Everything you need to know about bakuchiol, the buzzy ingredient that's being compared to retinol

A guide to the plant-based anti-aging hero.
(Credit: Getty Images)

For years, retinol has been touted as the crème de la crème when it comes to anti-aging skincare ingredients — and this praise has certainly been warranted. A form of vitamin A, it's commonly found in everything from eye creams to overnight masks, thanks to its proven ability to target fine lines, dark spots and uneven texture by increasing skin cell turnover rate and stimulating collagen production. That's a long way of saying that retinol is a serious workhorse and useful addition to most skincare regimens.

Except for one pesky detail: because it can be so potent, retinol is usually tough for those with ultra-sensitive skin, rosacea or eczema to tolerate, as it can cause even more inflammation and sensitivity. Enter bakuchiol, the plant-based ingredient that's being called a gentle alternative to retinol.

"Bakuchiol is an oil extracted from the seeds and leaves of the Psoralea corylifolia plant, which grows mostly throughout India and is more commonly known as babchi," explains Dr. Davindra Singh, founder and lead dermatologist at Toronto's AvantDerm clinic. The plant has long been used in traditional Eastern medicine to treat a variety of skin ailments.

"Bakuchiol dramatically stimulates skin cell turnover rate," adds Ole Henriksen, famed 'skin cosmetician' and founder of his namesake skincare brand. "As a result, skin becomes brighter, tone and texture improve, and lines and wrinkles [are] reduced. And it's clinically proven to enhance skin firmness and elasticity."

Sound familiar? Recently, studies have begun to look into the effects of bakuchiol in modern skincare, with researchers drawing comparisons between the plant-derived extract and our beloved retinol. But while the potential skincare benefits of bakuchiol, particularly when used as a "gentler retinol," are promising, Dr. Singh insists it's a bit too soon to officially draw those comparisons.

The first published study testing bakuchiol's similarity to retinol appeared in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science in 2014 and involved a small group of 17 female patients. Its results showed that "bakuchiol targeted several cellular pathways similar to those targeted by retinoids," says Dr. Singh, "but there was no control group."

"A more robust, double-blind study [Ed. note: Where neither the participants nor the researchers know who is receiving treatment versus who's getting a placebo] of 44 patients was published in 2018 that gave us better information," says Dr. Singh. In that study, bakuchiol showed similar skin benefits to retinol — including an overall reduction in fine wrinkles and pigmentation associated with natural and photoaging — without the side effects that often come with use of retinol, like dryness and skin irritation.

According to Henriksen, bakuchiol is "also known for its anti-inflammatory benefits, as it [works] its magic as an anti-aging extract." But that doesn't mean that bakuchiol is without any potential downsides. "Once more studies are conducted, they may prove bakuchiol to be an excellent alternative for anyone that can't tolerate retinol," says Dr. Singh. "But keep in mind that it's plant-based, which means some people may be allergic or sensitive to its properties."

While we may not know enough right now to accurately call bakuchiol a "retinol alternative," Dr. Singh says it's certainly possible that the two could work in similar ways and looks forward to further research. "Retinol is the holy grail for smoothing wrinkles, fading spots and rejuvenating aging skin. So anything coming to the market with similar results will be exciting."

Below are some skincare products formulated with bakuchiol.

For those with sensitive skin who want to target problem areas while hydrating skin as they sleep, this overnight cream is a great option.

Ole Henriksen Goodnight Glow Retin-Alt Sleeping Crème, $66, sephora.ca

Made with ultra-moisturizing squalane and skin-perfecting bakuchiol, this serum is formulated to suit for many skin different skin types and can be layered underneath a thicker cream.

Biossance Squalane Phyto-Retinol Serum, $95, sephora.ca

Bakuchiol can also be found in oil formulas, like this Omorovicza oil that targets several skin concerns, from lines and wrinkles to oily skin to dryness.

Omorovicza Miracle Facial Oil, $160 approx., omorovicza.com

This antioxidant-rich mask is made with matcha green tea, jojoba seed extract and bakuchiol to soothe and nourish skin while it works to combat redness and oiliness.

Boscia Matcha Magic Super-Antioxidant Mask, $50, boscia.com


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