Retinol may be one of the best-known ingredients in skin care, but that doesn’t mean it’s meant for everyone — especially those with sensitive skin. Fortunately, there is a much gentler alternative that is known to provide similar benefits: bakuchiol, aka retinol’s sensitive-skin friendly substitute that’s been rising to stardom on beauty shelves.
“Bakuchiol has gained popularity because of its versatility and tolerability,” Dr. Brendan Camp, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology, tells Bustle, noting that, unlike other common active ingredients, bakuchiol generally works on all skin types without any adverse effects. Thus, it’s no surprise that skin care aficionados are becoming so interested in it: According to U.S. consumer trend data aggregation platform Spate, searches for “bakuchiol serum” have increased by 25% in the past year alone.
As for what bakuchiol actually does? Basically, every skin-improving benefit retinol is known and loved for — but with less irritation. Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, M.D., double board-certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon at DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa, points to research that shows that found the twice-daily use of topical bakuchiol to have a significant improvement in lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, and firmness. And yes, it has been found to do so as effectively as retinol.
Intrigued? (Don’t blame you.) Read on for everything to know about bakuchiol and how it compares to retinol and other retinoids.
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Bakuchiol Vs. Retinol: How Do They Compare?
Both bakuchiol and retinol are known for increasing and regulating cellular turnover — aka assisting in eradicating dead skin cells to make room for new ones — but differ in various ways. For one, bakuchiol comes from plants, while retinol and retinoids are derived from vitamin A. “Bakuchiol is derived from the seeds of the Psoralea corylifolia, also known as the babchi plant, which has been used in Ayurveda and Eastern Medicine for centuries,” Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology, tells Bustle. That’s why bakuchiol is commonly referred to as a plant-based alternative to retinol.
Bakuchiol has also been found to be much gentler on the skin, so it’s suitable for all skin types — including the most sensitive on the spectrum. “Bakuchiol is a great option for people whose skin is intolerant of retinol, [the latter of] which has the potential to cause dryness, redness, peeling, and burning,” Camp explains, clarifying that these side effects are less commonly reported with bakuchiol. But despite its gentle nature, some research suggests that bakuchiol treats the same conditions as retinol, including acne. This is due to its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties as well as its ability to shrink pores, though DeRosa notes that more studies are needed on this effect.
Finally, one major — often overlooked — difference: Unlike retinol, bakuchiol is not degraded by sun exposure, says Camp. Therefore, due to bakuchiol’s lack of photostability issues, it can be used both during the day and nighttime. Retinol, on the other hand, is often recommended to be used only at night in order to avoid sun degradation and potential skin sensitivity.
As for how bakuchiol compares to other retinoids? They still all work in similar ways from a scientific standpoint. “Bakuchiol is a retinol-like substance that affects the retinol receptors in the skin to yield anti-aging changes similar to retinoids,” DeRosa tells Bustle. What’s more, she adds, is that it really does work at the cellular level just like a retinoid would, signaling retinol receptors and gene expression.
That said, if you have super tolerant skin and want more dramatic results, DeRosa suggests using a retinoid rather than bakuchiol. “A retinoid like tretinoin is effective to treat acne-prone and aging skin, and may yield results more quickly,” she says.
Bakuchiol Skin Care Benefits
Despite a stark contrast in how they’re derived and developed, DeRosa tells Bustle that both bakuchiol and retinol benefit the skin in very similar ways. “Although bakuchiol has a totally different chemical composition than retinol, it actually works on the same pathways within the skin so you can get the same benefits as a retinol,” she tells Bustle. These include increased collagen production, reduction in fine lines and wrinkles, increased cell turnover, and decreased pigmentation as examples. Bakuchiol has also been found to help combat acne thanks to its anti-inflammatory and skin-soothing benefits.
The sweetest perk of bakuchiol, however, is that it accomplishes the aforementioned skin-improving perks with significantly fewer side effects than retinol, says DeRosa. According to a double-blind study from the British Journal of Dermatology, daily bakuchiol use has been found to be equally as effective as retinol in combatting facial wrinkles and hyperpigmentation after 12 weeks, and participants who used retinol reported more itching and burning than those who used bakuchiol. Translation? Skin improvements were nearly identical, yet the side effects from retinol were more uncomfortable than those from bakuchiol. Keep scrolling to shop the ingredient for your own routine.
Shop Bakuchiol Skin Care
For A Brightening Boost
DeRosa is a fan of OLEHENRIKSEN’s Glow Cycle serum, as its combination of bakuchiol and alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) helps smooth out fine lines and wrinkles as well as treat pigmentation.
For A Luxurious Cream
For A Skin-Improving Serum
Garshick recommends this serum for its effective blend of bakuchiol, fruit stem cell complex, and antioxidants. “It works to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while also smoothing the skin,” she tells Bustle, adding that it can be used up to twice a day — on all skin types — because it’s so gentle.
For A Facial Oil
Both Garshick and Camp suggest this luxe facial oil. Formulated with sea buckthorn oil, rosehip oil, and bakuchiol, Garshick notes that it’s an especially great option for someone looking to improve the signs of aging. “Sea buckthorn works to reduce dryness and hydrate the skin, while rosehip oil and bakuchiol help regulate skin cell turnover, improving the overall appearance of fine lines while minimizing irritation,” she tells Bustle.
The Best Of Both Worlds
Want to slather on retinol and bakuchiol? This powerful serum combines both actives to treat wrinkles as well as peptides to stimulate collagen production, according to Camp.
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Chaudhuri, R. (2011). Bakuchiol in the management of acne-affected Skin. Cosmet Toilet. Vol. 126 No. 7/July 2011.
Draelos, Z. D., Gunt, H., Zeichner, J., & Levy, S. (2020). Clinical Evaluation of a Nature-Based Bakuchiol Anti-Aging Moisturizer for Sensitive Skin. Journal of dermatology : JDD, 19(12), 1181–1183. https://doi.org/10.36849/JDD.2020.5522
Dhaliwal, S., Rybak, I., Ellis, S. R., Notay, M., Trivedi, M., Burney, W., Vaughn, A. R., Nguyen, M., Reiter, P., Bosanac, S., Yan, H., Foolad, N., & Sivamani, R. K. (2019). Prospective, randomized, double-blind assessment of topical bakuchiol and retinol for facial photoageing. The British journal of dermatology, 180(2), 289–296. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjd.16918
Dr. Brendan Camp, M.D., board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D., board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, M.D., double board-certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon