Meet Bakuchiol: Nature's Alternative to Retinol, Sans Irritation

Updated 04/03/19
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what is bakuchiol: Woman standing next to a tree
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Bakuchiol is being touted as the new, natural alternative to retinol. But since retinol is the gold standard anti-aging ingredient, able to tackle everything from wrinkles and blemishes to skin tone and texture, is bakuchiol really worthy of the hype? Let’s take a closer look.

What is Bakuchiol?

Bakuchiol is 100% plant-derived, found in the seeds and leaves of the Psoralea Corylifolia plant found in Eastern Asia. Scientists have known for awhile that this plant extract can have retinol-like effects on the skin: a French study published back in 2014 wrote, "We propose that bakuchiol can function as an anti-aging compound through retinol-like regulation of gene expression." So, while it appears to be the new kid on the beauty ingredient block, it has actually had some scientific weight behind it for quite awhile.

“In that 2014 study, bakuchiol was formulated into a finished skincare product and was tested in a clinical case study by twice‐a‐day facial application," explains dermatologist Sarah Shah. "The results showed that 12 weeks of treatment showed significant improvement in lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, firmness and overall reduction in photo‐damage."

Bakuchiol vs. Retinol

Now, notice that we’ve said it has a retinol-like effect. That's because it doesn’t work in the same way as retinol, but the effect it has on the skin is comparable. “Retinol and bakuchiol are not structurally similar," says Shah. "In fact, bakuchiol bears more structural resemblance to [the antioxidant] resveratrol. However, they are very similar in functionality. When confirmed side by side in a lab study, they were shown to upregulate the same proteins and types of collagen in the skin.”

The benefit of bakuchiol over retinol is that, while retinol is heralded as a wonder ingredient, it can irritate the skin for those who are sensitive, with most people having to acclimate to it by increasing frequency and percentage slowly over time. Bakuchiol, on the other hand, has none of the side effects that can put many off trying retinol.

“Bakuchiol has actually been used as a skincare ingredient for many years for anti-inflammatory and antioxidant purposes,” reveals David Delport, Global Brand Ambassador and Head of Education for REN Clean Skincare. “It stimulates cell renewal in the epidermis for a smooth surface, giving a retinol result without the irritation.”

What is bakuchiol: Oskia Super 16 serum
Oskia Skincare

Why Is Bakuchiol Having a Moment?

So, why is it only now that bakuchiol is hitting the mainstream when scientists have been aware of its skin-boosting potential for some time?

Shah believes it has to do with the growing interest in natural beauty: “Bakuchiol has been popular in Ayurvedic circles for some time, but has become more mainstream as the general awareness for skin maintenance increases, and with the huge trend for vegan and natural healthy lifestyles.”

Who Is Bakuchiol For?

Anyone who is concerned with aging skin will benefit from bakuchiol, but it’s particularly good for anyone with a sensitive skin type or those who are trying to adopt a more natural anti-aging routine.

Of course, just because an ingredient is natural doesn’t mean your skin won’t react to it or the formulation it's contained within. If you have a sensitive complexion, be sure to patch test any products containing bakuchiol.

How to Use Bakuchiol

While retinol can take some getting used to (especially in higher percentages), bakuchiol is much kinder to skin. Unlike retinol, you can use bakuchiol in the daytime. "Because it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, it’s safe to use during the day," explains Shah. "Retinol, on the other hand, causes a mild inflammatory response." Of course, you should still be slathering on that daily dose of SPF regardless. 

Certain ingredients don't play nice with retinol (some acids and benzoyl peroxide, for example) but you can use these with bakuchiol without any fear that you're doing damage or rendering one of your products useless. 

Bakuchiol can be found in all sorts of products nowadays, from face oils and serums to night creams and oils. Ahead, find the 10 best bakuchiol skincare products on the market right now. 

What is bakuchiol: Oskia Super 16
Oskia Super 16 $133
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Oskia thinks so highly of bakuchiol that they reformulated their Super 16 serum to include the retinol-like ingredient. This serum is packed with collagen-boosting ingredients that leaves the skin hydrated and protected (thanks to the antioxidant benefits housed inside this bottle too). Use it morning and night and take your glow game up a notch. 

