A Gentle Alternative to Retinol

Dr. Janet Zand
October 26, 2018


The skincare world has a few superstars. Vitamin C is one you hear me rave about often. Vitamin A, particularly in the form of retinol, is another. It can be remarkably effective. But some people have a hard time tolerating it. It can irritate skin and make it more sensitive to the sun. But there are other options that are similar but gentler and still effective.

Fortunately, nature has provided an excellent alternative. In a coincidence that seems almost too good to be true, a plant compound that bears no structural resemblance to retinol turns out to have remarkably similar effects on the skin.

This compound, called bakuchiol (“back-uh-heel”), comes from the babchi plant, which is native to India. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine have used it for centuries. That helped give researchers the clue that it could benefit the skin too.

When researchers compared bakuchiol to retinoids, they noted that their structures were very different. But then they compared their effects on the gene expression profile of human skin cells. Sure enough, they were very similar at both an individual gene and a protein level.

Both bakuchiol and retinoids have effects on DNA that promote collagen upregulation and stimulation in skin cells. But the researchers also wanted to know if these DNA effects would make a real difference for the skin.

A Real Difference for Your Skin

To test this, they created a skincare product containing bakuchiol. They asked people to test it for 12 weeks, applying it twice a day. Sure enough, the participants had significant improvements in their fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation issues, elasticity, and firmness. The product reduced sun damage. And it did so without the harsh side effects of retinol.

Bakuchiol works so well because it has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. It’s great for people with oily or acne-prone skin because it fights bacteria. And because it’s much gentler than retinol, it’s good for people with dry or sensitive skin as well.

Because bakuchiol acts as an exfoliator, it triggers the skin to produce more collagen and elastin. Retinol acts in a similar way, but it can be much harsher. This can create redness and even peeling. The skin will come back smoother and stronger. But the process can be visually and physically painful.

A Great Backup to Retinol

If you do tolerate retinol well, some dermatologists have found that bakuchiol can make it even more effective. You typically need to use retinol sparingly. So adding bakuchiol to the mix is a great way to get more results without running the risk of overdoing things for your skin.

If retinol works well for you in general but does seem to make you more sensitive to the sun, you can use bakuchiol as a back-up. Consider swapping it into your routine before a beach vacation or an outdoor race. You’ll get many of the same anti-aging benefits without a painful reaction to the sun. (Just remember that you’ll still need sunscreen, regardless of what anti-aging product you choose!)

Unlike retinol, bakuchiol actually soothes the skin rather than making it more sensitive. In fact, it’s so safe and gentle that you can use it during pregnancy.

Bakuchiol even offers the bonus of being a lovely shade of lilac. It can help skincare products look appealing without the need for artificial dyes. So don’t worry if you purchase a bakuchiol-based product that you thought was natural but appears to have been colored in a lab. It really is that color!

Retinol is a superstar for a reason. So if you’re having good success with it, there’s no reason to stop. But if you’ve wished you could have the benefits of retinol without the irritation, bakuchiol could be your answer. It also makes a great sidekick to your regular retinol routine.

You’ll find bakuchiol in the Système 41 Night Treatment. And many other natural skincare lines are beginning to include it as well. It doesn’t just make products look great; it does the same for your skin. I bet before long we’ll consider it a superstar in its own right too!

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