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Bakuchiol vs. Retinol: Which Is Better for Your Skin?

Bakuchiol vs. Retinol: Which Is Better for Your Skin?

by Antoinette Barnardo 04 Jun 2020

Bakuchiol is the new kid on the beauty block that's garnered much buzz and hype lately.

If you're one of the many who has never taken to retinol, which has a propensity for sensitizing the skin, you may be interested to hear more about its natural alternative, bakuchiol.

Here, we will discuss what bakuchiol is, how it compares with retinol, and how you can incorporate it into your skincare routine.

What Is Bakuchiol?

Bakuchiol is derived from the seeds of the babchi plant, also known as Psoralea corylifolia. As such, bakuchiol is often touted as a vegan, natural skincare ingredient.

Psoralea corylifolia averages 3.3 feet tall, with whitish, hairy stems and branches. The fruits of the babchi plant are green in color and turn black when they mature. Inside each fruit contains 3 to 4 kidney-shaped seeds. The seeds produce an essential oil that contains the bakuchiol compound.

The babchi plant is often found in the tropics and sub-tropics. Traditionally used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, the babchi plant has long been used to treat skin problems such as vitiligo, dermatitis, pigmentation, rashes, and infections.

Bakuchiol vs. Retinol

Bakuchiol is known as the retinol alternative. Read on to find out how bakuchiol is similar and different from the vitamin A derivative.

1. Are Bakuchiol and Retinol the Same Thing?

Structurally, bakuchiol and retinol are not the same. Bakuchiol is a plant-based, natural ingredient with the chemical formula, C18H24O. Conversely, retinol is a vitamin A derivative that's often created synthetically. Some retinol products may also come from animal sources.

In terms of functionality, both skincare ingredients do exhibit similar effects on the skin which we will talk about next.

2. Can Bakuchiol and Retinol Help With Fine Lines and Wrinkles?

Just like retinol, bakuchiol has been found to stimulate collagen gene expression.

According to a 2014 study in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, bakuchiol boosts the production of types I, III, and IV collagen in skin cells. Incidentally, retinol and retinoids also promote the same types of collagen.

Since collagen is one of the key building blocks in healthy skin, increased collagen production means improved skin elasticity and firmness. As such, both bakuchiol and retinol help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

3. Can Bakuchiol and Retinol Treat Hyperpigmentation?

Thanks to its ability to increase cell turnover, retinol is well-known for fading dark spots, brightening your skin tone, and promoting a smoother skin texture. But what about bakuchiol?

The answer can be found in a 2019 study featured in the British Journal of Dermatology. Forty-four participants used either a 0.5% bakuchiol cream or a 0.5% retinol cream daily for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, both creams showed the same effectiveness in evening out hyperpigmentation.

This shows that the babchi extract can also help improve skin clarity.

4. Can Bakuchiol and Retinol Fix Acne?

Over-the-counter retinol and prescription retinoids have long been proven as effective remedies for acne problems. Possessing anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, bakuchiol also shows the same promising potential.

Bakuchiol downregulates 5-α-reductase, an enzyme that triggers excessive oil production in the skin. By normalizing sebum levels, bakuchiol prevents the growth of the acne bacteria Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes). As such, bakuchiol not only treats acne but also helps prevent it from happening.

5. Will Bakuchiol and Retinol Cause Side Effects?

Retinol and retinoids are infamously known for causing side effects such as dryness and peeling. If you're a first-time user of retinol or retinoids, expect irritated skin for the first few weeks as your skin gets used to vitamin A.

On the other hand, bakuchiol is less likely to provoke unwanted side effects. Even if some side effects do happen, these are often less intense compared to that of retinol.

6. Can You Mix Bakuchiol and Retinol With Other Skincare Ingredients?

While retinol is an all-star skincare ingredient, it isn't exactly a team player. Mixing retinol with other skincare actives such as alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and vitamin C is never a good idea. Doing so would only incite skin sensitivity that might be irritating or even damaging.

Conversely, it's safe to pair bakuchiol with other skincare ingredients. In a 2018 study featured in the Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, bakuchiol was combined with salicylic acid to form a novel compound called bakusylan. Bakusylan was discovered to display retinoid-like benefits on the skin.

