Medically reviewed by Aimee Paik, MD
Written by Annie Lam
Last updated 9/4/2021
Bakuchiol is an up-and-coming ingredient that has been hailed as a natural alternative to retinol. Many brands claim that bakuchiol can treat fine lines and wrinkles, firmness, and other signs of aging without the potential irritation that some may get from retinoids. It sounds like an amazing ingredient, but does it live up to the hype? Let’s talk about bakuchiol and if it can actually replace your retinol or retinoid.
Bakuchiol is an ingredient that is derived from the psoralea corylifolia plant. It is naturally anti-inflammatory and also acts as an antioxidant to protect the skin from environmental aggressors. It’s quickly become a popular ingredient in the industry as an alternative to retinol. Some say that it can help treat signs of aging without any of the potential side effects of retinoids (peeling, dryness, irritation).
Based on a few studies, the results seem promising! In one study, after 12 weeks of twice daily use, patients noticed “significant improvement in lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, firmness” without any of the side effects associated with retinoids. Another study was conducted directly comparing bakuchiol and retinol. It showed that bakuchiol and retinol both treated wrinkles and hyperpigmentation with no statistical difference.
While these results sound amazing, there are limitations to these studies. It’s important to note that in both of these studies, bakuchiol is used twice a day vs. using retinol once a day. There are also very limited studies about bakuchiol, so it’s hard to have conclusive evidence on its effectiveness.
Before diving into bakuchiol vs. retinol, it’s important to understand what retinol is and how it compares to retinoids like tretinoin. Retinol is a weaker retinoid derivative that is available in many over-the-counter products. Retinol needs to be converted to retinoic acid by the body before it is active in your skin.
While some studies have shown that bakuchiol may have similar anti-aging benefits to retinol, they are structurally very different. Bakuchiol does not act via retinoic acid receptors, so it does not work the same way that retinol does. However, bakuchiol does tend to be gentler than retinol and is more stable. There have also been studies that bakuchiol can actually help stabilize retinol, so some brands have started formulating products with both ingredients.
Retinoids like tretinoin have been used for decades to treat acne, signs of aging, and hyperpigmentation. They are incredibly well-researched and clinically proven to treat these concerns. On the other hand, there are very limited studies on bakuchiol, so it’s hard to compare these two ingredients. Additionally, retinoids are often prescribed by dermatologists to treat moderate to severe acne. There is currently no conclusive evidence that bakuchiol can effectively treat acne and breakouts.
While bakuchiol may seem like a promising alternative to retinoids, there isn’t enough evidence to show its efficacy. We don’t consider bakuchiol a true alternative to retinoids due to the limited studies. Retinoids are still our dermatologists’ top recommendation for treating signs of aging, hyperpigmentation, and acne.
However, bakuchiol could be a good pregnancy-safe treatment! Retinoids aren’t recommended for use during pregnancy, so bakuchiol could be used to help with preventative signs of aging. If you’re experiencing acne during pregnancy, bakuchiol may not be the best option since it hasn’t been shown to treat acne. If you’re curious about trying bakuchiol, it’s definitely an interesting ingredient, but it won’t replace your retinoid. Retinoids like tretinoin are considered the gold-standard for a reason!
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