Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
You’ve heard about retinol, for sure, but there’s another ingredient that’s hot on the heels of the hero ingredient. Meet bakuchiol, touted as the gentler, natural alternative to retinol. The 100% plant-based ingredient comes from the seeds and leaves of a plant native to Eastern Asia and has long been used in Ayurveda. Several studies over the past few years have shown that it has similar benefits as retinol, but without the irritation that sometimes comes along with that ingredient.
It’s worth noting that, from a molecular standpoint, bakuchiol actually doesn’t resemble retinol at all, as pointed out by Chicago dermatologist Caroline Robinson, MD, founder of Tone Dermatology. Still, the effects are shockingly similar: “Bakuchiol can help soften fine lines and wrinkles, even skin tone, and improve elasticity and firmness,” she says. “Retinol can be very irritating for some people, especially for dry and sensitive skin types. Bakuchiol is a nice way to get the anti-aging benefits without skin irritation.” (That being said, it’s possible for anyone to react to any ingredient, so it’s always a good move to do a patch test when trying any new product, she advises.)
Another advantage that bakuchiol has over retinol? It’s not inactivated by the sun and actually offers some antioxidant properties, making it a good option to use either day and/or night. And while you’ll of course want to check with your doc, dermatologists generally agree that it’s safe to use during pregnancy—retinoids are not.
Ready to try this new kind on the block? Read on for the best bakuchiol products out there.
“This is a great nighttime product that I recommend often,” says Robinson. “It combines bakuchiol with vitamin C and topical melatonin, ingredients that work together to repair damaged skin cells and promote flexible, rejuvenated skin while you sleep.” (And no, unlike the oral supplement topical melatonin won’t make you sleepy, but it is a potent antioxidant.) It’s a top choice for using at bedtime to undo any free radical damage incurred during the day, and the serum-in-oil texture both applies and soaks into skin beautifully, so you never have to worry about ending up with greasy residue on your pillow.
While retinoids are plentiful at the drugstore, that’s not quite yet the case with bakuchiol. (Though here’s hoping.) That makes wallet-friendly finds like this one all the more noteworthy. As the name suggests, it’s a two-part formula. The top layer is an antioxidant-rich essence, the bottom, a moisturizing serum (so make sure to give it a good shake before using to blend the two). In the mix are bakuchiol, soothing blue tansy extract, and skin-balancing probiotics.
This splurge-worthy pick is a reformulation of the brand’s OG Super 16 serum, now including, you guessed it, bakuchiol. It’s just one of a litany of nutrients and bio-active ingredients that includes, among other things, a mineral-rich seaweed extract, assorted B vitamins, and all kinds of antioxidants. The fast-absorbing serum plumps and hydrates skin pretty much instantly, and also works overtime to smooth out lines and wrinkles.
Ren has long used natural ingredients for youth-boosting purposes, so it’s no surprise that they’re all aboard the bakuchiol train. This moisturizer—which can be used morning and night—combines it with other natural extracts to further help renew skin texture, improve firmness, and add back plenty of moisture. The formula is cruelty-free and vegan, and the brand also places a large emphasis on sustainability—always a good thing in our opinion.
Byrdie Social Media Editor Star Donaldson loves this P.M. powerhouse. Unlike retinol, you don’t have to use bakuchiol at night, but it’s always a good idea to apply active ingredients while you snooze; it’s when your skin naturally goes into repair mode, can best maximize their effects. Along with the bakuchiol in this formula, there are also alpha-hydroxy acids—glycolic and lactic—for a mild exfoliating effect that further ups your skin’s glow factor, plus tons of moisturizing and conditioning ingredients so you wake up with a soft and supple complexion.
As a universal rule of thumb, serums will always give you a better bang for your buck when it comes to reaping the effects of active ingredients, given that they contain a much higher concentration of them than is found in creams or lotions. So, to really get all that bakuchiol has to offer, look for it in a serum, like this one, one of Robinson’s pick. She lauds it for the lightweight texture and formula that pairs bakuchiol with hydrating hyaluronic acid and brightening niacinamide, all three of which work in tandem to make your skin look healthier and more youthful.
Here’s another great serum to consider. Well, technically it’s a serum-moisturizer hybrid—a unique texture, consistency, and concept unlike we’ve seen before. Bakuchiol extract gets spun into a hyaluronic acid-based serum at super-high speeds, resulting in the fun-to-use, slushy-like feel. It’s a one-stop-shop that does everything from hydrate to minimize pores, all in a squeaky clean formula. And we’d be remiss not to mention the brand’s sustainability efforts—this product boasts the first-ever completely curb-side recyclable bottle.
Swap your standard night cream for this overnight mask a few times per week and prepare to be amazed. The bakuchiol in the formula targets lines and spots while other plant-derived ingredients work to keep the skin barrier strong and healthy. The end result? Skin that looks smoother, more even, and much more supple come morning. Beauty sleep indeed.
Given retinoid’s exceptional line-fighting abilities, it’s a great ingredient to use around the eyes (since the thin skin here is where signs of aging, like wrinkles, show up first.) The only problem? That thin skin is even more susceptible to irritation, making it tough to find a retinol-based eye cream that won’t stress out your skin. Enter bakuchiol. Paired with hydrating vitamin E, it's the star of the show in this 99% natural formula.
“This is a personal favorite of mine, as it contains both retinol and bakuchiol, along with Vitamin C to address multiple signs of aging,” says Robinson. While yes, bakuchiol and retinol are often positioned as an either/or situation, by combining small amounts of retinol with bakuchiol, this product is able to deliver all of the skin benefits of retinol in a gentler way, explains Robinson. Plus, bakuchiol actually enhances retinol’s effects, not to mention offers those always-important antioxidant properties.
If sagging is your primary complexion concern, try this guy. A dynamic duo of bakuchiol and spirulina maxima (aka blue-green algae) work together to re-contour and re-firm skin. And despite the fact that it’s packed with heavy-hitting hydrating ingredients (think chia seed oil, shea butter, and olive oil) the texture is still lightweight enough to use either morning or night.
Yes, we very much appreciate that this pick is free of thousands of questionable chemicals; it contains, quite literally, only two ingredients—bakuchiol and olive-derived squalane. But we also love this for a super-easy way to incorporate essentially straight-up bakuchiol into your existing routine. Mix a few drops of this into any serum, moisturizer, or balm you’re already using—it’s that easy. (Though to answer your question, you can also use it solo.)
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. Along with writing about beauty, she also frequently covers health and wellness. Her skin is next-level sensitive so, despite her best efforts, she has yet to find a retinol product that works for her. Her solution? Bakuchiol.
Meet the Expert
Caroline Robinson, MD, is a board-certified medical and cosmetic dermatologist in Chicago, and the founder of Tone Dermatology. Her subspecialties interests include alopecia, ethnic skin dermatology, and preventative skincare.