Is Bakuchiol an Effective Retinol Alternative?

29 July 2020

Backuchiol-When it comes to anti-aging skincare, there’s one ingredient that’s stood the test of time: retinoids or vitamin A. Retinoids are proven collagen building, pigmentation busting and exfoliating ingredients that have defied trends (salmon sperm moisturisers and snail slime serums anyone?), making it one of the top choices among doctors (and a personal holy grail) for treating signs of aging, acne and pores.



The skincare ingredient that is likely to be around for 2020 and beyond: Bakuchiol. More and more skincare brands are introducing this plant based retinol like ingredient into their products.


As much as retinoids are well loved by us doctors, retinoids or vitamin A are not without their drawbacks. One of the most complaints with use of retinoids is their propensity to irritate the skin and cause dryness, flaking and peeling. This has made the use of retinoids a turn off,especially for patients with sensitive skin. Secondly, retinoids are classified as a category C drug by the US FDA, which means it is not safe for use during pregnancy.


Related blogposts:

5 Affordable & Popular Retinoid Serums Reviewed

The Beginner’s Guide to Starting Retinoids

Pregnancy Skincare Guide: What’s Safe and What to Avoid


One ingredient has been making its rounds in the news as an alternative to retinoids without side effects is Bakuchiol. Bakuchiol is currently the skin ingredient that everyone is talking about. This ingredient is good news for those with sensitive skin or find retinoids too dry and irritating. If you follow any skincare or beauty related sites or Instagram accounts, you might have already seen this ingredient mentioned very frequently. Here’s the lowdown on the essentials of Bakuchiol, the ingredient that looks set to shake up the anti-aging skincare game.



Bakuchiol: All You Need to Know


What is Bakuchiol?


Bakuchiol is an ingredient derived from the seeds of the babchi plant (Psoralea corylifolia), which is found in Sri Lanka and India. It has some anti-aging benefits to the skin and because of this, Bakuchiol has been dubbed as a natural alternative to retinol. Although it may seem to be the new kid on the beauty block that’s got everyone excited, it has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine.



However, Bakuchiol is not retinol.


(Digressing a little to minimise the confusion about retinol and retinoids; retinoids are the group of ingredients that have anti-aging and acne benefits. Retinols belong to the family of retinoids. My How to Get Rid of Large Pores will explain this in greater detail)


Bakuchiol is a plant derived ingredient. On the other hand, retinol is a type of vitamin A that can be obtained from our dietary intake of animal products like cheese and meat. However, most retinols in skincare and medications are chemically synthesised.



 How does Bakuchiol work?


Bakuchiol seems to behave similarly to retinol on the skin by targeting similar cellular pathways1. The collagen boosting pathways in the skin are similar to the ones that retinols act on1. By increasing cell turnover and increasing collagen levels in the skin1, it gives the same benefits of retinol to the skin, making it a promising ingredient in the skincare game for treating signs of aging and acne.


Additionally, Bakuchiol has antioxidant effects and anti-inflammatory benefits2,3,so it reduces the redness and irritation (aka the retinoid reaction) with retinoid use4.


What are the benefits and results of Bakuchiol?


Bakuchiol has been shown to improve the appearance of wrinkles and lighten pigmentation4.


How soon can I see the results of Bakuchiol?


The studies on Bakuchiol so far are limited. One study showed that the reduction of wrinkles and pigmentation over 12 weeks4.


Is Bakuchiol as effective as retinoids?


Bakuchiol: Promising but limited data


One of the problems is that there is very little clinical research on Bakuchiol to date. Despite the hype and attention around this ingredient, there is very little information and scientific data around it. We don’t even know enough about the side effects or optimum dosing and combinations- yet.



Let’s look at the information and evidence available so far.


