Bakuchiol: A Promising Natural Retinol Alternative
Bakuchiol is a new trendy ingredient in cosmetic skincare products, working as a retinoid analogue, mimicking the effect of retinol such as stimulating cell turnover, combating dark spots and re-densifying the skin. In this ingredient spotlight series, we will be looking at Bakuchiol, this up and coming ingredient that may just be a new natural retinol alternative, with all the benefits, but without the irritation often associated with retinol.
What is bakuchiol and how does it work?
Bakuchiol is a plant extract derived from the seeds and leaves of the plant Psoralea Corylifolia in the Indian subcontinent, having a long history of being used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. It has powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties as well as stimulates the production of collagen and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. It has also been shown to significantly reduce the presence of UV-induced skin damage such as hyperpigmentation.
Topical retinoids have become a staple in anti ageing therapy. Retinol, a Vitamin A derivative, is the strongest form of over the counter retinoid available. As it boasts potent powers of accelerating skin renewal, smoothing wrinkles, boosting collagen, combating age spots and firming skin. As such, many anti-aging skincare products and even sunscreen, cleansers and makeup contain retinol.
Side effects and risks of topical retinoids
Despite retinol being highly effective, it does have the side effect of increasing your skin’s sun sensitivity. This is why many recommend using retinoids at night. Additionally, it may cause skin irritation, resulting in retinoid dermatitis. This is characterised by dryness, redness, flakiness and itching. Those with sensitive skin may need to try over the counter retinols that are less irrirating. Lastly, retinoids are also teratogenic – an agent that can disturb the development of the embryo or fetus. Therefore, we do not recommend retinol for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
How does bakuchiol compare to retinol?
In the first study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science in 2014, the gene expression of bakuchiol was found to be similar to retinol according to a DNA microarray study using full thickness skin models, showing that they bear similarities in how they affect cell pathways. The same study found that bakuchiol and retinol also stimulated collagen in cell studies. The study gave 16 participants a 0.5% bakuchiol product to apply twice a day for 12 weeks. They saw improvements in fine lines and wrinkles, roughness, dryness and elasticity, compared to the baseline.
In another study, bakuchiol was found to be better than retinol at slowing down the activity of two enzymes that break down collagen and elastin. Additionally, one recent open-access independent clinical study, published in the British Journal of Dermatology, showed that bakuchiol and retinol reduced wrinkle surface area and hyperpigmentation to a similar extent.
Bakuchiol does have some additional advantages compared to retinol:
In the studies, patients who received bakuchiol had fewer adverse side-effects than those applying retinol, with less stinging and scaling. In addition to its antioxidant properties, this may also be related to bakuchiol’s anti-inflammatory effects. Furthermore, bakuchiol does not show to increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight, which retinoid products do, with no reports of photosensitivity in the study. Therefore, bakuchiol is a gentler, non-irritating and safer alternative to retinol.
Oxidative stress on skin cells results in skin ageing. Studies show that Bakuchiol activates a transcription factor that plays a major role in cellular resistance to oxidative stress. Additional antioxidant capabilities include its capacity for scavenging oxygen free radicals and its major role in preventing mitochondrial lipid peroxidation.
Helps with hyperpigmentation
In a study conducted, bakuchiol decreased pigment intensity and surface area over the 12-week treatment course. This may be attributable to bakuchiol’s antioxidant effects, as well as its ability to disrupt melanin synthesis. Bakuchiol is able to interfere with two steps of the melanin synthesis pathway and reduce melanin production, hence being an ideal ingredient for use in both anti-ageing and anti-hyperpigmentation cosmeceuticals.
While there are a few studies that show that bakuchiol is a promising natural retinol alternative, we only have data of how it compares to retinol, not any other retinoids. Tretinoin, a form of retinoic acid, is a prescriptive retinoid that treats acne, hyperpigmentation, and fine lines, largely due to its potency. Tretinoin is much more potent, and does not need to be converted into an active form in the body, unlike retinol. Therefore, while bakuchiol may be a promising natural retinol alternative, it cannot replace prescription retinoids.
Side effects of bakuchiol
While in most studies, bakuchiol is generally seen to have less side effects than retinols, there is still a possibility of irritation. To illustrate, there have been 2 case reports of contact allergy to bakuchiol cosmetics since June 2019, published in the Journal of Contact Dermatitis. Therefore, it is important to perform a patch test before trying our new ingredients or skincare.
Spierings NMK. Cosmetic commentary: Is bakuchiol the new “skincare hero”?. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2020;19(12):3208-3209. doi:10.1111/jocd.13708
Dhaliwal S, Rybak I, Ellis SR, et al. Prospective, randomized, double-blind assessment of topical bakuchiol and retinol for facial photoageing. Br J Dermatol. 2019;180(2):289-296. doi:10.1111/bjd.16918