Bakuchiol: The Anti-aging Skin Alternative That Might Usurp Retinol


If there is one ingredient that unites dermatologists, beauty editors and consumers as a magic bullet for fine lines?

It’s retinol. The vitamin A derivative, which stimulates cell turnover and prevents the breakdown of collagen to keep your face fresher and with a youthful glow, set the skincare sphere on fire over the past year or so – with brands from Dr Dennis Gross (WH loves his Ferulic + Retinol Eye Serum for dealing with under-eye lines) to Asda (with their nspa retinol capsules) getting involved.

But. There are noted concerns around it’s use. Namely, that the potency of this fizzy active ingredient can result in irritation, flakiness and redness in some skins – particularly if yours is on the sensitive side. (More on how to bring retinol into your routine, here.) Which is why there’s a spike of interest around bakuchiol.

What is Bakuchiol?

Pronounced ‘bah-koo-heel,’ this is a plant-based skincare solution that’s said to stand up to retinol in the efficacy stakes. Derived from the Indian babchi plant, which is used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine, it’s said to work on your fine lines, brighten, reduce the appearance of pores and to strengthen collagen – just like retinol.

It’s sun-safe (retinol breaks down under UV rays and should not be worn in the day time) and, unlike the OG skin saviour, is said to be safe when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

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Bakuchiol: what do the experts think?

‘Bakuchiol is currently causing much interest in the beauty and skincare industry. It’s the new kid on the block being compared to retinol for its anti-ageing properties,’ says Dr Anjali Mahto, a consultant dermatologist and author of The Skincare Bible (Penguin, £14.99).

The science look promising. A 2018 study from the British Association of Dermatologists found that: ‘Bakuchiol and retinol both significantly decreased wrinkle surface area and hyperpigmentation, with no statistical difference between the compounds,’ noting that: ‘The retinol users reported more facial skin scaling and stinging.’

Their conclusion? That ‘bakuchiol is comparable with retinol in its ability to improve photoageing and is better tolerated than retinol… [it] is promising as a more tolerable alternative to retinol.’ As hardworking as the big ‘R’ with zero potential issues? I was intrigued.

So, I replaced my usual 0.5% retinol – of which I used a pea-sized amount three times a week at night, after cleansing – with Indeed Lab’s bakuchiol reface pads. These can be used AM and PM, though I just used them nightly, through laziness, more than design.

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As well as lending an instant fresh ‘n dewy vibe, they still pep skin up with a slight tingle, which I quite enjoy. Whilst seven days isn’t long enough for a hard comparison, I can see why they’re being held up as a potential usurper to the glow-y complexion crown – particularly for the sensitive-skinned out there.

One gripe: my retinol comes in a recyclable glass bottle, and chucking a single use pad away every day felt pretty icky.

‘Whilst the scientific data looks promising as an alternative to retinol, we need a greater number of larger-scale clinical trials to see if this initial excitement is genuinely warranted,’ says Dr Mahto.

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‘Bakuchiol is believed to be a possible retinol alternative, and there have been a few studies investigating this substance in recent years,’ says aesthetic doctor Dr David Jack. ‘These early studies have showed that it may have similar activity, but perhaps be better tolerated by the skin in photo ageing.

(This is the premature ageing of the skin as a result of UV radiation. As mentioned earlier, retinol and the sun are not friends and rays undermine the solution. Basically, because retinol pokes your skin into increased cell turnover, it views that as its primary job and fighting UVs as a secondary task. Thus, retinol can allow rays to damage your skin, if worn in the day time. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.)

However, he’s on the same page as Dr Mahto when it comes to getting too hyped. ‘Larger scale studies will be needed to add substance to these claims, as most of the studies so far have been fairly small.’

‘The good thing about bakuchiol is that it seems to cause less scaling [peeling] than retinol, however, bakuchiol appears to cause more redness over time. So, it isn’t necessarily a ‘golden bullet’.

His prediction? Given the robust body of evidence demonstrating how well retinol and its derivatives work – and that a phased introduction of retinols into skincare regimes can circumnavigate the whole redness and irritation thing, ‘it’s unlikely that this ingredient will replace retinol as the ingredient of choice any time soon in products designed to tackle oily skin conditions.’

Bakuchiol: the verdict

Skin that freaks out at even the phrase ‘active ingredient?’ Then this could be a way to test the waters, before graduating onto a low percentage retinol. Similarly, if you just crave a more plant-based beauty routine, then this could be one for you.

But in terms of a full-scale disruption of the anti-ageing market, I don’t think that retinol should be quivering on her throne.

Quite yet.


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