In the latest study on that set the beauty world abuzz was a 2018 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology4. In this study, 44 human subjects applied 0.05% Bakuchiol cream twice a day or 0.05 retinol once a day. Both groups of patients saw an improvement in their pigmentation and wrinkles to a similar extent. The group of patients on Bakuchiol experienced less side effects such as stinging and flaking.

Is Bakuchiol better than retinol?


Based on the results of this small study, it would seem than Bakuchiol might be a better anti-aging ingredient than retinol as it gives similar results without side effects. One glaring issue here is that Bakuchiol was applied twice a day while the participants on retinol had it applied only once a day. Since the daily dose of Bakuchiol was twice the amount of retinol in participants; we can’t say that it is as effective as retinol. Perhaps the more valid takeaway from this study is that it causes less irritation and side effects than retinol.


Bakuchiol has been labelled as the ‘natural retinol alternative’ in the media. It is relatively new to the skincare scene as compared to retinols which have been studied extensively for decades. More information and data is still needed for doctors to ascertain its safety and effectiveness.


So is Bakuchiol really effective?


As the skincare ingredient of the moment, it is worthwhile to give Bakuchiol a try. At least I did. I’ll  also be sharing my review of a Bakuchiol serum in this same post.


Before you make that plunge, here are some things you need to know it:

1. How Bakuchiol compares to retinoids

So far, we only know how it compares to retinol, not retinoids. Retinoids refer to the group of vitamin A related ingredients that are used for anti-aging and acne treatments. Retinol is one type of retinoid, just like tretinoin.



Different retinoids have different potencies and strengths. Tretinoin (or retinoic acid) is a prescription grade retinoid. Retinol is a weaker retinoid and can be obtained in over the counter skincare products. In the family of retinoids, tretinoin is regarded as the gold standard among dermatologists for anti-aging.


We do not know how Bakuchiol stacks up against tretinoin, but it is likely to be less effective on the skin. This is because retinol needs to be converted to tretinoin in the skin before it can act on the skin.


2. Limited evidence for Bakuchiol so far


There is a dearth of solid, robust evidence and trials for Bakuchiol. Compared to the decades of clinical trials for retinoids, the data for Bakuchiol is much, much less. For example, information on the side effects and optimum dosages are still not known.


Perhaps, as interest in Bakuchiol continues to grow, we will see more trials and studies conducted on Bakuchiol. Suffice to say, it won’t be replacing anti-aging staples for now.


Redness and dryness from retinoid use. These side effects seem to be avoided with Bakuchiol.


Am I suitable for Bakuchiol?


It’s never too early to get started on treating pigmentation and wrinkles. It all boils down to tolerance for your choice of actives. You can try itif you have sensitive skin or problems using retinol. If you already are using actives like retinoids and vitamin C without any issues, then switching to Bakuchiol will not be necessary.


Retinols are too mild as a treatment for acne, so if you’re thinking of using this to replace your prescription strength retinoids, Bakuchiol is highly unlikely to be as effective. Plus, there are decades of research behind retinoids to support their use for treating acne and comedones. The evidence and research for Bakuchiol so far is still very weak.


Related post:

All About Topical Vitamin C: One of the Best Ways to Protect Your Skin


What are the side effects of Bakuchiol?


While Bakuchiol has earned a reputation for being a ‘natural’ and ‘vegan’ cousin of retinol sans the side effects, a word of caution before you start on it. The side effects of Bakuchiol still are not entirely known yet. Like all skincare ingredients, there is a risk of allergies and Bakuchiol is not an exception. In fact, a report of Bakuchiol causing irritant contact dermatitis was just published this year5.


Is Bakuchiol safe for use during pregnancy?


Skincare brands Biossance and Ole Henrikson claim that it is safe for use in pregnancy. This gives hope to pregnant mothers who cannot use retinoids to treat their pigmentation or acne. This impression that it is a safe ingredient for use during pregnancy has also been mentioned in many beauty magazines that extol the benefits of Bakuchiol.


