The Buzzy New Skincare Ingredient That’s Being Compared to Retinol

Bakuchiol is being touted as a gentle, plant-based alternative.

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Retinol is a mainstay in many bathroom cabinets and for good reason—the vitamin A derivative is an anti-aging holy grail that helps kick-start collagen production, smooth wrinkles and tackle age spots. But, for all of the amazing results it promises, retinol also comes with a slew of unwanted side effects—especially for sensitive skin types—and it can leave skin red, peeling and irritated. Thankfully, there’s a buzzy new ingredient hitting the beauty aisles that’s being touted as a gentle alternative to retinol—and its fan base is growing fast. Early clinical studies show that bakuchiol (pronounced buh-koo-chee-all), a plant-derived ingredient, boasts similar anti-aging properties as retinol, without the irritation. Is this skincare newbie worth the hype? We asked a panel of experts to share all there is to know about this alternative to retinol, including the benefits of using it and how to incorporate it into your skincare routine.

What is bakuchiol?

Bakuchiol is a plant-based ingredient that comes from the seeds and leaves of the babchi tree. While it’s relatively new to the North American beauty market, bakuchiol been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese skincare remedies, says Michael McGeever, chief product and merchandising officer at Beautycounter (a brand that recently created a whole line of products based around the ingredient). According to cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Monica Li, based on early studies, bakuchiol appears to have similar benefits to retinol—without the potential side effects.

What are the benefits of using bakuchiol skincare?

“It stimulates skin cell turnover, resulting in brighter skin, as well as [improving] texture and tone (less hyperpigmentation), and [reducing] fine lines,” says Dr. Benjamin Barankin, a Toronto-based dermatologist and medical director at the Toronto Dermatology Centre. In addition, Barankin states that there can be some improvement in skin firmness and elasticity. Beautycounter honed in on bakuchiol as a must-try ingredient when they paired it with Swiss alpine rose and discovered that the ingredient combo can comprehensively address aging skin concerns, says McGeever. “Bakuchiol helps repair signs of aging (such as reducing the appearance of lines and wrinkles), while Swiss alpine rose protects [the skin] from further damage,” he adds.

Why is bakuchiol so buzzy lately?

The popularity of bakuchiol could be attributed to a few different factors. Generally, McGeever credits its plant-based origins as a plus for consumers who want to experiment with natural skincare products without sacrificing efficacy. “The fact that bakuchiol has been clinically proven to have similar results to retinol makes it an ingredient people are paying attention to, as it has been historically difficult to get the results of retinol from any other ingredient,” he explains. Because it’s a natural ingredient, Barankin notes that, unlike retinol, it appears to be a safe option during pregnancy and nursing, which also may make it more appealing to consumers. Lastly, early studies show that most skin tolerates bakuchiol better than retinol, which makes it safer for sensitive skin types or those with rosacea or dermatitis. Li suggests that its universal nature might be piquing consumers’ interest. However, it should be noted that bakuchiol does not yet have the same scientific backing and data as retinol.

What skin types is bakuchiol good for?

“Given its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties shown in early studies, bakuchiol may be used on a spectrum of skin types,” says Li. Because it’s gentler on skin, those who can’t tolerate retinol may benefit most from using it. It should be noted that, like its anti-aging counterpart, bakuchiol is best used on mature skin as younger folks may not reap the benefits of the collagen-boosting ingredient.

How and when do you use bakuchiol?

While studies have shown that bakuchiol is fairly gentle on the skin, you shouldn’t jump in with both feet when it comes to application. “It’s reasonable, especially if you have sensitive skin or dry or eczema-prone skin, to begin with using it three nights per week,” says Barankin. If all goes well, he suggests increasing to nightly use; if there’s no adverse reaction after a few weeks, your skin will most likely be able to handle twice-daily application. Li suggests doing a spot test, either on your wrist or behind your ears, for a week before applying it all over your face in order to determine tolerability. Bakuchiol can be used morning or night, and it can be found in an array of products, from serums and moisturizers to face masks. “Unlike retinol, which is typically used in a stand-alone product, Beautycounter’s Countertime line includes Bakuchiol in all six of the products, which can be layered because they [are gentle enough on skin],” says McGeever.

Can you mix bakuchiol with other active skincare ingredients?

According to the information currently available on bakuchiol, it doesn’t appear to react with any other ingredients, but studies are limited. “There are skincare products commercially available that have integrated bakuchiol and combined it with other ingredients aimed at improving skin texture, wrinkles and pigmentation,” says Li. “Some of these ingredients include alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs, such as glycolic and lactic acid), and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).” As previously mentioned, the safest course of action when using new skincare ingredients is to always do your research and to take it slow.