As always, be conservative when you’re pairing two skincare actives for the first time. Take note of how your skin reacts and proceed with caution. Speak with your dermatologist if you need to.

Who Should Use Bakuchiol?

Bakuchiol is recommended for sensitive skin types or those struggling with skin conditions like rosacea. Additionally, if your skin is intolerant to retinol or retinoids, you may have more luck with bakuchiol since it's a gentler alternative to the vitamin A derivatives.

We all know that retinol products are a major no-no if you're pregnant or breastfeeding. But is this concern relevant for bakuchiol? Since bakuchiol is a natural skincare ingredient, it's safe to use for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Of course, always speak to your primary doctor or dermatologist if you have any doubts.

Last but not least, if you're on the hunt for vegan skincare products, bakuchiol would be your top choice. Contrarily, not all retinol products are vegan-certified as some are derived from animal sources.

How to Incorporate Bakuchiol Into Your Skincare Routine

To enjoy the benefits of bakuchiol on your skin, here's how you can incorporate this trending ingredient into your skincare routine.

1. Do a Patch Test First

While bakuchiol is less likely to produce negative side effects, it is a natural ingredient without extensive research to its name. Being a botanical extract, this retinol alternative may have the potential to trigger allergic reactions in certain individuals.

To err on the safe side, patch-test a small area on your skin if you're trying out a bakuchiol product for the first time.

2. Use Day and Night

Unlike retinol and retinoids which can only be used at night, bakuchiol is safe to be used in the daytime and nighttime.

Of course, you still shouldn't skimp out on sunscreen even though bakuchiol does not trigger photosensitivity. Remember to layer on a broad-spectrum SPF of 30 or higher on top of your bakuchiol products during the day.

3. Opt for the Right Percentage and pH Level

Just like any other skincare ingredient out there, the percentage and pH level are what make or break a product. To ensure your bakuchiol product is delivering what it promises, i.e. the best version of your skin, make sure it's formulated correctly.

For maximum effectiveness, bakuchiol should be used between 0.5% and 1% and at a pH no greater than 6.5. Those with acne-prone skin can consider a bakuchiol product that also contains other acne-clearing ingredients like salicylic acid.

4. Layer With the Right Products

Most bakuchiol products come in the form of serums, creams, and oils. But how should you use bakuchiol in your skincare routine?

In the morning, apply a bakuchiol serum after cleansing and toning. Follow up with a moisturiser like the Revitalise Face Moisturiser to seal in the goodness of the babchi extract and hydrate your skin.

At night, feel free to go for bakuchiol products with a heavier consistency, such as in the form of a night cream or facial oil. You can also pair this skincare ingredient with other anti-aging beauty products to further reduce signs of aging.

Is It Time to Ditch Your Retinol and Retinoids?

Based on the comparison list above, it seems like bakuchiol is just about winning against vitamin A derivatives at every corner. But does this mean retinol and retinoids are no longer relevant in the skincare sphere?

Not exactly. Remember, existing research on bakuchiol is quite limited compared to the rich scientific history of retinoids' proven effectiveness.

Besides that, most of the current literature focuses on pitting bakuchiol against retinol, not retinoids. It's important to note that retinoids have much greater efficacy in resolving skin concerns such as fine lines and acne, as compared to retinol. What this also means, is that bakuchiol may not be as potent as retinoids. As such, bakuchiol may not be as effective in addressing recalcitrant skin problems, like severe acne breakouts.

The Bottom Line on Bakuchiol

With a growing interest in natural beauty products, it's easy to understand why bakuchiol has become the most talked-about skincare ingredient recently. Scientists have also given their stamp of approval on bakuchiol's retinol-like properties, which further adds to its credibility.

But let's not be too hasty about overhauling your skincare routine and including bakuchiol products everywhere. Bakuchiol works best for skin types that don't play well with retinol. It's also ideal for those who want to enjoy retinol-like benefits but have never dabbled with retinol products before. To set your mind at ease, talk to your dermatologist before incorporating it into your skincare routine.

Another thing to note is that you may not see as much improvement in your skin when using bakuchiol rather than retinoids. If you've always been Team Retinol without encountering any side effects, it won't hurt to continue being loyal to your vitamin A derivatives. After all, why fix what isn't broken?

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