Jan 16, 2024

Ferulic Acid Is the Secret to Brighter, More Even Skin

It offers next-level skin brightening in a bottle.

Sephora/ InStyle

For years, skincare experts and dermatologists have waxed poetic about the benefits of antioxidants. While they've earned superstar status for their ability to protect the skin from the damaging effects of pollution, blue light, and UV rays, the more familiar ones, like vitamin C, green tea, resveratrol, and niacinamide, are the ones most of us reach for. But one of the most potent antioxidants is kept somewhat under wraps. Enter: ferulic acid.

Recently, ferulic acid has been getting serious attention. In a world of confusing antioxidant jargon, this cult-classic ingredient is beloved for limiting photodamage and premature aging, making it a skincare favorite for brightening and wiping away discoloration. We tapped the experts for the backstory on ferulic acid — and everything you need to know about it and why you’ll want to incorporate it into your skincare routine stat.

While the word acid may be off-putting and sound like a skincare no-no, ferulic acid — which is derived from the cell walls of plants — works well on the red and pink undertones in the skin and prevents them from showing on the surface skin level. "It also improves the look of dull skin and reduces the appearance of hyperpigmentation," says Tara Adashev, APRN, a registered nurse practitioner at Neinstein Plastic Surgery.

Plus, ferulic acid seems to have both anti-inflammatory and photoprotective properties. "It is often used in serums and creams due to its potential to enhance the stability and effectiveness of other antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E," Marisa and Adriana Martino, licensed estheticians and co-founders of SKINNEY Medspa, say.

And, "as an antioxidant, ferulic acid helps to repair and protect damaged skin cells," says Roberta Del Campo, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Del Campo Dermatology. "Two of my favorite skincare products that incorporate ferulic acid include Babor Power Serum Ampoule Ferulic Acid Serum, which is clear — ferulic acid at high concentrations can leave a tint to the skin — and SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic."

Ferulic acid can help decrease the look of fine lines and wrinkles, improve brown spots, and protect skin from environmental damage. How? It fights reactive oxygen species, which can create inflammation and cause DNA damage, according to Kseniya Kobets, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and director of cosmetic dermatology at Montefiore Advanced Care.

By shielding the skin from free radicals, ferulic acid can maintain the skin quality and its supply of collagen and elastin to keep it healthy and supported and prevent the signs of premature aging.

Plus, using ferulic acid on the skin consistently decreases inflammation to help prevent breakouts. And you can use the ingredient on areas with redness, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and even brown patches related to melasma.

Most skin types can benefit from using ferulic acid daily, especially those dealing with or concerned with hyperpigmentation, sun damage, and overall signs of aging.

But some antioxidants may not be compatible with certain skin types, so tread lightly if you have eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, sensitive skin, or allergies to foods with ferulic acid. If there is any sensitivity to the ingredient, such as dryness or burning, refrain from using it, says Adashev.

Adding ferulic acid to your daily skincare routine is easy: Most ferulic acid products are also formulated with other antioxidants for effortless application.

However, it is important to wear sunscreen with ferulic acid (as is the case with all skincare ingredients, to be fair), and it pairs especially well with vitamins C and E. "We know that ferulic acid can boost the effectiveness of sunblock by raising the SPF when used in tandem with those two vitamins," says Dr. Del Campo. Resveratrol is another skin-friendly ingredient that plays nicely with ferulic acid—you can find the ingredients combined in The Ordinary Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3%.

Not every skincare ingredient is ideal to combine with ferulic acid; some, namely exfoliating acids, should be limited if you’re using ferulic acid. "They can alter the existing pH and make ferulic acid less effective," Dr. Del Campo says. (One exception is lactic acid; you can find the pairing in Kiehl's Ferulic Brew Antioxidant Facial Treatment with Lactic Acid.)

Meanwhile, to max out the anti-aging benefits, mixing retinol with ferulic acid is considered safe, and you can even find skincare products that contain both, such Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Advance Retinol + Ferulic Texture Renewal Serum.

Still, when looking for a good skincare product with ferulic acid for skin, Dr. Del Campo suggests one with ferulic acid within the 0.5% to 1% range. The best way to find a serum or moisturizer with ferulic acid is to look at the ingredient list on the back of the bottle and ensure it appears towards the top. Also, opt for those in packaging that protects against light and air exposure, since ferulic acid can oxidize.

With antioxidants, it may be hard to see improvements in the skin right away; Dr. Kobets estimates that once you start using ferulic acid, it can take several weeks to months to see results, depending on the degree of sun damage and pigment to the skin. The upside? They'll be worth the wait.