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 Rachel Nazarian of New York's Schweiger Dermatology Group, Jennifer Chwalek of Union Square Laser Dermatology, and cosmetic chemist and founder of Freelance Formulations, Vanessa Thomas, about the benefits and side effects of the powerful ingredient.
Meet the Expert
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.
In a 2019 study, no difference was found between retinol and bakuchiol in treating wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. 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," Chwalek 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 may actually help to make skin less sensitive to the sun’s harmful rays.
According to the previously mentioned study in The British Journal of Dermatology, after 12 weeks, individuals treated with bakuchiol saw major improvements in wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, and photodamage overall. Thomas 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 likely won'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
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 is meant to repair the skin, target wrinkles and encourage natural collagen production. It’s seriously hydrating and leaves the skin soft and supple. This is perfect for people who hate that greasy feel.
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 promises to improve elasticity while repairing and soothing sun-damaged and irritated skin. Expect a plumper, clearer, more radiant-looking complexion.
This vitamin-rich oil works to refine skin texture with polyhydroxy acids (which exfoliate) and tremella mushroom (which hydrates the skin). Blueberry stem cells are meant to offer antioxidants to protect skin from environmental damage and ward off visible signs of premature aging.
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's meant to trick the skin into producing less sebum, thus preventing pimples and blackheads over time.
"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, promising to fight the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Hyaluronic acid and squalane team up to lock in major moisture, nourishing your skin.
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.
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.
Lim HS, Kim YJ, Kim BY, Jeong SJ. Bakuchiol suppresses inflammatory responses via the downregulation of the p38 MAPK/ERK signaling pathway. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(14):3574. doi:10.3390/ijms20143574
Dhaliwal S, Rybak I, Ellis SR, et al. Prospective, randomized, double-blind assessment of topical bakuchiol and retinol for facial photoageing. Br J Dermatol. 2019;180(2):289-296. doi:10.1111/bjd.16918
Chaudhuri RK, Bojanowski K. Bakuchiol: a retinol-like functional compound revealed by gene expression profiling and clinically proven to have anti-aging effects. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2014;36(3):221-230. doi:10.1111/ics.12117
Lourith N, Pungprom S, Kanlayavattanakul M. Formulation and efficacy evaluation of the safe and efficient moisturizing snow mushroom hand sanitizer. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2021;20(2):554-560. doi:10.1111/jocd.13543