A comparison of skin delivery of ferulic acid and its derivatives: evaluation of their efficacy and safety. Int J Pharm. (2010)
  23. Ouimet MA, et. al. Biodegradable ferulic acid-containing poly(anhydride-ester): degradation products with controlled release and sustained antioxidant activity. Biomacromolecules. (2013)
  24. Anselmi C, et. al. Non-covalent inclusion of ferulic acid with alpha-cyclodextrin improves photo-stability and delivery: NMR and modeling studies. J Pharm Biomed Anal. (2008)
  25. Chen M, Liu X, Fahr A. Skin delivery of ferulic acid from different vesicular systems. J Biomed Nanotechnol. (2010)
  26. Manosroi A, et. al. Transdermal absorption enhancement of rice bran bioactive compounds entrapped in niosomes. AAPS PharmSciTech. (2012)
  27. Bai J, et. al. Development and in vitro evaluation of a transdermal hydrogel patch for ferulic acid. Pak J Pharm Sci. (2014)
  28. Trombino S, et. al. Antioxidant effect of ferulic acid in isolated membranes and intact cells: synergistic interactions with alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene, and ascorbic acid. J Agric Food Chem. (2004)
  29. Graf E. Antioxidant potential of ferulic acid. Free Radic Biol Med. (1992)
  30. Scott BC, et. al. Evaluation of the antioxidant actions of ferulic acid and catechins. Free Radic Res Commun. (1993)
  31. Kikuzaki H, et. al. Antioxidant properties of ferulic acid and its related compounds. J Agric Food Chem. (2002)
  32. Srinivasan M, Sudheer AR, Menon VP. Ferulic Acid: Therapeutic Potential Through Its Antioxidant Property. J Clin Biochem Nutr. (2007)
  33. Saija A, et. al. In vitro and in vivo evaluation of caffeic and ferulic acids as topical photoprotective agents. Int J Pharm. (2000)
  34. Pluemsamran T, Onkoksoong T, Panich U. Caffeic acid and ferulic acid inhibit UVA-induced matrix metalloproteinase-1 through regulation of antioxidant defense system in keratinocyte HaCaT cells. Photochem Photobiol. (2012)
  35. Staniforth V, et. al. Ferulic acid, a phenolic phytochemical, inhibits UVB-induced matrix metalloproteinases in mouse skin via posttranslational mechanisms. J Nutr Biochem. (2012)
  36. Lin FH, et. al. Ferulic acid stabilizes a solution of vitamins C and E and doubles its photoprotection of skin. J Invest Dermatol. (2005)
  37. Murray JC, et. al. A topical antioxidant solution containing vitamins C and E stabilized by ferulic acid provides protection for human skin against damage caused by ultraviolet irradiation. J Am Acad Dermatol. (2008)
  38. Wu Y, et. al. Protective effects of a topical antioxidant complex containing vitamins C and E and ferulic acid against ultraviolet irradiation-induced photodamage in Chinese women. J Drugs Dermatol. (2013)
  39. Burns EM, et. al. Differential effects of topical vitamin E and C E Ferulic® treatments on ultraviolet light B-induced cutaneous tumor development in Skh-1 mice. PLOS ONE. (2013)
  40. Oresajo C, et. al. Ubiquinone, idebenone, and kinetin provide ineffective photoprotection to skin when compared to a topical antioxidant combination of vitamins C and E with ferulic acid. J Cosmet Dermatol. (2008)
  41. Oresajo C, et. al. Protective effects of a topical antioxidant mixture containing vitamin C, ferulic acid, and phloretin against ultraviolet-induced photodamage in human skin. J Cosmet Dermatol. (2008)
  42. Manosroi A, et. al. Antioxidant activities and skin hydration effects of rice bran bioactive compounds entrapped in niosomes. J Nanosci Nanotechnol. (2011)
  43. Manosroi A, et. al. Anti-aging efficacy of topical formulations containing niosomes entrapped with rice bran bioactive compounds. Pharm Biol. (2012)