Free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are generated by UV irradiation, may cause serious injury to skin cell membranes, DNA and functional proteins. In addition, these agents stimulate the expressions of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which can degrade most components of the extracellular matrix (ECM), including collagen. In order to develop new anti-photoaging agents, five major components from the extract of Fraxinus chinensis extract (FCE) were identified. Two of the major components of FCE were found to be esculin (11.2%) and esculetin (1.9%). FCE (IC50: 50.0 microg/mL 1, 1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH); 19.8 microg/mL, superoxide anion radical) and esculetin (IC50: 2.1 microg/mL DPPH; 0.6 microg/mL, superoxide anion radical) showed strong antioxidative activities. Of the compounds tested, esculetin showed the strongest scavenging activity against DPPH radicals, followed by superoxide anions from the xanthine/xanthine oxidase system. The intracellular ROS scavenging activity showed that oxidation of 5-(6-)-chloromethyl-2', 7'-dichlorodihydrofluorescein diacetate (CM-H2DCFDA) was effectively inhibited by esculetin, with potent free radical scavenging activity was also shown in UVB-irradiated human dermal fibroblasts (HDFs). Moreover, treatment of UVA-irradiated HDFs with esculetin resulted in dose-dependent decreases in the expression levels of MMP-1 mRNA and protein. From these results, FCE and one of its components, esculetin, were predicted to be potentially useful as ingredients in cosmetics for protecting against photoaging.