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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 a 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.
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?
“Bakuchiol is still a relatively new ingredient on the market,” says Mark Curry, co-founder of Be for Beauty and The Inkey List. “It’s one of the only few retinol-like products to be backed up by clinical trials on effectively speeding up skin cell regeneration.”
According to Dr. Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC, 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.
Dr. Jennifer Chwalek of Union Square Laser Dermatology 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. Nazarian backs this up, saying, "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." But, 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.
- 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.
- Helps skin become less sensitive to the sun: Unlike retinol, bakuchiol helps skin become less sensitive to the sun. That doesn't mean you can forgo SPF, though!
- 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
While Nazarian says there aren't really any negative side effects to bakuchiol, 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.
"It’s still a deeply penetrating leave-on product. The Inkey List exists to make incredible ingredients easy to understand and simple to use. While bakuchiol is an ingredient that’s certainly on our radar, we want to be sure on the pregnancy suitability angle first,” Curry adds.
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
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.
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 plumper, clearer, more radiant-looking complexion.
Perfect for everyday use, this vitamin-rich oil protects the skin from harmful environmental aggressors, pollutants, dehydration, and stress. It uses bakuchiol to help repair and revive the skin. Purifying coleus root extract and clarifying rosemary leaf extract work to improve skin texture and blemishes.
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.
"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.
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.