We know retinol is the gold-standard ingredient in the anti-aging arena, but for some, it’s too harsh on their skin, leaving it red, irritated and flaky—it’s also on the no-no list of ingredients you can’t use during pregnancy. So it comes as no surprise that retinol “alternatives” offering similar benefits without harsh side effects have snagged the attention of skin-care gurus lately. One in particular, bakuchiol, shows great results in early studies and has rose to fame in the last couple years. Here’s what to know about the buzzy ingredient.
What Is Is
A plant-derived antioxidant stemming from traditional Chinese medicine, bakuchiol is a gentler, vegan alternative to vitamin A–derived retinol. “Bakuchiol is a terpene with an alcohol group, which is naturally found in the ‘bakuchi’ flower,” says cosmetic chemist Dr. Marta Pazos. “Bakuchi is the Sanskrit name of the plant that produces this compound. Terpenes are known for having pleasant and delicious smells, and are usually secreted by plants for their defense against germs or to attract insects that will allow pollination (and in turn reproduction). To my knowledge it has not yet been found naturally in other sources, and so far, it has not been synthesized in a lab setting.”
Victoria Lu, cosmetic chemist and cofounder of Chemist Confessions, says bakuchiol is being included in more products as a result of research demonstrating its “retinol-like effects” on skin. “The molecules aren’t structurally related, but have been found to target similar pathways in the skin,” she explains. “One study compared 0.5 percent bakuchiol to 0.5 percent retinol, and the plant alternative performed very similarly in terms of wrinkle and hyperpigmentation reduction and smoothing skin texture. This type of research opens the door to further study so we can better understand the ingredient.”
“Bakuchiol is purported to have anti-inflammatory, and potentially, antibacterial properties,” says Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew Elias. “It also works by increasing cell turnover and stimulating collagen production, similarly to how retinoids work to diminish fine lines, wrinkles and sun damage.”
Dallas dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD says bakuchiol is also an antioxidant that’s been proven to help with signs of oxidative stress, which can lead to wrinkles and even skin cancers.
Who Its Best For
Perhaps the biggest reason why bakuchiol has received so much hype is because of demand for the effects of retinol without the side effects. New York dermatologist Shari Marchbein, MD says retinoids are often drying and irritating to the skin, “especially when people first use them. It often takes four to six weeks to acclimate to the side effects—using tons of moisturizer is important—and this often prevents those with sensitive skin from using them.” Bakuchiol can be a great alternative for those with sensitive skin. Dr. Houshmand adds, “It’s great for those with more sensitive skin that experience too much irritation with a traditional retinol, and is also great for those with acne because it is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory.”
There’s also the pregnancy equation: As Dr. Marchbein notes, “Backuchiol gives some hope to the many women who are rightfully frustrated that they can’t use retinoids while pregnant.”
How to Incorporate It Into a Skin-Care Routine
“Bakuchiol is insoluble in water, but soluble in many alcohols and oils,” says Dr. Pazos, who adds that a 1-percent concentration of the ingredient is optimum. “Therefore, it’s best when formulated in oil-based toners and serums that pack these several alcohols and dispersing agents, which not only reconcile ingredients in a homogeneous blend, but can also help the penetration of the active. It is important to deliver bakuchiol to the inner layers of the skin so it can properly act to protect and restore collagen, responsible for skin’s elasticity and youth. Bakuchiol is also best when in presence of vitamin E or BHT, which will allow for the bakuchiol to be preserved as-is, so it won’t lose its properties as a powerful anti-aging, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredient. I recommend applying it after cleansing in a serum or oil-based toner, and top with a moisturizer that contains vitamin E to preserve its efficacy.”
Dr. Houshmand recommends incorporating it just like a retinol you’d use at night, and if your skin is really sensitive or you’re a beginner using the ingredient for the first time, you can do the sandwich technique (commonly used with retinol) and apply a moisturizer first, then bakuchiol, and then another layer of moisturizer. “And of course wear sunscreen daily,” she adds.
“Personally, I am in love with BYBI Clean Beauty Bakuchiol Booster Every Day Vegan Facial Oil Treatment,” says Dr. Pazos. “It’s simple—two ingredients—and effective. I make a variation of this incorporating triglycerides to help with skin penetration and vitamin E to preserve the efficacy of the bakuchiol. I am also very happy with CocoKind’s Resurfacing Sleep Mask. Even though it’s labeled as a sleep mask, it can really be treated as a ‘heavy serum.’ However, if you want a product that packs an extra punch, look into Paula’s Choice 0.3% Retinol + 2% Bakuchiol Treatment. I really like Paula’s Choice brand. It is intelligently crafted, and the formulas tend to make sense chemically—trust me, this is not the case many times. However, it can be a bit of an irritant, so it must be applied with caution.”
Two other bakuchiol-infused products experts (and editors!) love are ISDIN Melatonik and OleHenriksen Transform PLUS Goodnight Glow Retin-ALT Sleeping Crème.