POSTED: 24 Oct 2023

What Is Bakuchiol, Is It Really The Natural Alternative to Retinol?

In recent years, the beauty and skincare industry has been buzzing with a new star ingredient – Bakuchiol. It is often referred to as a ‘natural alternative to Retinol’. The main selling point for around Bakuchiol is that it offers many of the same benefits as retinol but without some of the typical side effects. However, as with any new skincare product, we’re keen to separate the fact from myth. In this article. we explore what it is, side effects, compare Bakuchiol vs Retinol and other retinoids as well as how to use it in your skincare routine.

What is Bakuchiol?

Bakuchiol (pronounced buh-koo-chee-all) is derived from the seeds and leaves of the babchi plant (Psoralea corylifolia). It has been a staple in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries for its healing properties, especially in treating skin conditions like vitiligo and even leprosy. More recently, there has gained attention for its potent anti-ageing benefits.

The journey of Bakuchiol from traditional medicine to modern skincare began when scientists started to investigate the potential benefits of Bakuchiol in a dermatology as a whole. By the late 20th century, some studies began to show Bakuchiol’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. In the 21st century, as the demand for natural, vegan, and clean beauty products surged, Bakuchiol began to have a moment. Its ability to offer similar anti-ageing benefits without the common side effects of retinol moved it into the limelight. Several studies showcased Bakuchiol’s retinol-like effects in reducing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and improving skin elasticity. This helped market it as a natural contender to retinol. Recently, social media has really sped up interest and as a result more and more skincare brands began adding it into their product lines. Today, you can easily find Bakuchiol in serums, creams, lotions and even oils.

The Science Behind Bakuchiol

Several research studies support the claims about Bakuchiol’s benefits. Multiple studies including one published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that Bakuchiol and retinol both significantly decreased wrinkle surface area and hyperpigmentation. However, the Bakuchiol group reported fewer instances of skin shedding and stinging. Another proven advantage of Bakuchiol is its stability in both UV light and oxygen. This makes it a robust ingredient in skincare products. It also has shown anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. These can help soothe the skin and protect against environmental damage.

How Long Does it Take to See Results?

The time it takes to see visible results from Bakuchiol can vary based on individual skin types, the concentration of Bakuchiol in the product and the specific concerns being treated. However, in general, many users start to see initial improvements in skin texture, radiance and a reduction in fine lines within 4 to 6 weeks of regular use. More pronounced results, such as significant improvement in wrinkles, firmness and pigmentation will take longer. This is often around 8 to 12 weeks at the earliest. However, you really do need to maintain regular application and pair Bakuchiol with a complete skincare routine for optimal results. As with many skincare products, patience is the key to getting good results.

Who Can Use Bakuchiol?

One of the standout benefits of Bakuchiol is its suitability to various skin types. Whether you have dry, oily, combination, or normal skin, Bakuchiol can generally be added into your routine. In addition, it is great for people who find traditional retinoids too harsh for their sensitive skin. Bakuchiol is a gentler alternative and it’s non-irritating nature means fewer instances of redness, peeling, or dryness. Bakuchiol is also considered a safer alternative to retinoids for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

That being said, as with anything, each person’s experience can vary. So, it’s important to listen to your skin’s needs and seek professional advice if unsure or have pre-existing skin problems. You should also consult with a doctor if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have any health problems or are on any medication.

Who Should Avoid It?

Bakuchiol is a versatile skincare ingredient that is suitable for most people. However, there are situations where you need to be cautious or completely avoid using it. These include:

  • Allergy or Sensitivity: As with any new skincare product, there’s a chance of an allergic reaction or sensitivity. Before using, do a patch test on a small area of skin first . If there’s any sign of allergy, please stop using the product and seek medical help.
  • Concurrent Use with Strong Actives: If you’re already using strong actives in your routine, like high strength acids, introduce Bakuchiol with some caution. This might require an adjustment period or rotation schedule to prevent skin irritation.
  • Pre-existing Skin Conditions: People with certain skin conditions like eczema should consult with a dermatologist before adding Bakuchiol or any new ingredient into their routine.

