If you’re drawn to a skincare product not only by its packaging but also by its ingredients list, did you already encounter ursolic acid? This acid can be labelled as a cosmeceutical – a cross between a cosmetic and pharmaceutical, a cosmetic with bioactive ingredients so potent, it is claimed to have medicinal effects.

Did this description whet your appetite to know more about ursolic acid? This compound is also known as urson, prunol, and malol. These different names may have given away where ursolic acid naturally occurs: In a large number of fruits and plants including

  • Apples
  • Basil
  • Bilberries
  • Cranberries
  • Elder flower
  • Eucalyptus
  • Hawthorne
  • Lavender
  • Marjoram
  • Oregano
  • Peppermint
  • Prunes
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Thyme
ursolic acid in apple peels
Photo by Gabriele Lässer

Ursolic acid is part of the family of compounds called triterpenes. Plants and animals naturally produce triterpenes and they have a variety of biological effects so that they’re interesting candidates for drug research.

As early as 1920, ursolic acid was discovered in apple peels, fruit seeds, and also in some herbs like thyme and rosemary. Certain parts of a plant (like the leaves, bark, and fruit skin) can contain more of it.

What Does Science Say?

Let’s put on our lab coat, as we’ll get nerdy: It’s a well-researched compound with several potential biochemical effects. In vitro studies show that it can suppress cancer proliferation. It can inhibit the growth of new blood vessels, which are needed by some forms of cancer to grow and spread. Then, it can suppress cell division and so slow or stop the growth of carcinogenic cells. It’s well known that the Mediterranean diet is linked with good health.

It’s also known to have strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiproliferative properties as well as being antimicrobial, hepatoprotective (which means it can prevent damage to the liver), and antiviral.

In recent years, ursolic acid is making a career as a supplement since it can help build muscle mass, increases the amount of brown fat while decreasing white fat in your body.

Ursolic acid is related to moronic acid, betulinic acid, and oleanic acid. As their chemical compositions are similar, they have similar cosmological and pharmacological properties. All of these are carboxylic acid – organic acids and they can be found in abundance.

Why Use It In Cosmetics?

In the early days, ursolic acid was just used as an emulsifier in foods, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals since people didn’t believe it had any special effects or therapeutic properties. Only as it was more well studied did researchers discover that ursolic acid was antifungal, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory.

This research resulted in hair care products. Shampoo with ursolic acid was used to treat scalp conditions such as dandruff and general irritation. It was also used to promote hair growth.

Once its powerful antioxidant was recognised, ursolic acid is often added as an active ingredient in anti-aging products. It not only acts as a powerful free radical scavenger, it can also treat skin that’s damaged by the sun (so-called photoaged skin).

Ursolic acid has rejuvenating effects on your skin because it slows the appearance of wrinkles and age spots, as well as removes hyperpigmentation. Moreover, it stimulates the synthesis of collagen and therefore helps to restore the skin’s collagen bundle structures and elasticity. It slows down the elastase enzyme and thus hinders this enzyme from breaking down elastin and other structural proteins.

Interestingly, ursolic acid is great in preserving moisture. It can signal our skin cells to produce more intercellular lipids, most notably ceramides which are a key component for improving the skin’s texture and repairing the all-important barrier function.

In a nutshell, ursolic acid and related acids form an oil-resistant barrier on the skin and hair. Just think of how the apple peel feels – it has a waxy coating. It prevents the skin from losing water and the result is more hydrated, firmer, plumper skin – a goal we all want.

The combination of anti-inflammatory with antibacterial and antimicrobial properties make ursolic acid a useful ingredient for wound healing and is also interesting for making acne masks.

Ursolic acid is generally considered to be a safe and natural ingredient. Its toxicity is extremely low. Basically, it’s harmless when eaten or applied to the skin.

What Products To Look Out For?

You typically can find ursolic acid in products such as creams, lotions, serums, toners, lip balms, and gels.

You can also opt to make your own antiaging facial oil. You can pair an essential oil of the above mentioned herbal plants with a carrier oil that suits your needs. For example, if you’re interested in an antiaging facial oil, you could pair rosemary essential oil with a carrier oil like rosehip oil.

Did you discover an ingredient and would like us to give you a brief about its properties and benefits? Leave it in the comments and we’d be happy to.

Leave a Reply