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This gentle retinol alternative promises anti-aging results

Sensitive skin? Try bakuchiol for skin-smoothing results.

A person wearing a robe and a towel on their head examining their face in a mirror. Credit: Getty Images / Vesnaandjic

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In the world of skincare, no other ingredient is quite as celebrated as retinol. The anti-aging staple is touted for targeting everything from fine lines and wrinkles to dark spots and breakouts. But with its wide range of skincare benefits also comes irritating side effects in the form of dryness, redness, and flakiness. That's where bakuchiol, an alternative to retinol, comes in.

The ingredient is said to mimic the same effects as retinol but without using animal-derived ingredients or causing irritation. To learn about bakuchiol and how it compares to retinol, we spoke with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Corey L. Hartman, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama.

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What is bakuchiol?

Bakuchiol is a vegan ingredient extracted from the psoralea corylifolia plant, which has been used for centuries in traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, says Hartman. When used in skincare formulas, bakuchiol has "antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that are similar to retinol, which makes it a great alternative to treat signs of aging like fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven tone,” says Hartman. “It also helps increase cell turnover and skin firmness as well as reduce the appearance of pores." Bakuchiol can be found in a range of skincare products, such as moisturizers and eye creams, but you'll mostly find it in serums, in which the concentration of active ingredients is higher and the molecules are smaller, meaning the ingredient is able to penetrate deeper into the skin.

What’s the difference between retinol and bakuchiol?

Retinol, a type of retinoid, is a derivative of vitamin A that ultimately gets converted to retinoic acid, the active form of the molecule, says Hartman. Next to wearing SPF year-round, applying a retinol-based product is arguably the most important step that you can take for preventing signs of skin aging, says Hartman. It helps to regulate cell turnover, promote exfoliation, prevent acne, even discoloration, control oil, smooth fine lines and wrinkles, and unclog pores. No matter your skin type, if you're new to the ingredient, it's best to integrate it into your routine gradually, beginning with one to two times a week to see how your skin reacts.

Retinol is safe for all skin types (normal, dry, oily) and skin tones, but if you have dry, sensitive, or rosacea-prone, you’re more likely to experience irritating side effects with use. If this is the case for you, a retinol alternative like bakuchiol may be a better fit for your skin.

"Bakuchiol is a gentle alternative to retinol and is great for people who are new to retinol or have tried retinol in the past but found they cannot tolerate it," says Hartman. "I find retinol to be most effective in reducing signs of aging and firming the skin, but bakuchiol will give users similar results with consistent use—it just may take longer." Because bakuchiol is better tolerated than retinol, it doesn’t require the same gradual integration into your routine. That being said, it's important to follow the product’s instructions in terms of dosage size and how often to apply. Generally speaking, you can apply bakuchiol-containing products twice a day, in the morning and evening. Below, find options bakuchiol-containing products that suit your skin desires.

1. For smoothing texture: Herbivore Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Smoothing Serum

On the left: A purple bottle of serum with fruits in the background. On the right: A closeup on a person dropping serum onto their cheeks.
Credit: Herbivore

Smooth your skin's texture with the Herbivore Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Smoothing Serum.

Though bakuchiol is the star ingredient in this skin-smoothing serum, it also contains polyhydroxy acids, a chemical exfoliant used to gently slough away dead skin cells, as well as tremella mushroom to help the skin retain moisture. To use, apply two to three drops in the morning and evening, and follow up with a moisturizer.

Get the Herbivore Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Smoothing Serum from Sephora for $54

2. For reducing fine lines: Bybi Bakuchiol Booster Every Day Vegan Facial Oil Treatment

On the left: A purple oil bottle uncapped. On the right: A closeup on a person's face with drops of clear liquid on their face from a dropper.
Credit: Bybi

Moisturize your skin with the Bybi Clean Beauty Bakuchiol Booster Every Day Vegan Facial Oil Treatment.

This lightweight serum combines bakuchiol with squalane for a moisturizing formula that reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. After cleansing skin, pat your face dry and apply one to two drops as part of your nighttime skincare routine.

Get the Bybi Bakuchiol Booster Every Day Vegan Facial Oil Treamtent from Target for $9.99

3. For brightening dullness: Clearstem Hydraglow Stem Cell Moisturizer

On the left: A jar of moisturizer on the purple background. On the right: A jar of moisturizer on an iridescent platform.
Credit: Clearstem

Help your skin glow with the Clearstem Hydraglow Stem Cell Moisturizer.

Everyone needs to moisturize, so this product will be an easy integration into your routine. Thie Clearstem moisturizer uses bakuchiol, stem cells (cells that repair tissue damage), and olive squalane to plump up the skin and impart a radiant glow on dull complexions. Use in the morning and evening on your face and neck after cleansing.

Get the Clearstem Hydraglow Stem Cell Moisturizer from Amazon for $56

4. For targeting pores: Innbeauty Project Slushy Serum Moisturizer Crush

On the left: A pink bottle of moisturizer on a hot pink background. On the right: A person applying moisturizer to their cheek with their index finger and smiling.
Credit: InnBeauty

Use the Innbeauty Project Slushy Serum Moisturizer Crush as a one-step serum and moisturizer.

Turn to this item from Innbeauty Project if you're looking for a one-step, serum-moisturizer hybrid that claims to nix enlarged pores, hyperpigmentation, and uneven skin texture. It relies on bakuchiol for its wrinkle-reducing abilities, hyaluronic acid for hydration, and antioxidant-rich yuzu to brighten and hydrate the complexion. Apply two to three pumps after cleansing the skin.

Get the Innbeauty Project Slushy Serum Moisturizer Crush from Sephora for $22

5. For clearing acne: Indeed Labs Bakuchiol Reface Pads

On the left: A stack of red and white jars containing exfoliating pads. On the right: A closeup on a person's face as they hold a cotton round to their cheek.
Credit: Indeed Labs

Keep acne at bay with the Indeed Labs Bakuchiol Reface Pads.

Acne-prone skin requires a gentle formula that can help alleviate redness and irritation. Cue these pads from Indeed Labs, which use niacinamide for its anti-inflammatory properties as well as bakuchiol for increasing cell turnover. Swipe one pad onto your face and neck morning and evening after cleansing and follow up with your moisturizer.

Get the Indeed Labs Bakuchiol Reface Pads from Amazon for $19.99

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