Downsides & Side Effects of Bakuchiol

Bakuchiol is widely promoted as having retinol-like benefits without the typical side effects related to retinoids. However, no skincare ingredient is entirely without potential downsides or side effects. Here’s what to consider carefully before starting Bakuchiol:

  • Less Research: Although the studies on Bakuchiol so far are promising, retinoids have decades of research and use that backing their efficacy and safety. Additionally, Bakuchiol’s long-term effects and benefits are not as well known compared vs Retinol or Tretinoin.
  • Potency: Whilst Bakuchiol can deliver similar benefits to retinol, it might not be as potent or act as rapidly. This could mean that results might take longer compared to retinol.
  • Skin Reactions: Although Bakuchiol is generally considered gentler than retinol, it’s still possible for individuals to experience irritation, redness or allergies. Always conduct a patch test before you introduce a new product to your routine.
  • Cost: Due to the extraction process from the Psoralea corylifolia plant, Bakuchiol containing products can sometimes be more expensive than traditional retinoids.
  • Combinations & Interactions: Not much is known about how Bakuchiol plays with other potent skincare products. While it’s less likely to cause irritation when combined with other products compared to retinol, it’s still a relatively new ingredient, and caution should be taken.
  • Purity and Concentration Variations: As with many trendy skincare ingredients, the market can become flooded with products that contain varying strengths and purities of Bakuchiol. Not all products may deliver the same level of results.

Bakuchiol vs Retinol

Retinol and retinoids have long been the gold standard in anti-ageing skincare. Retinoids boost collagen production, smooth out fine lines and improve skin texture. So, how does Bakuchiol really stack up vs Retinol?

Skin Benefits

Both Retinol and Bakuchiol boast impressive skin benefits. Studies on Bakuchiol vs Retinol show that they help in:

  • Reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Improving skin elasticity and firmness
  • Evening out skin tone and reducing the visibility of age spots

Mechanism of Action

Bakuchiol’s exact mechanism of action is still under investigation, but early research suggests it might work through a number of ways. Firstly, its thought to affect gene expression in a similar way to retinol. Bakuchiol is thought to influence key anti-ageing genes and proteins, including stimulating collagen production. Bakuchiol also possesses antioxidant properties like Vitamin C which helps to neutralise harmful free radicals in the skin. Lastly, Bakuchiol has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects. This is what makes it beneficial in calming the skin and reducing redness.

Retinol on the other hand, has been a cornerstone in dermatology for many decades due to its proven anti-ageing, hyperpigmentation fading and acne fighting effects. It is a form of vitamin A and its mechanism of action is more thoroughly understood. Firstly, Retinol increases the rate of skin cell turnover. This helps to unclog pores, reduce fine lines and improve skin texture. It also boosts the production of collagen and inhibits the enzymes responsible for collagen breakdown. This leads to firmer and more youthful skin. Additionally, Retinol minimises the impact of UV damage which causes photoageing. It does so by strengthening the skin’s dermal layer and neutralising free radicals. Finally, Retinol normalises the behaviour of follicular epithelial cells, preventing them from sticking together and clogging pores. This is why it is effective in acne treatment.

Safety & Side Effects

While retinol is effective, it’s also known for causing skin irritation and purging. This usually occurs when you first introduce it into a routine and especially if you start with too high a frequency or strength. Redness, peeling and dryness are common side effects. Bakuchiol, on the other hand, delivers similar benefits but tends to be gentler on the skin. This makes it a preferable option for those with sensitive skin or those who find retinol too harsh.

Bakuchiol also tends to be more stable than Retinol, which can break down and lose potency when exposed to sunlight and air. This makes Bakuchiol-containing products potentially longer-lasting over time.

