Ingredient Explained: Ursolic Acid

If ursolic acid popped up in one of your products and you wonder what it does to your skin, you need to read this. Here we dive deep into the skin-care benefits of ursolic acid, breaking down everything in layman’s terms, keeping things short and sweet.

What is ursolic acid?

Ursolic acid is a naturally-derived triterpenoid found in fruits and plants (apples, rosemary, oregano, and waxy berries) that acts as a defensive compound against pathogenic microbes and herbivores. As for skincare, ursolic acid packs quite a few benefits thanks to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties.[1]

Ursolic acid benefits for skin

First of all, ursolic acid suppresses the production of free radicals, protecting cells and tissues from oxidative damage. It turns out ursolic acid boosts the activity of enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidants — including superoxide dismutase, glutathione, vitamins C and E — helping the body to scavenge the harmful free radicals more effectively.[2]

By interfering with free radicals, ursolic acid not only has the potential to mitigate UV damage and delay photoaging but also to reduce the degradation of epidermal lipids.[3] Since these lipids (think ceramides) have the role of fortifying the skin’s barrier, ursolic acid works wonders supporting skin recovery, especially when the protective barrier is compromised — as proved by The Journal of Dermatology.[4]

Furthermore, ursolic acid can also serve as an anti-wrinkle and wound-healing treatment since it can preserve collagen levels in the skin. Studies have shown ursolic acid incorporated into liposomes can prevent specific enzymes from attacking structural proteins needed to maintain skin integrity, reducing collagen degradation similar to retinoids.[5] More collagen is necessary to accelerate tissue repair as well as to maintain the elasticity and firmness of the skin, making ursolic acid a promising anti-aging agent with restorative benefits.

But as far as the list of benefits goes, the research into ursolic acid is far from conclusive, so ursolic acid in skincare remains, at the best, a questionable ingredient. It might not be the most researched one, but it’s definitely good to have it in your skincare arsenal.

  1. Nighat Sultana (2011) Clinically useful anticancer, antitumor, and antiwrinkle agent, ursolic acid and related derivatives as medicinally important natural product, Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Medicinal Chemistry, 26:5, 616-642, DOI: 10.3109/14756366.2010.546793
  2. Seo DY, Lee SR, Heo JW, et al. Ursolic acid in health and diseaseKorean J Physiol Pharmacol. 2018;22(3):235-248. doi:10.4196/kjpp.2018.22.3.235
  3. Ramachandran Samivel, Rajendra Prasad Nagarajan, Umadevi Subramanian, Adnan Ali Khan, Ali Masmali, Turki Almubrad, Saeed Akhtar, “Inhibitory Effect of Ursolic Acid on Ultraviolet B Radiation-Induced Oxidative Stress and Proinflammatory Response-Mediated Senescence in Human Skin Dermal Fibroblasts“,
  4. Simultaneous effect of ursolic acid and oleanolic acid on epidermal permeability barrier function and epidermal keratinocyte differentiation via peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-α. The Journal of Dermatology, 34: 625-634.
  5. Yarosh DB, Both D, Brown D. Liposomal ursolic acid (merotaine) increases ceramides and collagen in human skin. Horm Res. 2000;54(5-6):318-21. doi: 10.1159/000053280. PMID: 11595826.
Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu is the founder of Women's Concepts and a certified skincare consultant. She has over five years of experience working in the beauty editorial industry and over a decade as an acne sufferer. With a background in dermatological research, Ana brings a wealth of expertise to a diverse range of topics, from buzzy ingredients to anti-aging and acne advice. She holds a BA in Sociology and Political Sciences. Find her on LinkedIn or Instagram.
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