Bakuchiol vs Retinol. What’s actually better?

In this week’s Healthy-ish Podcast, Beauty Editor Kelsey Ferencak schools listeners on the ins and outs of retinol and bakuchiol. 

As the need for natural ingredients and formulations continues to grow and become more mainstream consumers and brands are looking to alternatives to fill the gaps (like this natural Vitamin A face oil). So, with that in mind the topics of this week’s Healthy-ish ‘beauty’ Podcast is all about bakuchiol vs retinol.

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Bakuchiol, pronounced “buh-koo-chee-all” is not new in terms of discovery, it’s long been used in Ayurvedic and even Traditional Chinese Medicine practices. However, it’s now a super-hyped ingredient touted as a gentler, plant alternative to over-the-counter retinol. But does it work and who is it best for?

What is the difference between bakuchiol and retinol?

There is confusion around if it is a form of retinol, but it’s not so let’s get that out of the way. It’s natural or green-beauty friendly, whereas that’s not the case for retinol as it’s synthetic. It’s said to be safe for use while pregnant or breastfeeding, and more tolerable so less likely to trigger reactions and sensitivities. Anyone who has used or tried retinol or even prescription retinoids knows sensitivity like redness, dryness and even allergic reactions can be a common side effect.

If we were to get science-y, bakuchiol doesn’t act via the skin’s retinoic acid receptors and its chemical structure is different, too. Beauty science-whizz Lab Muffin has some handy info here if you’re after a proper breakdown.

What does the science say?

So this is where it gets tricky. There are currently only two (“poorly designed” as my go-to skin scientist guru Dr Michele Squire calls them) studies supporting its benefits. And when you compare this to the many, many studies of tretinoin (prescription Vitamin A/retinoid) there’s no comparison in efficiency.

In Lab Muffin’s breakdown she mentions“bakuchiol being weak compared to many of the standard skincare ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids and vitamin C, let alone retinoids. But it’s a very attractive marketing story.”

There’s actually some evidence to show that using retinol and bakuchiol together delivers the unique benefits of each, plus bakuchiol has a natural stabilising effect on vitamin A, as well as being soothing, so it can improve skin’s tolerance to various strengths of retinol. There’s new products coming out that use both ingredients, because of this.

So, what should you use?

The great thing is that everyone can use it. So, if you’re into natural skincare, are pregnant, have sensitive skin or don’t want to use retinol go ahead and try it. But I think if you are after cosmeceutical results or the youth-boosting results you’re used to from using retinols and retinoids then probably don’t switch. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Our bakuchiol picks:

Paula’s Choice Clinical 0.3% Retinol + 2% Bakuchiol Treatment, $73.70 at Paula’s Choice

This is one of those products that uses both retinol and bakuchiol – along with peptides.

Trilogy Bakuchiol Booster, $39.95 at Trilogy

This is a two week treatment, where 85% of it’s testers saw an improvement in skin smoothness. It uses 4% bakuchiol.

Medik8 Bakuchiol Peptides Serum, $87 at Adore Beauty

Ideal for sensitive skin, safe for day and night use and packed with omegas for nourishment and hydration.

All products featured in this article are selected by our editors, who don’t play favourites. If you buy something, we may get a cut of the sale.