If you are interested in protecting your skin from the signs of aging, you most surely have heard of retinol, a Vitamin A derivative that supports collagen production and increases skin cell turnover, thus reducing fine lines and wrinkles. But it doesn’t stop there. It also reduces hyperpigmentation and dark spots and can even treat acne. But, of course, there’s a catch. It can cause redness, irritation, dryness and even flaking and peeling of the skin.
Those with sensitive skin who have tried retinol can understand the frustration of finding a product that will help with the signs of anti-aging but not being able to withstand the side effects. I am one of those people with sensitive skin. So when I heard about bakuchiol, a plant-based compound that rivals the results obtained from retinol, I had to learn more.
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What Is Bakuchiol?
Bakuchiol is an antioxidant compound from the psoralea corylifolia plant, also called babchi. Babchi originates from India and has traditionally been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. Bakuchiol is extracted from babchi seeds. It retains the plant’s soft lavender hue, which you will see showcased in many of today’s bakuchiol-based products.
While bakuchiol doesn’t work in the exact same way that retinol does, it has a similar gene expression as retinol. Gene expression controls collagen production. The most exciting conclusion is that bakuchiol produces similar results as retinol without many of the disadvantages of retinol!
On a side note, in case you were wondering, bakuchiol is pronounced either “buh-koo-chee-all” or “back-uh-heel”. I go with the “buh-koo-chee-all” pronunciation. I think it’s easier to say.
Studies on the Effectiveness of Bakuchiol
For those of you who enjoy the technical details, most of the major studies on the effectiveness of bakuchiol in skincare have come in recent years. We’ll take a look at two.
The first bakuchiol study in 2014, published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, confirmed the similar gene expression of bakuchiol and retinol. In addition, a clinical case study tested bakuchiol in a finished skincare product of 0.5% bakuchiol through facial application twice a day. After twelve weeks of treatment, the results were clear. There was a significant improvement in lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, and firmness, plus a reduction in photo-damage. The most exciting part of the study showed that it accomplished all of this without the usual side effects of retinol, such as redness, dryness, peeling and flaking.
In the second bakuchiol study in 2018, published in The British Journal of Dermatology, a twelve-week side-by-side test of bakuchiol and retinol was performed. Participants applied either bakuchiol 0.5% cream twice daily or retinol 0.5% cream daily. Both showed an improvement in wrinkles and hyperpigmentation, but, once again the retinol users experienced more stinging and scaling of their skin. Their conclusion was that bakuchiol is an alternative to retinol for the improvement of photoaging and is better tolerated than retinol.
And there you have it: bakuchiol is a viable retinol alternative. You can read what the studies say, but you may be wondering if it’s right for you. Let’s take a look at the differences between bakuchiol and retinol and then I’ll go into my experience with three bakuchiol products.
Retinol vs Bakuchiol
- Retinol may contain animal by-products, from sources like liver, fish, and eggs, while plant-based bakuchiol is 100% vegan.
- Retinoids such as retinol will make you sun sensitive while bakuchiol will not. Although we all should all be wearing sunscreen every day, it is nice to know that you can use bakuchiol during the day without photosensitivity worries.
- Retinol may come with unwanted side effects, such as irritation, stinging, redness, flaking and peeling, while bakuchiol, generally does not. It is important to note that bakuchiol is extracted from a plant, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t have a reaction. Some people are sensitive to plant extracts. It is important that you patch test bakuchiol before slathering it all over your face to be sure that you are not allergic and that it works with your skin type.
- As more and more bakuchiol products hit the market, you can find it available at a variety of prices to fit all budgets. Since retinol is already established in the market, you can also find retinol available at a variety of price levels.
Keep in mind that bakuchiol was tested against retinol, not stronger prescription-strength retinoids. Bakuchiol most likely cannot compete in effectiveness with prescription retinoids. So if your skin can tolerate stronger prescription retinoids such as tretinoin, you will most certainly see better results with the prescription retinoids.
My Experience with Bakuchiol
I have tried three bakuchiol products over the last few months:
In addition to bakuchiol, Herbivore Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Smoothing Serum contains polyhydroxy acids (PHAs). PHAs are gentler chemical exfoliators than AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) since their molecules are larger. As a result, they cannot penetrate as deeply. They gently exfoliate and hydrate. Tremella mushroom is also included in the formula for added hydration, as it can hold up to 500 times its own weight in water.
This serum has a thin jelly-like texture that sinks in quickly. I experienced no irritation from using this serum at all. I noticed smoother and firming skin upon waking in the morning after using this at night. I’ve used this serum for over a month, sometimes both day and night, and have never had any sensitivity. It’s very comparable to the gentle retinoids that I’ve been loving lately, such as The Inkey List Retinol Serum and The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion.
Related: New Skincare at Sephora
The Inkey List Bakuchiol contains not only bakuchiol to address those pesky fine lines and wrinkles, but also squalane for hydration and sacha inchi oil to nourish the skin with rich omega-3.
The product comes in the form of a thin white cream that disappears quickly once applied to the skin. I am thrilled that it causes no irritation to my skin. I love using this on top of The Inkey List Retinol Serum at night for a double wrinkle-fighting dose of actives.
Burt’s Bees Renewal Intensive Firming Serum is a new 98.6% natural origin product. It is formulated with, you guessed it, bakuchiol! The serum is designed to improve elasticity and firmness and reduce the appearance of deep lines and wrinkles. It also contains sunflower seed oil, glycerin, vitamin E and natural fragrance.
The serum itself is a white liquid that comes in a glass bottle. It is applied with a dropper that has a pump at the top. I think the packaging is rather elegant for a drugstore brand. The serum applied smoothly and felt very moisturizing. I had absolutely no irritation from this serum either. Yay for bakuchiol!
My Favorite Bakuchiol Application Tip
For those of you who can tolerate retinoids, why not multiple the anti-aging benefits of retinol and bakuchiol by layering them together? You might layer other antioxidant serums, so why not these two? Dermatologists agree.
As I mentioned earlier, I love to apply bakuchiol over gentle retinoids. I feel like I am getting extra bang for my buck by using them at the same time and seeing results quicker.
Related: A Guide to Drugstore Retinol
Give It Time
Ultimately, I think the secret to bakuchiol is giving it time. If you recall in the studies I referenced, both tested bakuchiol for twelve weeks. That’s three months. There’s no way around it. It takes time. But if you are diligent in daily or twice daily application, you are bound to see the results.
Final Thoughts on Bakuchiol
I’ve used Herbivore’s product the longest and love the results I am seeing. While Herbivore is the priciest, currently at $54, keep in mind that there are more affordable bakuchiol products. The Inkey List is under $10 and Burt’s Bees is under $20, so there is a bakuchiol product for everyone’s budget. Also, remember that every bakuchiol product is unique. Each contains different supplemental ingredients, so one may work better for your skin than others.
Bakuchiol is quite new in skincare, so I expect that we will be seeing a slew of new products featuring bakuchiol in the coming years. Have you tried bakuchiol? If so, I’d love to hear your experience with it!
Thanks for reading, and until next time…