Bakuchiol explained: all the facts about the natural retinol alternative

Wondering what bakuchiol is and how it benefits your skin? Our expert guide has the answers

a dropper bottle of bakuchiol skincare on a purple backdrop
(Image credit: Future/Getty images)

The word bakuchiol has been floating around in beauty circles for a few years, and now this powerful skincare ingredient is beginning to hit the mainstream.

It's no wonder bakuchiol is taking off. When it comes to our skincare routine, we're all looking for the perfect balance of effective and gentle. If you're in search of an all-natural ingredient that also very much does the work, look no further. Pronounced bah-koo-chee-oll, this plant-based extract has been billed as retinol's gentler sister, and the two can actually be used in tandem for better results.

A natural skincare ingredient with all the complexion-improving properties of the best retinol cream? You're probably thinking, sign me up! So let's dive a bit deeper, consult the experts and learn more about what bakuchiol has to offer you and your skin.  

Your expert-approved bakuchiol guide

What is Bakuchiol?

Bakuchiol is an botanical ingredient that has historically been used in Chinese and Indian restorative medicine and is currently the talk of the beauty business.

"Bakuchiol is a compound found in the seeds of the Indian plant psoralea corylifolia. It is gaining a lot of interest as the demand for plant-based or botanical ingredients grows in the beauty and skincare industry," explains top dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto. "It has been found to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and potentially even anti-acne activity."

What are the benefits of Bakuchiol?

"Bakuchiol has been shown to activate a number of chemical pathways in skin cells that ultimately lead to improved collagen production, decreased collagen breakdown, and reduction of melanin (pigment) synthesis," explains Dr Mahto. "The overall net effect seems to be an improvement in fine lines, wrinkles, and pigmentation, which are commonly associated with the natural aging process."

Evidence suggests that bakuchiol skincare can help to:

  • Reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles 
  • Create a more even skin tone
  • Reduce the damage from environmental factors such as pollution and UV
  • Increase skin's overall elasticity
  • Promote firmness in the skin
  • May help to reduce the appearance of blemishes and acne

It's these multifaceted effects that draw comparisons with skincare superstar, retinol. But as anyone who has grappled with how to use retinol will know, retinoids are notoriously aggravating on some skins, whereas Bakuchiol has a gentler rep.

Does Bakuchiol have any side effects?

Unlike many other popular skincare ingredients, bakuchiol has very few (if any) known side effects. It's not irritating, as retinol can be for some, but you may also notice that the results you get from bakuchiol are less pronounced than with other products. Many experts agree that retinol is more consistent in its results.

"Bakuchiol seems to work in a similar manner to retinol but appears to have the added advantage of causing less irritation such as peeling, dryness, or sensitivity," agrees Dr Mahto. However, it's worth bearing in mind that these are early days for bakuchiol. "Retinoids are some of the most widely studied compounds in topical skincare with numerous clinical studies demonstrating benefit. In comparison, bakuchiol is definitely the 'new kid on the block', and whilst initial results appear promising, more studies and research are required to see how well the ingredient will stand the test of time," explains Dr Mahto.

How and when to apply bakuchiol

As a facial treatment, you will find that bakuchiol comes most often in serum or oil form. Apply it to your face and neck after your morning or evening cleanse. Follow your bakuchiol treatment with the best skincare products to hydrate and protect the skin, so add hydrating serums, your best face moisturizer, and then a broad-spectrum sunscreen for daytime use. 

Whether you use your bakuchiol once or twice per day, it's gentle enough that it shouldn't have any trouble getting along with other skincare ingredients. Make use of this ingredient if you have skin conditions such as dermatitis, psoriasis, or eczema that prevent you from using more aggressive skincare actives. Bakuchiol's gentle properties will help you to achieve excellent results.

As with any active ingredient, if you are currently pregnant or breastfeeding, check in with your doctor first before using any products with bakuchiol.

Three bakuchiol products our beauty editor rates

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Medik8 Bakuchiol Peptides | RRP: $55/£45
My go-to scientific skincare brand has dipped its toe into the natural world, with excellent results. Formulated with 1.25% bakuchiol, plus cell-energizing peptides and soothing Centella Asiatica, this oil treatment is both gentle and results-driven.  


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Biossance Squalane + Phyto Retinol Serum | RRP: $72/£55
This Californian clean beauty brand always formulates around plant-based skin-nourisher squalane, and here combines it with bakuchiol and niacinamide to create a skin-improving serum with a creamy texture. 


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Ole Henriksen Wrinkle Blur Bakuchiol Eye Gel Creme | RRP: $49/£44
The eye area is delicate, in many cases too delicate for retinol, which makes bakuchiol eye cream an excellent shout. This one also packs in peptides, moisturizing glycerin, and soft-focus particles for instant effects. 


woman&home thanks Dr Anjali Mahto for her time and expertise

Fiona McKim
Fiona McKim

As woman&home's Beauty Channel Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more beauty products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about a brilliant find on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair experiments and cute shih-tzus). Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor back in 2013, working under industry legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know (clue: learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism).