Bakuchiol: The New, Natural Alternative to Retinol

Dermatologists say it's great for sensitive skin.

woman with clear skin

 Lisette Poole / Getty Images

While there’s no arguing that retinol is great, it’s also known that products that contain this ingredient can be irritating to sensitive skin. That’s why we were excited to hear there’s a new, natural alternative to retinol on the beauty block. Enter: bakuchiol, a powerful plant-based ingredient that’s perfect for sensitive skin.

Granted, it might sound like a Pokémon, but bakuchiol (pronounced ba-koo-heel) is an extract derived from the leaves and seeds of the babchi plant. It’s an herb commonly used in Indian Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines, as well as Tamil Siddha practices, to help heal, calm, and soothe the skin, thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

We spoke with Dr. Rachel Nazarian of New York's Schweiger Dermatology Group, Dr. Jennifer Chwalek of Union Square Laser Dermatology, and cosmetic chemist/founder of Freelance Formulations, Vanessa Thomas, about the benefits and side effects of the powerful ingredient.

Bakuchiol

Type of ingredient: Hydrator

Main benefits: Wrinkle reduction, increases skin firmness, and reduces the appearance of pores.

Who should use it: Generally, bakuchiol is safe for all skin types.

How often can you use it: It's safe to use twice a day, in the morning before moisturizer and at night before any serums.

Works well with: Other hydrating ingredients, like squalane and PHAs.

Don't use with: Glycolic acid could degrade the formulation.

What is Bakuchiol?

According to Nazarian, some of the substances from the plant are already used to treat conditions like vitiligo, but using bakuchiol from the plant is a rather recent practice.

Chwalek adds that, "In a comparison study (published in The British Journal of Dermatology 2018), there was no difference in wrinkle reduction or improvement in hyperpigmentation between bakuchiol and retinol." The retinol users, though, did experience more skin dryness and stinging. "Other studies have also reported improvement in lines/wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, and firmness with bakuchiol," she adds.

Benefits of Bakuchiol for Skin

Sounds good, right? Well, according to a study in The British Journal of Dermatology, bakuchiol is not only as effective as retinol at targeting fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone; it’s also less irritating. "Much like a retinol, bakuchiol triggers the genetic pathway in skin cells to create several types of collagen that are useful in skin health and anti-aging," says Nazarian. However, it doesn't decrease the size of oil glands—so that means no stubborn dryness or irritation. Plus, unlike retinol, which can make the skin more sensitive to the sun (always make sure to wear SPF during the day), bakuchiol actually helps to make skin less sensitive to the sun’s harmful rays.

According to Thomas, multiple studies have confirmed bakuchiol to be a true alternative to retinol: "The results showed that, after 12 weeks of treatment, significant improvement in lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, firmness and overall reduction in photo-damage was observed, without usual retinol therapy associated with undesirable effects." She adds that, in addition to its anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties, bakuchiol also enhances anti-acne properties.

  • Evens skin tone: Bakuchiol deeply penetrates the skin to help lessen the appearance of dark spots or areas of hyperpigmentation.
  • Reduces the appearance of fine lines: Like retinol, bakuchiol tells your cells to make collagen, "plumping" your skin and reducing the look of lines and wrinkles.
  • Doesn't cause dryness or irritation: While retinol and other skincare ingredients may dry out skin or cause irritation, bakuchiol is more gentle and isn't known to cause any irritation.
  • Speeds up skin cell regeneration: Bakuchiol sends signals to your cells that it's time to amp up collagen production and cell turnover.
  • Safe to use twice a day: Since bakuchiol isn't as drying or irritating as retinol, you can use it both during your morning and nighttime skincare routines.
  • Suitable for all skin types: Being gentle on skin, most anyone can use bakuchiol.
  • Helps soothe and heal skin: By promoting cell turnover and healthy cell regeneration, bakuchiol helps soothe and heal your skin from the inside out.