In summary, whilst both Bakuchiol and Retinol offer benefits like increased collagen production and improved skin cell turnover, they achieve these outcomes through slightly different cellular pathways. Bakuchiol can be a gentler alternative to Retinol, making it appealing for those with sensitive skin or those seeking a natural skincare ingredient. However, Retinol remains a gold-standard in skincare as it treats a range of conditions including skin ageing, acne, scars and texture as well as hyperpigmentation. It is has extensive research and a longer track record to back it.

Bakuchiol vs. Tretinoin

Tretinoin is a retinoid and like Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A. It has decades of use in dermatology due to its potent anti-ageing and acne-fighting abilities. Tretinoin is a prescription-only medicine and at its highest concentration is up to 20X stronger than over the counter Retinol. In addition its long-term safety and efficacy are well studied. Whilst there are many studies that compare Bakuchiol vs Retinol, there aren’t any significant studies that compare it with Tretinoin. This is because Tretinoin is clearly stronger than Retinol and Bakuchiol. It also has a wider range of uses. However, it is can have potential side effects such as skin irritation, dryness and photosensitivity.

How to Use Bakuchiol in Your Skincare Routine

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to options for Bakuchiol skincare. The most common ways to use Bakuchiol are either as a serum or moisturiser. Opt for Bakuchiol serums if you already have a moisturiser you love or want some flexibility in how you add it in your skincare routine. On the other hand, Bakuchiol moisturisers are a great option if you have dry skin or want a simpler skincare routine. Below are a few simple tips for how to introduce Bakuchiol into your skincare routine:

  • Always conduct a patch test to check for any adverse reactions or allergies.
  • Start low and slow. Begin with a low strength and use Bakuchiol products every other day to see how your skin responds. Over time, you can increase the frequency and then strength as your skin tolerates.
  • If you’re using multiple products, remember to layer from the thinnest to the thickest consistency.
  • Avoid using at the same time as Benzoyl peroxide, Retinoids, Vitamin C or AHA/BHA acids at least initially. The same is true for at home devices like LED face masks. This is to avoid irritating your skin.
  • Whilst Bakuchiol doesn’t make the skin as sensitive to the sun as retinol does, you should always use sunscreen during the day to protect your skin from sun damage and photoageing.

Can You Use Bakuchiol and Retinoids Together?

If you’re not ready to part with retinol or Tretinoin entirely but also want to try Bakuchiol, you’re in luck! There’s no need to choose between Bakuchiol vs Retinol. You can safely use retinoids and Bakuchiol together as they have different mechanisms of action. As such they can enhance each other’s anti-ageing benefits. However, be sure to introduce this gently into your skincare routine to avoid irritation. Also avoid using them at the same time as the day. If you are using Tretinoin or any other prescription skincare products or have any skin conditions, always consult with a dermatologist or doctor before you make any changes to your routine.

Bakuchiol is an exciting skincare ingredient that offers many anti-ageing benefits. It is also suitable for a wide range of skin types including sensitive ones. Whilst further research is needed, the current findings make a strong case for considering Bakuchiol as part of a comprehensive anti-ageing skincare routine. It can either act as an alternative to Retinol or you can use it alongside retinoids to amplify their benefits. As always, understanding your skin and its needs is key. Remember that the most effective skincare routine is one that you tailor to your needs. As always, your skin type, concerns and goals should guide your skincare routine.

At City Skin clinic, we are passionate about personalised skincare. Through our virtual skin clinic, our doctors offer safe and effective treatments like Tretinoin and Hydroquinone. We treat skin conditions like acnehyperpigmentationmelasma and skin ageing. To get start your personalised skincare protocol, book a virtual video consultation or use our online consultation form. The journey towards great skin starts here.


Authored by:

Dr Amel Ibrahim
Aesthetic Doctor & Medical Director
Founder City Skin Clinic
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Associate Member of British Association of Body Sculpting GMC Registered - 7049611

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