Calling All Sensitive Skin Types—Bakuchiol Is the Natural Retinol Alternative You Need In Your Routine

Eh, not quite. While beauty brands may have you believe that the two are essentially identical, according to board-certified dermatologist and skin of color educator Dr. Adeline Kikam, “the clinical research on bakuchiol’s efficacy and side effects is still evolving.” That said, the results thus far have been promising, she notes, citing two recent studies in particular which have shown bakuchiol to have anti-aging benefits similar to that of retinol but with less irritation.

In the first study, published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science in 2014, she explains that researchers used synthetic skin and collagen cell cultures to test the anti-aging effects of bakuchiol. Their results showed that bakuchiol had similar collagen regulation properties to retinol—at least in two types of cells. To better understand how bakuchiol performed in real life, they then had 16 participants apply a 0.5 percent bakuchiol product twice a day for 12 weeks. As a result, participants showed significant improvement in their overall skin elasticity, fine lines, wrinkles, and dryness, compared to their baseline. Even better, those same participants also reported none of the usual side effects that come with first-time retinol use, including irritation, dryness, and flaking skin.

Similarly, in a 2018 study published in the British Academy of Dermatology, researchers upped the ante by actually pitting bakuchiol and retinol against each other in a 12-week clinical trial. During that time, 44 participants received either a twice-daily 0.5 percent bakuchiol product or a once-daily 0.5 percent retinol product. The result? While both groups saw the same level of improvements in their hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, and elasticity, the retinol users experienced more skin dryness and stinging, suggesting bakuchiol is not only just as effective as retinol but also less irritating. 

“Bakuchiol is less irritating than retinol because it doesn’t actually cause atrophy to the skin or a reduction in the size of the oil glands, which means it does not lead to dryness or irritation,” explains Miami-based dermatologist Dr. Anna H. Chacon. “It does, however, help to target fine lines, wrinkles and also evens out the skin tone and texture of the skin. In this way, it is similar to topical vitamin A derivatives or retinoids.”

Don’t give up on retinol just yet, though. As Dr. Kikam notes, while bakuchiol may provide similar results to over-the-counter retinol products, the same can’t be said for the prescription-strength versions (aka retinoids). “Prescription retinoids, like tretinoin, are 20 times more potent than OTC retinol, which is what bakuchiol was compared to [in these studies],” she explains. “In that case, I would recommend [bakuchiol] only to those who can’t tolerate retinol or as a starter ingredient before jumping into the world of retinoids, which are proven to be more effective.”