What's the Deal With Bakuchiol, the 'Natural' Retinol Everyone's Talking About?

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If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me about bakuchiol, I would be, well, spectacularly rich. 

Bakuchiol is the new skincare ingredient the beauty world has become obsessed with lately, all thanks to a juicy rumour going around that it’s a natural, more gentle alternative to retinol. 

It definitely has loads of amazing skincare benefits, but is it really as good as retinol? Keep scrolling for the answers to all your bakuchiol questions.

What Is Bakuchiol?

Remember how a few years ago everyone became obsessed with chia seeds? And then we figured out the Aztecs were actually eating them a gazillion centuries ago?

It’s kind of the same thing with bakuchiol - we’re a tad late to the party. 

Bakuchiol is derived from the seeds and leaves of the Indian Babchi plant, which spurts loads of cute little purple flowers - that’s why you’ll notice many skincare products containing bakuchiol extract have a pretty purple colour. 

The natural and “clean” beauty industries are only just jumping on board the bakuchiol train now, but the ingredient has actually been used in Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to treat hyperpigmentation, skin rashes and a range of other skin conditions. 

FYI skin expert extraordinaire Caroline Hirons dished the truth about bakuchiol when she spoke to Hannah and Jo on the Beauty IQ Uncensored podcast, get it in your ears below.

Bakuchiol Benefits - What Can It Do for Your Skin?

Many skin experts say bakuchiol has a shopping list full of benefits. 

“Bakuchiol is able to help block the inflammatory response in your skin to help minimise redness and irritation in the skin, and it’s able to help prevent and restore signs of premature ageing, due to its antioxidant, collagen-stimulating and hydrating properties,” says Medik8’s director of research, Daniel Isaacs. 

“Bakuchiol is also great for clear skin, as it uses its gentle anti-inflammatory powers to minimise the formation of blemishes and to calm the skin. It can help to minimise the production of melanin and therefore brighten the skin tone."

And of course, many compare its effects to that of vitamin A as they both help to visibly reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

Isaacs adds, “They both help to speed up cellular turnover in the skin, giving it a smoother, softer surface. Retinol and bakuchiol also both help to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin, for a more youthful-looking, plumper complexion. They also can help to hinder excess production of melanin, leaving the skin evenly-toned and brightened.”

But here’s the major selling point - there are no bakuchiol side effects. This ingredient purportedly doesn’t have any of retinol’s nasty reactions, like redness and irritation.

“Bakuchiol has been clinically proven to harness anti-ageing powers that are comparable to retinol, without any side effects that can sometimes occur with vitamin A use like the dryness some people experience."

Bakuchiol is also “photostable”, meaning it can be used during the day, unlike retinol, which makes us extremely sensitive to the sun. 

Want to learn more about Vitamin A and how to use a retinol in your skincare routine? Check out Jo's YouTube explainer video below!

Bakuchiol vs Retinol.

OK, but is bakuchiol ~really~ as good as retinol?

All of the chatter comparing retinol to bakuchiol is based on this one study (yep, just the one).

Published in the British Journal of Dermatology in 2019, the study asked 44 patients to apply either a bakuchiol cream or a retinol cream daily over the course of 12 weeks. 

According to the study, “bakuchiol and retinol both significantly decreased wrinkle surface area and hyperpigmentation, with no statistical difference between the compounds. The retinol users reported more facial skin scaling and stinging.”

The scientists’ final conclusion? “Our study demonstrates that bakuchiol is comparable with retinol in its ability to improve photoageing and is better tolerated than retinol. Bakuchiol is promising as a more tolerable alternative to retinol.”

So it’s a positive sign, but here’s the catch.

This one study involving just 44 people is nothing compared to the decades of research and thousands of scientific studies supporting the effectiveness of retinol as the “gold standard” of anti-ageing ingredients. In short, more research needs to be done before we start stopping strangers on the street about it.

Having said that, there are a few groups of people for whom bakuchiol might be a better alternative to retinol:

  • Those with really sensitive skin who cannot tolerate retinol: “Bakuchiol is a lot more gentle on the skin than retinol, working to naturally soothe and calm the skin," Isaacs says.

  • Those who are sun-sensitive: “Bakuchiol is also photostable, meaning it can be used day and night, unlike most forms of retinol."

Is Bakuchiol Pregnancy Safe?

While retinol products are not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, the jury is still out on whether bakuchiol is pregnancy-friendly or not.

There have been no studies done on pregnant women, so always consult your obstetrician or medical specialist before trying any new skincare products while pregnant.

Best Bakuchiol Serum 2020.

While bakuchiol is great on its own, it’s even more effective when combined with ingredients like peptides. 

Enter, Medik8 Bakuchiol Peptides 30ml .

This serum contains 1.25 per cent pure bakuchiol (it’s the third ingredient listed, so you know it’s in a high concentration), along with an “an enhanced blend of brightening peptide precursors which help to visibly brighten the complexion with less pigmentation,” Isaacs explains. 

Why are peptides so great? They’re the building blocks of proteins and our skin is already full of them, in our natural stores of collagen and elastin. Of course, these disappear as we age, so applying peptides topically can help improve the skin’s natural strength and resilience. 

“When applied to the skin, peptides can act as communicators, triggering a response in certain cells of the skin. They give your skin a specific instruction to do ‘something’, and that ‘something’ entirely depends on what order your amino acids are in. Every peptide has a unique superpower to target different skin concerns."

Finally, Isaacs says there are “no ingredients to avoid” when using bakuchiol and no rules about when you should use Medik8’s Bakuchiol Peptides product. 

But he does recommend using bakuchiol in conjunction with a vitamin C serum and your SPF in the morning for a complete skincare routine.

And that is everything you need to know about bakuchiol.

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