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Bakuchiol for Beginners: What is Bakuchiol & Bakuchiol vs Retinol

4 min read
by Ben Gentzler
September 17, 2021

It’s the hot new skincare ingredient with the funny name. Bakuchiol (pronounced buh-koo-chee-all) is suddenly everywhere and in everything with proponents claiming it’s “better than retinol.” But does bakuchiol live up to the hype? Before you decide if skincare’s newest star should be a part of your daily routine, take a moment to familiarize yourself with bakuchiol’s backstory.

 

What is bakuchiol?

Babchi plant – the source of bakuchiol

Bakuchiol is an extract that comes from the seeds and/or leaves of the Psoralea Corylifolia or “Babchi” plant. It’s long been a staple in traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, prized for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties and used to treat skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and alopecia. Bakuchiol has gained notice in more mainstream skincare lately because of its retinol-esque effects. That’s led people to describe it as a “natural form of retinol,” but that’s actually incorrect.

 

Bakuchiol vs Retinol: how is bakuchiol different from retinol?

Bakuchiol vs retinol comparison graphic
Yes, both retinol and bakuchiol have antioxidant properties (which you know, by now, is a very good thing). And, like retinol, bakuchiol stimulates cellular turnover, diminishing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also attaches to the retinoid receptors in the skin responsible for starting the cascade effect that leads to collagen formation. But on a molecular level, despite their similarities in skin-cell regulation, the structure of bakuchiol is quite different from that of retinol.

But chemical makeup isn’t their only point of contrast. Bakuchiol has the added ability to strengthen skin’s moisture barrier (via the upregulation of genes responsible for barrier function), which reduces transepidermal water loss (TEWL), as well as irritation. Speaking of irritation, bakuchiol is also an anti-inflammatory, so it rarely triggers the redness and peeling that are often part and parcel with the initial application of many retinol products.

 

How do you choose between bakuchiol and retinol?

Sensitive skins heart bakuchiol. So do those who are pregnant or breastfeeding because bakuchiol is safe to use during this time, whereas retinol is not recommended.

On the flip side, vitamin A derivatives (of which retinol is one) and their impacts on skin have been researched and documented since the Stone Age (or thereabouts). Bakuchiol is a relative newcomer to the skincare scene without the exhaustive body of peer-reviewed, double-blind studies to back up its efficacy that retinol boasts. That doesn’t mean that bakuchiol doesn’t work—just that you’ll have to go a bit more on faith than on cold, hard data.

 

How do you incorporate bakuchiol into your routine, and when will you see results?

Laying out the welcome mat for bakuchiol is easy. You can apply it day or night (or both), and it can be found in everything from treatment serums and face oils to moisturizers and eye creams. Bakuchiol is not a one and done, however. Skin improvements will come (initially, after a week or two, with noticeable improvements after one month), but only if you’re diligent and use your product religiously (read: at least once a day).

 

Bakuchiol’s BFF (other than SPF)

As it turns out, bakuchiol and retinol are like the skincare version of chocolate and peanut butter—two great tastes that taste great together. Bakuchiol’s anti-inflammatory powers can help mitigate retinol-related irritation. When combined in a single skincare formula, it allows you to get the proven youth-building power of both ingredients without any potential downtime. It’s a win-win!

As in every skincare routine with or without retinol, however, sun protection should always be an essential component of your skincare regimen.

 

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