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Bakuchiol: How the retinol alternative works and what items to try

It's great for anyone with sensitive skin.
Woman applying face cream in a bathroom
Konstantin Tsevelev / Getty Images

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When it comes to anti-aging ingredients, retinol is the gold standard. The skin care powerhouse is featured in many serums and creams that promise to reduce the appearance of fine lines and signs of aging. And while experts agree that it can be a helpful tool for tackling those issues, it can also come with some unfortunate side effects like redness and dryness, especially for those with sensitive skin.

If you've struggled to get past the retinol-induced irritation, bakuchiol (buh-koo-chee-all) could be a good alternative. Often called "nature's retinol" the plant-based ingredient has been popping up in an increasing number of beauty product labels recently.

So we tapped Dr. Jordan C. Carqueville, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of The Derm Institute of Chicago to get all the details on the trendy ingredient.

What is bakuchiol?

Bakuchiol is a phytochemical that comes from the leaves and stems of the babchi plant (psoralea corylifolia), which has long been used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine. When applied to the skin, its effects are similar to those of retinol, Carqueville said. Like its vitamin A-derived counterpart, bakuchiol can help boost collagen production, making your skin look tighter and plumper.

"As we age, our fibroblasts become senescent, so they stop producing as much collagen," Carqueville said. Retinoids and bakuchiol can help counteract that. "When you use topicals like these, you stimulate these cells to become alive again ... that means that you’re growing new cells, and your skin is supple and tighter. It helps to reduce photodamage as well because you’re stimulating those cells." For the same reason, bakuchiol can also help reduce the appearance of static wrinkles, which are caused by loss of collagen and elasticity.

As an added bonus, the ingredient exfoliates that top layer of the skin, which can help improve brightness, she said. It's also an antioxidant, so it fights damaging free radicals caused by UV exposure.

While retinol delivers similar benefits, it usually comes with an adjustment period, during which time your skin may be red, flaky and dry while it gets used to the ingredient. With bakuchiol, there's less risk of irritation, Carqueville said, although experts aren't entirely sure why.

How to choose a bakuchiol product

The ingredient can be used to both prevent and help treat age-related skin issues, and could be a good option for anyone who’s looking to brighten their skin, fade pigmentation, and boost collagen production, Carqueville said. You should always be applying SPF daily, but just like with retinol, when using bakuchiol, it's important to be mindful of sun exposure and apply sunscreen regularly, as it could make you more susceptible to burns.

There are a variety of options on the market, from creams to serums, and which one you choose is mostly a matter of personal preference, she said. "Someone with oily skin might prefer something that's not oil-based, and someone with dry skin might prefer an oil-based or cream-based product."

Most products have a concentration of 0.5 to two percent, though Carqueville recommends opting for a higher concentration. If you do notice any irritation, you should limit use to a few times per week. While studies have shown that the ingredient is more tolerable for skin, as with most ingredients, there's still a chance that your skin may react.

With that in mind, if you're hoping to start reaping the anti-aging benefits of retinol, without all the redness and flaking, we found six bakuchiol products that you can try.

BYBI Bakuchiol Booster Facial Treatment

Made for all skin types, this "booster" oil is free from unwanted additives like parabens and sulfates. Instead, it contains just two ingredients: bakuchiol and squalane. The two powerhouse ingredients work together to hydrate, plump and visibly improve the texture of your skin.

Ole Henriksen Glow Cycle Retin-ALT Power Serum

Swap your go-to a.m. serum for this option from Ole Henriksen. It's made with a combination of AHAs and bakuchiol to help fight signs of aging and create a more even skin tone. It also features a handful of other plant-based ingredients, like edelweiss stem cells, hibiscus flower extract and red algae, which add to the skin smoothing and brightening effects.

Acure Radically Rejuvenating Dual-Phase Bakuchiol Serum

This bakuchiol serum has two layers, the top is an antioxidant and probiotic-rich essence and the bottom is a moisturizing serum. Shake before use to combine and get the full skin rejuvenating effects. The skin care solution has an average 4.4-star rating from more than 3,500 reviews, with many people saying that they love how soft it makes their skin feel.

Herbivore Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Smoothing Serum

Herbivore's jelly-like serum goes on smooth and leaves your skin feeling instantly softer and more hydrated. In a blind-use test conducted by the brand, 85 percent of participants agreed that their skin looked smoother and less dull after four weeks of twice-daily use.

The INKEY List Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Moisturizer

The INKEY List is an internet-favorite brand known for creating affordable and effective skin care products. And the beauty company's bakuchiol moisturizer is no different. At just $10, it's one of the most wallet-friendly options on this list. It features the anti-aging ingredient along with omega 3-rich sacha inchi oil and hydrating squalane.

Cocokind Resurfacing Sleep Mask

Thanks to the addition of beta glucan and squalane, this bakuchiol sleep mask is said to lock in hydration and restore your moisture barrier as you snooze.

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