What is bakuchiol: Ren Bio Retinoid Anti-Ageing Cream
Ren Bio Retinoid Anti-Ageing Cream $69
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Bakuchiol is the star of the show in this anti-aging cream from Ren. Use it morning and night for a complexion that is smoother, plumper and more lifted.

Ren is serious about sustainability too, so if you're looking to widen your natural beauty efforts—from being good for your skin to choosing sustainable products that are good for the planet—then this cream is for you.

What is bakuchiol: Strivectin S.T.A.R. Light Retinol Night Oil
Strivectin S.T.A.R. Light Retinol Night Oil $99
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Want to have your cake and eat it too? Well, Strivectin is your enabler as it has combined retinol (three types, to be precise) and bakuchiol in this night oil, which can be used alone or under moisturizer. The addition of calming niacinamide and nourishing squalane mitigate the potential irritation the retinol could cause. It's a skin-perfecting powerhouse. 

What is bakuchiol: Biossance Squalane + Phyto Renewal Serum
Biossance Squalane + Phyto Renewal Serum $78
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In this natural a.m./p.m. serum from Biossance, you're getting bakuchiol, hydrating hyaluronic acid and nourishing squalane, making it a smart choice for those with sensitive skin (although, always patch test first!). 

What is bakuchiol: Omorovicza Miracle Facial Oil
Omorovicza Miracle Facial Oil $120
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Packed with natural, antioxidant-rich oils and that all-important bakuchiol, this face oil boosts skin-plumping collagen production while protecting your complexion from environmental aggressors. Ideal for city-dwellers, you can use it morning and night to boost your glow.

What is bakuchiol: Ole Henriksen Transform Plus Goodnight Glow Retin-ALT Sleeping Crème
Ole Henriksen Transform Plus Goodnight Glow Retin-ALT Sleeping Crème $55
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In this night cream from Ole Henriksen, bakuchiol has been mingled with exfoliating AHAs, which act like helpers to slough away dead skin so the bakuchiol can get deep down into the skin. If dark spots, uneven texture and dullness are your foes, add this to your skincare rotation ASAP. 

What is bakuchiol: Kate Somerville DermalQuench Liquid Lift + Retinol
Kate Somerville DermalQuench Liquid Lift + Retinol $98
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If your skin is lacking bounce and glow, then this liquid foam made with retinol, bakuchiol and hyaluronic acid will ramp up collagen production, tackle pesky pigmentation and quench your skin's thirst. Use it once a day to see results.

what is bakuchiol: Allies of Skin Mandelic Pigmentation Corrector Night Serum
Allies of Skin Mandelic Pigmentation Corrector Night Serum $92
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If you're not sure where to invest your money, this is a good bet. The hardworking serum contains an impressive list of ingredients, including both mandelic and lactic acids, with BHA salicylic acid to slough away dead skin cells, tackle pigmentation, enlarged pores, breakouts and blackheads. Bakuchiol brings to it the retinol-like anti-aging benefits, while hyaluronic acid hydrates, essential fatty acids nourish and niacinamide bolsters the skin barrier. 

Alpyn Beauty PlantGenius Melt Moisturizer
Alpyn Beauty PlantGenius Melt Moisturizer $60
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Packed with skin-fortifying ingredients like squalane, hyaluronic acid and ceramides, this wildcrafted moisturizer also contains antioxidant Vitamin C to brighten and protect, alongside glycolic acid to exfoliate and promote collagen production. Bakuchiol tackles fine lines, while aloe leaves your skin feeling soothed.  

PCA Skin Intensive Clarity Treatment
PCA Skin Intensive Clarity Treatment $110
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Formulated for people dealing with blemishes and acne, this powerful treatment product combines retinol, bakuchiol and salicylic acid (known to exfoliate deep down inside blocked pores). Since this is so potent, you need to apply at night only and start twice a week, building up to every night over time. You also need to diligently apply SPF in the day, making this much more like a traditional retinol product.

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