Bakuchiol: Nature’s Retinol Alternative

Posted by Lolly Heaney on

Plant-derived, non-irritating and pregnancy friendly. But does Bakuchiol really measure up to Retinol?

Retinol has long been touted the number one skincare ingredient recommended by experts for its ability to treat wrinkles, pigmentation and breakouts. Despite being an undeniably effective ingredient, it often causes skin to become dry, red and irritated, especially during the first month of use. For many retinol users, these side-effects can present as stinging and peeling, particularly when used at higher concentrations. Another significant caveat: retinol therapy is not recommended during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. 

Given that retinol is harsh, causes irritation and cannot be used by all, many people are now turning to a new, natural alternative: bakuchiol, which is said to offer the same powerful benefits, but without the frustrating side-effects.

What is Bakuchiol?

Bakuchiol comes from the leaves and seeds of the Psoralea Corylifolia plant, otherwise known as the Babchi plant, which is native to India and Sri Lanka. 

Bakuchiol has long been used in both traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, largely because the plant itself carries antimicrobial, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. It has typically been used in Ayurvedic medicine as a skin healing agent, to help treat skin conditions such as psoriasis. 

In recent years, Bakuchiol has caught the attention of dermatologists and skin experts, specifically for its anti-ageing potential. Looking at this ingredient through a more clinical, scientific lens, research has demonstrated the ingredient to be a powerful antioxidant, and has also confirmed the historical claims around its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. 

Bakuchiol's key biological mechanisms according to recent studies:


  • Promotes collagen formation: This study discovered it has collagen-regulating and gene-modifying benefits that are similar to retinol. 
  • Prevents oxidation: It also prevents the oxidative degradation of lipids (the natural fats in our skin), according to this study.
  • Reduces inflammation: This study determined that it has anti-inflammatory properties. 
  • Fights bacteria: This study found it decreased acne bacteria in a complex with Gingko biloba and mannitol. The same study also found it to have significant anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties (twice that of Vitamin E).
So how does it compare to retinol as an anti-ageing ingredient?

Early studies suggest that bakuchiol is a functional analogue of topical Vitamin A products such as retinol. For example, this study produced findings which demonstrate that bakuchiol functions as an anti-ageing compound through retinol-like regulation of gene expression. Within these similarities, Bakuchiol, like retinol, was shown to up-regulate various types of collagen. 

More recent in vivo studies have found that not only does bakuchiol behave like retinol in stimulating collagen production, but that topical application can result in ‘significant improvement’ in wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. 

For example, this 2018 study compared the efficacy of retinol and bakuchiol, while also measuring their side-effects. Below is an excerpt from the study’s abstract, describing its method as well as the impressive results.  


Method: This was a randomised, double-blind, 12-week study in which 44 patients were asked to apply either bakuchiol 0·5% cream twice daily or retinol 0·5% cream daily. A facial photograph and analytical system was used to obtain and analyse high-resolution photographs of patients at 0, 4, 8 and 12 weeks. Patients also completed tolerability assessment questions to review side-effects. During study visits, a board-certified dermatologist, blinded to study group assignments, graded pigmentation and redness.
Results: Bakuchiol and retinol both significantly decreased wrinkle surface area and hyperpigmentation, with no statistical difference between the compounds. The retinol users reported more facial skin scaling and stinging.
Conclusion: This study demonstrates that bakuchiol is comparable with retinol in its ability to improve photoageing and is better tolerated than retinol. Bakuchiol is promising as a more tolerable alternative to retinol. 


Importantly, research across various studies suggests that it is better tolerated than retinol, making it a more suitable option for sensitive skin types. However, even when an ingredient is natural and typically non-sensitising, this does not mean the individual cannot have an adverse response such as an allergic reaction. That's why we always suggest patch testing any ingredients that are new to your skincare routine before fully implementing them.


Does Bakuchiol work for acne too?

Yes! Bakuchiol is highly effective in treating and preventing breakouts, with both clinical and anecdotal evidence to support this. 

Based on recent findings, clinical research suggests that bakuchiol combats acne from several angles, by way of acting against four of the major pathophysiological components that trigger acne. Most focally, it has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, so it kills acne bacteria while alleviating swelling. Furthermore, it inhibits the oxidation of sebum, which is thought to be a major contributor in the formation of acne.

This study yielded very impressive results in support of bakuchiol’s effectiveness as an acne treatment. The study involved a total of 60 participants, following their skin progression across a six week duration. Applied twice daily, a 1% concentration of bakuchiol reduced acne by 57% after just six weeks. 

The same study also compared bakuchiol to salicylic acid (2%), which reduced acne by 48%. The best improvement however, resulted from the participants who used a combined therapy of the two ingredients, which led to a whopping 67% reduction in acne.


The Takeaway: 

In summary, while Bakuchiol is still a fairly new ingredient to the mainstream skincare market, it has already been the focus of some impressive supporting studies. We believe that bakuchiol will continue to prove its capabilities through further clinical evidence as more research is conducted. We will continue to keep our readers updated with any newly released data. 

Aside from it being highly effective and gentle on the skin, here are some additional reasons to try bakuchiol as a retinol substitute (or to try it in general):

  • It is stable in sunlight and isn’t known to make skin more sun-sensitive, meaning that it can be used both at night and in the morning. 
  • It can be used during pregnancy and while breastfeeding (always consult with your doctor first).
  • It does not cause scaling and flaking of the skin. 
  • It can be used overtime, without losing its effectiveness (retinol therapy is not as sustainable and often requires negotiating “on/off” periods of use).

If you are looking for preventative skincare that has the power of retinol, without the irritation, then we highly recommend our Revive Serum, which contains a safe and effective concentration of 1% Bakuchiol to combat both acne and ageing. It is safe for everyday use and is combined with a powerhouse of additional ingredients to fortify its skin improving qualities.  

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