Taken from Biossance’s website. Not having structural resemblance to retinols does not mean that it is safe! It does not tell us whether Bakuchiol can cross the placenta and affect fetal growth…etc. 



Taken from Herbivore’s websitee.


However, I could not find any data that definitively states or shows Bakuchiol to be safe for use in pregnancy. There aren’t any studies (at the time that this post was uploaded) that demonstrate the safety of Bakuchiol in pregnant women. On its official website, skincare companies like Biossance and Herbivore state that it is safe because Bakuchiol has a different chemical structure from retinol or that it is ‘natural/ vegan/ plant based’. These statements do not tell us anything about whether it can cross the placenta or cause problems in the fetus during pregnancy. Without any evidence to back up these claims, I would approach them with a healthy dose of skepticism. Plant based/ natural/ vegan ingredients are not naturally safer. For example, plant oils like Bergamot oil have been reported to cause phototoxic effects.


How to use Bakuchiol?


It can be used twice a day, both in the day and night as it does not irritate the skin as much as retinol does. This is another advantage of Bakuchiol over retinols as retinoids are only for use in the night.


Where can I get Bakuchiol in Singapore?


Some of the brands that carry Bakuchiol in their lineup are Biossance, Herbivore, Bybi, Ole Henrikson and The Inkey list


You can buy Bakuchiol in serums and creams over the counter in Singapore. Only a handful of skincare companies carry skincare products that contain this ingredient so far though. Bakuchiol is one the biggest skincare ingredients to trend this year and it certainly looks promising so I foresee more skincare and cosmetic companies including it in their product line up in time to come.


My bottle of Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum that I bought from Sephora Singapore.


My review of Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum I managed to purchase a bottle of Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum which contains Bakuchiol. Biossance is brand that was recently brought to Singapore by Sephora.


(The full size bottle Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum was sold out in Sephora Singapore at my time of purchase so I got the smaller version to review.)



Ingredient list of Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol serum


Decoding the ingredient list in Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum


The phyto-retinol component of the serum refers to Bakuchiol. Squalene softens the skin and locks in moisture of the skin.


One ingredient that I was very happy to see in the serum is Niacinamide. Niacinamide is an antioxidant that reduces inflammation in the skin. It’s one of my favourite skincare ingredients and I’ve shared about how you can benefit from Niacinamide in this review.



 Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum feels more like a gel-cream than a serum.


The Good about Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum


Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum feels more like a gel-cream than a serum. It’s slightly thicker than most serums I’ve tried but it dries quickly to leave a light feel. This is likely related to the texture of squalene. Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum is not moisturising enough so you might also need to layer it with a moisturiser of your choice.


I also like the addition of Niacinamide into the ingredient list of Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum! #doctorapproved The gives additional antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and some pigmentation lightening benefits to this serum.


Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum did not cause any side effects like redness, irritation or clogged pores. As expected, the phyto-retinol did not irritate my sensitive skin. Niacinamide may also be credited for these benefits.


The Bad about Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum


The first thing that hit me was the smell of Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum. It has a grassy, herbal smell which I dislike. That said, the smell disappears in a few minutes so no lingering stench.


After using Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum twice a day for 3 weeks, I did not notice any improvement in my skin. At most it felt a little softer, which makes Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol serum a very expensive moisturiser IMO. To be fair to Biossance, this 10ml version only lasted me for 3 weeks. The studies for Bakuchiol showed that users saw improvement in their pigmentation and wrinkles after 12 weeks of twice daily use4.


That said, I’ve used retinoids and retinol for a while now and my retinol can give me appreciable improvement at the 3 week mark.


My Verdict on Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum


Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum left me feeling disappointed. It is also one of the more expensive Bakuchiol products around so I’d rather stick to my retinols which are more effective for me.


Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum’s packaging and Biossance’s website does not list the concentration of Bakuchiol. This also makes it hard to evaluate whether my lack of results could be related to the concentration.


At SGD$43 for 10ml, Biossance’s Squalene + Phyto-retinol Serum is expensive in my opinion for little results.



