Retinoids (also known as vitamin A derivatives) are a much loved ingredient by anyone who is remotely interested in skincare. They are known for treating the signs of aging and acne however, we also know that some people, especially if you have sensitive skin, can have adverse effects to it that cause the skin to become irritated.
That’s where bakuchiol comes in. This is an ingredient that s derived from the babchi plant (Psoralea corylifolia) and is becoming prominent in skincare because it is suggested that as an ingredient it can do the same thing that retinoids can but without the adversity. So much so that it has been crowned the “the natural alternative to retinol”.
Do they both slow down signs of aging?
A paper published in 2018 showed some very promising results. This particular study had 44 participants that were asked to apply either bakuchiol 0·5% cream twice daily or retinol 0·5% cream daily for 12 weeks. A facial photograph and analytical system was used to obtain and analyse high‐resolution photographs of patients at 0, 4, 8 and 12 weeks. The results? Bakuchiol and retinol both significantly decreased wrinkle surface area and hyperpigmentation. However, the retinol users reported more facial skin scaling and stinging. Based on this report we can assume it’s true – the benefits of bakuchiol are the same as retinol but without the side effects.
The above study is the most recent and relevant that I could find but other studies have also commented on the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of bakuchiol.
How different are they?
The same study from 2018 also tells us that both compounds have shown the ability to induce similar gene expression in the skin and that can lead to improvement of cutaneous photodamage, which as you all know, is a big contributor to aging. Retinol/tretinoin (the active compound that retinol changes to in vivo) and bakuchiol both also stimulate collagen production, which is a key competent in any anti-aging ingredient. This means that there are similarities in how they affect cell pathways.
But there are definite differences between the two as other research has suggested that, although bakuchiol has a similar structure to retinol, it doesn’t seem to act via the same retinoic acid receptors as retinol. Also, in another study, researchers found that bakuchiol was actually better than retinol at slowing down the activity of two matrix metalloprotease enzymes that break down collagen and elastin, MMP-1 and MMP-12.
So, they produce a very similar result with slightly different methods. Only more research will be able to tell us how much the exact route that bakuchiol takes differs from retinol and whether it has any more benefit to the skin.
There is no doubt at the moment that bakuchiol is an effective ingredient when it come to anti-aging however, many still believe that it does not outweigh the benefits of retinoids/retinol for one very simple reason. There isn’t enough data on 1. bakuchiol as an ingredient 2. retinol/tretinoin vs bakuchiol.
In my opinion that isn’t enough to dismiss the benefits of bakuchiol however it would be more assuring if there were more studies on it’s skincare benefits. This is likely to change over time and when it does, it has the potential to become another industry gold standard as retinoids already are.
It’s also important to note that if you have sensitive skin or are pregnant bakuchiol is a safe and effective alternative to retinol, that’s not just marketing fluff.