Side Effects of Bakuchiol

Thomas says that there are currently "no known studies that reflect any unwanted or negative side effects." While Nazarian concurs, she adds that it's still a relatively new product. "Because it is not retinol, it has the potential to be safe in pregnancy and breastfeeding," she says. It's always better to be safe than sorry, so she recommends waiting for more studies to come out to ensure bakuchiol's safe to use while pregnant or breastfeeding.

How to Use It

As of now, the only way to use bakuchiol is to apply it topically as a serum or lotion. Similar to retinol, you can apply bakuchiol before your regular moisturizers or serums. Since it's less harsh than retinol, you can also use it in the morning and at night for maximum effectiveness. Even though it doesn't make your skin more sensitive to the sun, always remember to apply sunscreen afterward if you use bakuchiol in the morning.

What makes it even better? Bakuchiol isn't known to negatively interact with other skincare ingredients. "There are instances where you should avoid specific products when using a retinoid, such as exfoliators, toners, and benzoyl peroxide as they can cause irritation," Chwalek says. "However, due to bakuchiol’s natural composition, it’s safe to use with other products in your skincare regimen."

The Best Products With Bakuchiol

Omorovicza Miracle Facial Oil
Omorovicza Miracle Facial Oil $120
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Enriched with a blend of botanical ingredients, including rosehip and sweet almond oils, Omorovicza’s Miracle Facial Oil has been a firm favorite of ours for a while now. Added bakuchiol works to repair the skin, target wrinkles and encourages natural collagen production. It’s seriously hydrating and leaves the skin soft and supple. This is perfect for people who hate that greasy feel.

Oskia Super 16 Serum
Oskia Super 16 Serum $136
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A powerful super serum that targets the appearance of wrinkles, dark spots and fine lines, Oskia’s Super 16 Serum blends (you guessed it) 16 super nutrients, including bakuchiol. The lightweight serum improves elasticity while repairing and soothing sun-damaged and irritated skin. Expect a plumper, clearer, more radiant-looking complexion.

Herbivore Bakuchiol
Herbivore Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Serum $54
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This vitamin-rich oil works to refine skin texture with polyhydroxy acids (which exfoliate) and tremella mushroom (to hydrate the skin). Blueberry stem cells offer antioxidants to protect skin from environmental damage and ward off visible signs of premature aging.

Bioderma Sébium Global Cover Cleanser
Bioderma Sébium Global Cover Cleanser $22
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Designed for oily and acne-prone complexions, this clever cleanser uses bakuchiol to retrain the skin in order for it to regulate the quality of its fatty acids. It tricks the skin into producing less sebum, thus preventing pimples and blackheads over time.

Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum
Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum $72
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"I like the product by Biossance, Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum. It’s lightweight, non-irritating, and at a manageable price point," Nazarian says. Don't let the name trick you though—there isn't any retinol in this product. Bakuchiol acts as the main ingredient, fighting the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Hyaluronic acid and squalane team up to lock in major moisture, nourishing your skin.

Ole Henriksen Goodnight Glow
Ole Henriksen Goodnight Glow Retin-ALT Sleeping Creme $55
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But that’s not all. Heading to a Sephora any time soon? You’ll find that bakuchiol is the hero product of Ole Henriksen’s new Transform Plus Retin-ALT duo. Chwalek recommends this product herself. The rich cream formula is hydrating and amazing for wearing overnight. There's nothing quite like waking up with fresh and moisturized skin.

BYBI Beauty Bakuchiol Booster
BYBI Beauty 1% Bakuchiol in Olive Squalane Booster $17
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If you're just looking to try bakuchiol at the moment, this booster may be your solution. This serum combines bakuchiol with squalane for some serious hydration. All it takes is adding a couple of drops of this added to your nighttime moisturizer, serum, or gel to get the full effect. Plus, we can't complain about the price point.

Next up, the nighttime skin routines of the world's most beautiful women.

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