Retinol Irritating Your Skin? Try This Natural Alternative

Photo by Sharif Hamza

A plant-derived powerhouse with all the healing properties of retinol, but none of the irritation.

You might not have heard of it yet (or be quite sure how to pronounce it), but bakuchiol is currently creating a collagen-boosting buzz on the skincare scene. In essence, it’s a wonder ingredient of the new retinol alternatives, minus the sting, irritability and redness often associated with traditional retinoids. Rooted in healing, bakuchiol has a long history of being used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, says London-based aesthetician Dija Ayodele. However, it is now being championed as a natural retinoid in Western skincare research.

What is bakuchiol and how does it work?

“Bakuchiol is a compound that naturally occurs in the seeds and leaves of the plant psoralea corylifolia in the Indian subcontinent,” explains Ayodele. “It stimulates the production of collagen thereby preserving the strength and integrity of the skin, reducing fine lines and wrinkles. It has also been shown to significantly reduce the presence of UV-induced skin damage such as hyperpigmentation.”

“It comes from bakuchi seed oil, which is often used in herbal remedies for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,” adds David Delport, global ambassador for Ren Clean Skincare. “In skincare, it works as a retinoid analogue, meaning it mimics the effect of a retinol such as stimulating cell turnover, combating dark spots and re-densifying the skin.”

“Bakuchiol has actually been used as a skincare ingredient for many years for anti-inflammatory and antioxidant purposes, so scientists had a closer look at it,” says Delport. “It doesn’t mimic the makeup of retinol, but the effect on the skin is very similar because it stimulates the retinoid receptors responsible for the synthesis of type 1 collagen in the dermis. It also stimulates cell renewal in the epidermis for a smooth surface, giving a retinol result without the irritation.”

Bakuchiol vs retinol – what’s better?

“Although bakuchiol has a distinct chemical structure from retinol, it appears to act on similar cellular pathways and gene targets, leading to upregulation of collagen, for example,” explains consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk.

A 2018 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology shows that bakuchiol is comparable with retinol in its ability to improve signs of skin ageing and that it is better tolerated. Over 12 weeks, 44 patients were asked to apply either 0.5 per cent bakuchiol cream twice daily or 0.5 per cent retinol cream every night. “Researchers found that retinol and bakuchiol affected wrinkles and pigmentation similarly, but bakuchiol resulted in less scaling, stinging, burning and itching,” Kluk reports.

“Its results on skin health have been compared to vitamin A in particular, which is revered as the gold standard ingredient for collagen remodelling, exfoliation, strengthening of the skin and fading hyperpigmentation,” says Ayodele. “Bakuchiol is still relatively new and more extensive research will need to be undertaken over the next few years to support its very promising start,” she continues. “For women of colour in particular, who are wary of powerful ingredients such as vitamin A which can cause inflammation and even PIH [post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation] when overused, bakuchiol is an alternative option backed up by science.”

What skin type is bakuchiol best for, and how should you use it?

“The magic of bakuchiol is that it is suitable for all skin types: dry, sensitive, oily and combination. It’s a gentle solution for anyone wanting anti-ageing results without the irritation,” says Delport. “It can be used with vitamin C and acids in serum and creams; it doesn’t make your skin photo-sensitive either, so it’s safe to use in the morning too,” he continues. Make sure you keep up the SPF, though. “I still recommend applying a sun protection product every morning as exposure to UV rays without adequate protection significantly accelerates skin ageing as well as increasing the chances of skin cancer,” advises Kluk.

While retinol is not recommended for pregnant or lactating women, bakuchiol has no such warning. “It’s safe,” says Delport. “But for anyone who is particularly conscious, we recommend they consult with a doctor.”

Lisa Franklin, skincare expert, facialist and founder of LF Pro-Effect Skincare also recommends avoiding peels: “Bakuchiol is perfectly safe and effective to use with other beneficial ingredients, but I would caution against using it with acid peels due to potential over-stimulation and reaction.”

This article was originally published on British Vogue.

More From Vogue

Share now on:
FacebookXEmailCopy Link