Update January 2020: New review of  The Inkey List’s Bakuchiol moisturiser 


the inkey list bakuchiol serum review


The Inkey List’s Bakuchiol moisturiser 


Review of The Inkey List’s Bakuchiol moisturiser


The good about The Inkey List’s Bakuchiol moisturiser

The Inkey List’s Bakuchiol moisturiser serves up a generous 1% Bakuchiol for the price tag. The addition of squalene and Sacha Inchi oil gives Bakuchiol a slight oily feel and makes it better for people with dry skin. I did not get more comedones with using The Inkey List’s Bakuchiol moisturiser.


The bad about The Inkey List’s Bakuchiol moisturiser

The Inkey List’s Bakuchiol did not do anything for me. I did not see results from using this for 3 weeks. It felt like a very bland moisturiser.


My verdict on The Inkey List’s Bakuchiol moisturiser

Possibly a non-irritating anti-aging moisturiser for sensitive and dry skin type. The Inkey List’s Bakuchiol moisturiser was lacklustre for me.


Conclusion on Bakuchiol


In summary, Bakuchiol is a promising ingredient for anti-aging but research so far is very limited. Data and information about basic safety issues like the side effects are still not known. Also, even though skincare companies claim that Bakuchiol is safe for use in pregnancy, this claim is not substantiated, so please discuss with your doctor before starting on it.


Otherwise Bakuchiol seems like a safe ingredient to try if you are looking for a retinol equivalent for anti-aging. The main benefits of it are lighter pigmentation and reduced wrinkles. If you have conditions like sensitive skin, Bakuchiol is a nice starting point for you. However, Bakuchiol should not replace prescription grade retinoids from your doctor, especially for acne treatments. Although it is as effective as retinol, retinols are unlikely to be as effective and powerful as other retinoids like retinoic acid.


Bottom line is this: If you can tolerate retinoids, you can skip the Bakuchiol. If you are unable to tolerate retinol or have sensitive skin, it is worth a try.


If you are looking for Bakuchiol serums and creams, look out for a concentration of Bakuchiol of at least 0.5%. Twice daily use for at least 12 weeks is also recommended to see reduced pigmentation and fine wrinkles. These recommendations are based on a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology4.


I hope you found this review on Bakuchiol skincare useful. I’m not a fan and I’m going to stick to my usual anti-aging suspects instead. If you’d like to read more of my skincare and ingredients reviews, here they are:

Probiotics in Skincare and Supplements: Do They Work?

Cica in Skincare: Centella Asiatica Explained

5 Cult Favourite Hyaluronic Acid Serums and Moisturisers Reviewed

Everything You Need to Know About Hyaluronic Acid

How to Lighten Pigmentation and Dark Spots with Skincare

Sunscreen Reviews: the Best, the Worst and the Unsafe

The Ordinary Skincare Review and Ingredients Decoded

Do Eye Creams Work?

A Doctor’s Guide to Pregnancy Safe Skincare 



1. Bakuchiol: a retinol-like functional compound revealed by gene expression profiling and clinically proven to have anti-aging effects. Chaudhuri and Bojanowski. Int J Cosmet Sci 2014; 36: 221-30.

2. Bakuchiol Is a Phenolic Isoprenoid with Novel Enantiomer-selective Anti-influenza A Virus Activity Involving Nrf2 Activation. Shoji et al. J Biol Chem 2015; 290: 28001-17.

3. Role of nrf2 in oxidative stress and toxicity. Ma. Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol 2013; 53: 401-26.

4. Prospective, randomized, double-blind assessment of topical bakuchiol and retinol for facial photoageing. Dhaliwal et al. Br J Dermatol. 2019 Feb;180(2):289-296.

5 . Bakuchiol-A new allergen in cosmetics. Malinauskiene et al. Contact Dermatitis. 2019 Jun;80(6):398-399.




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