Bakuchiol serum: facts vs. fiction

Does this natural retinol alternative really work?

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas
Dec 11, 2019 · 4 min read

We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Bakuchiol is gaining a reputation in natural skincare as the trendy new ingredient, a potentially non-irritating alternative to retinol. Rumor has it that using an ordinary bakuchiol serum daily can reduce the appearance of signs of aging like wrinkles and dark spots. Not only are the benefits of bakuchiol supposedly awesome, but it’s also non-irritating. Everyone loves a gentle, plant-based home remedy, but what do we really know about this natural ingredient, and what’s just fluff? Here are the facts about bakuchiol as an alternative to retinol.

Bakuchiol vs. retinol

Bakuchiol (pronounced bah-koo-che-al) comes from the seeds and leaves of the Babchi plant. In traditional Chinese medicine, it’s used as a topical treatment for skin conditions. In skincare, bakuchiol is making the rounds as an ingredient for acne and anti-aging skincare products. This is because, while it may be possible to ingest toxic quantities, bakuchiol is pretty safe to use topically, and a recent study showed that bakuchiol can improve skin elasticity, firmness, and other types of skin damage in a way that’s similar to retinoids. Another clinical trial found that bakuchiol helped patients with acne when used with a prescription retinoid. That said, there are data gaps — so it’s not a must-have ingredient.

Is it safe to use bakuchiol while pregnant or nursing?

One important area where research on bakuchiol is lacking is whether it is safe to use if you’re pregnant or nursing. Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives, which are generally not safe to use while pregnant, but bakuchiol is an herbal extract with a different chemical composition. That said, just because bakuchiol isn’t a retinoid doesn’t mean it’s proven to be safe — yet. I’m going to wait with bated breath for future studies. So, if you’re reading up on bakuchiol because you’re expecting, congratulations! In my opinion, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and stick to ingredients that have been clinically proven to be safe for use while pregnant or nursing — which bakuchiol is not as of this time. You can also ask your doctor if using bakuchiol is right for you.

The best bakuchiol products

Bakuchiol skincare products have a reputation for being pricey, but they don’t have to be. So I reviewed the most affordable bakuchiol products — here are my recommendations, based on the ingredients.

Burt’s Bees Renewal Dark Spot Corrector

This bakuchiol oil also has sodium ascorbyl phosphate, an extra stable form of vitamin C, which can help fade dark spots on the skin. With a lightly moisturizing base, this product can be used all over the face or as a spot treatment. One drawback is that it contains added fragrance, so use with caution if you have sensitive skin!

$12.99 via Target

Indeed Labs Bakuchiol Reface Pads

In addition to having a high content of bakuchiol extract, these hydrating facial pads are packed with ingredients I love like niacinamide, allantoin, and hyaluronic acid. These pads can be used morning and night and are good for sensitive, acne-prone skin.

$19.99 via Ulta

boscia Matcha Magic Super Antioxidant Mask

This bakuchiol face mask is great for combination skin. Ingredients like glycerin and butylene glycol add moisture to dry skin while kaolin clay absorbs excess oils. It also contains willowbark, green tea, and jojoba seed oil for added skin benefits.

$38.00 via Dermstore

Herbivore Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Smoothing Serum

This bakuchiol serum is potent and nourishing. With aloe as a key ingredient, this facial oil doubles up on skin-soothing and healing effects. It also contains amethyst extract, which might not be any better than your average mineral, but dousing yourself in liquefied purple gemstones is a big mood for 2020.

$54.00 via Dermstore

Over-the-counter and out-of-luck?

Over-the-counter products are convenient solutions, but most dermatologists agree that prescription-strength ingredients give more earth-shattering results. Even if bakuchiol is an alternative to retinol, it’s still roughly 20 times less potent than tretinoin. Decades of research confirm tretinoin as the “gold standard” in topical treatment for fighting acne and clogged pores, as well as reducing fine lines, unwanted pigmentation, and improving skin texture.

Start your free trial (plus shipping and handling)

If you don’t want to drop a ton of money on facial serums that may or may not work, you can get a free month of skincare customized by a dermatology provider when you sign up for Curology. For $4.95 (plus tax) to cover the cost of shipping and handling, you’ll receive a custom cream for your unique skin with active ingredients like tretinoin, clindamycin, and azelaic acid. It can also come with a non-comedogenic cleanser and your choice of moisturizer. After that, you can cancel any time, or choose a subscription plan that works for you.

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas

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