If I’ve learned anything from the dermatologists on Tiktok, it’s that you need three things in your anti-aging skincare regimen; broad-spectrum SPF, vitamin C serum, and retinol cream. Before our wedding, I did a round of Accutane for my cystic acne. My skin looked amazing. It was bright, smooth, and acne-free. Naturally, my dermatologist switched me to a topical Retin-A cream, and it continued to perform. After a 5-year long retinol vacation to have kids, I decided to give the retinol alternative called bakuchiol a try. In this blog, I’ll tell you what you need to know about bakuchiol so you can determine if this retinol alternative might be a good option for you.  

Benefits of Retinol?

Retinol is a form of vitamin A that can be applied topically, aka to the skin. It’s part of a family of vitamin A derivatives that are called retinoids. There are lots of retinoids out there, and they vary in strength. 

Retinoids help increase collagen production and aid in skin cell turnover. Using a retinoid results in smoother, more even skin tone and reduced sun spots, fine lines, and wrinkles. The increased cell turnover with retinoids also helps improve acne and has been used to treat some skin cancers.  

OTC vs. Prescription Vitamin A

Higher-strength retinoids, like tretinoin, require a prescription from a doctor. Tretinoin is retinoic acid, which is bioavailable to the skin. In other words, it’s already in a form that can affect the skin when applied.  

Lower strength retinoid creams are sold over the counter (OTC) and can be bought online or at your local grocery store or pharmacy. These creams contain retinol, which needs to be converted by the skin cells to retinoic acid to have the same effect as tretinoin and other prescription retinoid creams.  

It will take longer to see the benefits when using an OTC retinol versus a prescription tretinoin cream. But, both typically result in firmer, smoother, and clearer skin with continued use.  

Retinol Side Effects

Retinoids, especially those “stronger” prescription versions, aren’t without side effects. When starting retinol, you may experience skin irritation like redness, drying, and peeling. Some will even experience itchiness and scaling during the first 2-4 weeks of using a retinoid.  

It’s crucial to use a small amount of retinol or retinoic acid. You should follow the directions on the product or from your dermatologist, which usually includes every other day or every third-day application before ramping up to daily use.  

Retinol will make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so make sure to wear sunscreen daily. You also want to avoid waxing while using retinol or stop it for 7-10 days before getting a wax. I can attest to this personally. I had a “scab mustache” for a girls’ trip one time because I didn’t hold my retinol before an at-home washing session.  

Avoid retinol if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Lastly, conventional retinol products can be animal-derived, so it’s not an option for vegans or those looking for cruelty-free beauty products.  

What is Bakuchiol?

bakuchiol vs retinol

Bakuchiol (pronounced buh-koo-chee-all) is becoming a popular retinol alternative. It’s been called a “natural retinol” or “vegan retinol,” sometimes “plant-based retinol.” But, bakuchiol is not retinol. Bakuchiol comes from the seeds and leaves of the Psoralea corylifolia plant. The herb is also called babchi and has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to treat many diseases.  

Does Bakuchiol Work?

We call bakuchiol “natural retinol” because it has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-oxidant properties. Despite first being isolated in 1966, bakuchiol is just now showing up in beauty products. So far, we have two studies comparing bakachiol vs. retinol. There are no studies comparing bakuchiol to Tretinoin aka Retin A.    

  •  In 2014, researchers applied bakuchiol and retinol to synthetic skin and collagen cells. Both products had similar effects on the genes that regulate collagen production in the affected skin. At the same time, 16 participants apply a 0.5% bakuchiol product twice a day for 12 weeks. All participants saw improvements in all categories, including fine lines and wrinkles, roughness, dryness, and elasticity. None reported any typical retinol side effects like irritation and dry, flaking skin when using bakuchiol.    
  • In 2018, 44 people used bakuchiol 0·5% cream twice daily or retinol 0·5% cream daily for 12 weeks. The patients had high‐resolution photographs at 0, 4, 8, and 12 weeks. Both the bakuchiol and retinol users saw reduced wrinkles and improved hyperpigmentation. Retinol users reported more skin irritation.  

Retinol Alternative?

  • Bakuchiol products can be vegan or cruelty-free, whereas retinol products are not.  
  • Bakuchiol doesn’t cause the same skin irritation as retinol. It may be the retinol alternative for sensitive skin who have been unable to tolerate retinol in the past.
  • Unlike retinol, If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you can use bakuchiol.   
  • Bakuchiol does not cause sun sensitivity like retinol.  
  • EWG rating: Bakuchiol=1 (low hazard), Retinol=9 (high hazard).

Bakuchiol Products

Bakuchiol isn’t as readily available as retinol. So, you will likely need to order it online. There are lots of options depending on your preference and price range. I’ve seen lotions, serums, creams, and even bakuchiol pads for sale and in beauty blogs. Herbivore Bakuchiol serum pops up in all my Facebook and Instagram ads, though the “jelly-like” texture isn’t popular amongst everyone. I’m using botanical Bakuchiol by Monat. It’s a lightweight lotion and feels hydrating when I put it on before bed. It’s only been a few weeks, but so far, I’m noticing my skin tone appears more even, and my skin feels hydrated when I wake up in the morning. I have sensitive skin, and it’s not red or irritated despite daily use. It also passes the husband test. Russell said to me the other day, “I like that weirdly named serum; it feels good on my skin.”

My Final Thoughts on Bakuchiol Serum

I think bakuchiol is a reasonable retinol alternative if you want a vegan and cruelty-free product, have sensitive skin, or are pregnant or breastfeeding. It appears that bakuchiol may be just as effective as retinol, though we don’t know how it compares to tretinoin or Retin A. With that said, I’m giving Monat’s Bakuchiol vegan retinol alternative a 3-6 month trial before I decide about filling my tretinoin prescription from my doctor.  

Have you used bakuchiol or retinol? What are your thoughts? Comment below if you are willing to share your experience. As always, feel free to reach out if you have questions.