Bakuchiol: a better alternative to retinol?

What is Bakuchiol?

Everyone and their grandmothers are talking about bakuchiol right now. So what’s the big deal? You’ve probably heard bakuchiol being discussed in the context of retinol – i.e. that it’s a great alternative to it. You may have heard bakuchiol has all the anti-ageing perks of retinol but manages to avoid the irritation that can come with the use of one.

In this post we will explore whether bakuchiol is a better alternative to retinol and how they compare.

So what’s bakuchiol? Despite being compared to retinol, bakuchiol is in no way related to retinol in structure (see below).

bakuchiol vs retinol structure

Bakuchiol is a so-called ‘natural alternative‘ to retinol since it is derived from the Psoralea corylifolia (Babchi) plant. In fact, bakuchiol is more structurally related to vitamin E and shares similar anti-oxidant properties. Bakuchiol also demonstrates anti-microbial action.[1]

Why do we compare bakuchiol to retinol?

The structures of bakuchiol and retinol are unrelated, so who is comparing them and why? It turns out they actually produce clinically similar results.

Bakuchiol elicits a similar cellular response to retinol when applied topically; it has been show to have retinol-like regulation of gene expression.

Thus, bakuchiol is able to:

  • Stimulate the production of collagen while down-regulating the activity of collagen digesting enzymes, promoting skin plumpness and increasing skin thickness.
  • Increase cell turnover, resulting in a reduction of fine lines, wrinkles, sagging, and photodamage.
  • Replenish the skin barrier, restoring and sealing in skin hydration.

While the gene expression changes suggest bakuchiol can mimic a retinol like response, it is not yet clear whether it’s mode of action occurs through retinoic acid receptor activation or through alternate pathways.[2]

Studies showing bakuchiol as a viable alternative to retinol

A 2014 study [3] showed that bakuchiol and retinol have a similar gene expression profile; they showed the side-by-side comparison of the modulation of individual genes. They also showed that after 12 weeks of facial application of bakuchiol, there was a significant improvement in lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, firmness and overall reduction in photo-damage, without usual retinol therapy associated undesirable effects.

In 2019, a double-blind study [4] (whereby participants and researchers aren’t aware of which treatment each participant is receiving) was carried out. In this 12-week study, participants applied either bakuchiol 0·5% cream twice daily or retinol 0·5% cream daily. Bakuchiol and retinol both significantly decreased wrinkle surface area and hyperpigmentation, with no statistical difference between the compounds. The difference being – the retinol users reported more facial skin scaling and stinging. Another benefit of using bakuchiol is that unlike retinol, it does not make the skin more susceptible to damage from the sun’s harsh rays. 

Side effects of bakuchiol

Since bakuchiol is relatively new to the block there aren’t exactly many studies looking into the side effects of this ingredient when used topically. Although, clinical studies have shown qualitatively that it is a less irritating compound than retinol. So perhaps this alone has grounds for its preference over retinol, given its similar anti-ageing capabilities. Despite this, the use of bakuchiol during pregnancy would be unwise since there are simply not enough studies on it’s safety (and retinol is a no no for pregnant or breastfeeding women).

A popular skincare website has stated “due to bakuchiol’s natural composition, it’s safe to use with other products in your skincare regimen.” Unfortunately this isn’t how chemistry works. Just because bakuchiol is derived from a plant does not mean it cannot react with other compounds. A chemical is a chemical no matter where it is derived and thus it has an inherent capability of reacting with other chemicals, which depends on numerous chemical factors.

Whilst it is likely that the bakuchiol-containing product you purchase (from a trust-worthy brand) will be correctly formulated so there are no (unwanted) interactions between bakuchiol and any other ingredients in the formulation – it is not safe to assume bakuchiol cannot react with other chemicals in other skincare products. So I would approach layering products with care (this goes for layering products in general).

Is bakuchiol comparable to retinoids in general?

This post has focused on bakuchiol’s likeness to retinol, but what about the other retinoids? Retinoid is an umbrella term for all vitamin A derivatives, whereas retinol is quite literally vitamin A (see my retinol vs retinoids post for an in-depth comparison). So how does bakuchiol compare to retinoids in general?

Well, as discussed in my retinol vs retinoids post, retinol and other vitamin A derivatives first require conversion to retinoic acid to produce clinical effect. Retinoic acid is the major biologically active metabolite of retinol and other vitamin A derivatives (retinoids). Therefore, what we are really comparing is bakuchiol and retinoic acid.

Because bakuchiol doesn’t first require conversion to retinoic acid whereas retinoids do, 0.5% bakuchiol will behave differently to 0.5% retinol vs 0.5% retinoic acid or 0.5% retinal for that matter – this is because 0.5% retinol is not the same as 0.5% retinal etc because they will produce different amounts of retinoic acid.

So essentially, when you see bakuchiol and retinol being compared, it is really bakuchiol and retinoic acid that is being compared. So, a direct comparison between 0.5% bakuchiol vs 0.5% retinoid is only really a direct comparison when the retinoid is retinoic acid (since this is the biologically active compound).

Key takeaways

  1. Bakuchiol is a promising alternative to retinol (and other retinoids), especially if you suffer with skin sensitivity.
  2. The effectiveness (and mode of action) of bakuchiol requires further study since there is simply not enough research out there.
  3. Although seemingly safe, bakuchiol requires more vigorous safety studies (especially for pregnant women).
  4. Additionally, its anti-oxidant and anti-microbial properties means extra perks compared to retinol so perhaps its worth a try – no need to ditch your retinoids – thus far, evidence shows it is safe to use them both in conjunction (and retinoids might perform even better when doing so).


[1] Trompezinski S, Weber S, Cadars B, Larue F, Ardiet N, Chavagnac-Bonneville M, Sayag M, Jourdan E. Assessment of a new biological complex efficacy on dysseborrhea, inflammation, and Propionibacterium acnes proliferation. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2016;9:233-239

[2] Sadgrove, N. J., Oblong, J. E., & Simmonds, M. S. J. (2021). Inspired by vitamin A for anti‐ageing: Searching for plant‐derived functional retinoid analogues. Skin Health and Disease1(3), e36.

[3] Chaudhuri, R. K., & Bojanowski, K. (2014). Bakuchiol: a retinol‐like functional compound revealed by gene expression profiling and clinically proven to have anti‐aging effects. International journal of cosmetic science36(3), 221-230.

[4] Dhaliwal, S., Rybak, I., Ellis, S. R., Notay, M., Trivedi, M., Burney, W., … & Sivamani, R. K. (2019). Prospective, randomized, double‐blind assessment of topical bakuchiol and retinol for facial photoageing. British Journal of Dermatology180(2), 289-296.