Natural Retinol Has Arrived! The Skinny On Bakuchiol.

Natural Retinol Has Arrived! The Skinny On Bakuchiol.

I’ve been using retinoids for years to combat my cystic acne, and it’s been one heck of a rocky road! Over-the-counter retinoids often left my face dry, flaky, and irritated. Prescription Differin gel was even worse; I got atopic dermatitis so bad that the skin around my mouth literally cracked and bled to the point where eating was painful. When I finally discovered Renova (a form of prescription Retin-A), I thought I’d found the holy grail. It took years off my face while also reducing the size and frequency of my acne cysts.

Then I got pregnant. During my first appointment, my OB expressly forbid me from using any and all retinoids – including my beloved Renova — while pregnant or nursing. I had two distinct reactions to her warning: I freaked out over the idea that my face might once again become covered in giant, throbbing acne cysts, but I also began to question whether my retinoid use was a good idea. My doctor reassured me that her advice came only out of an abundance of caution over lack of testing on pregnant and breastfeeding women. Still, I worried that the rapid changes retinoids caused in the top layers of my skin might eventually come back to haunt me. 

I managed to avoid using retinoids for several years after James was born, as I had switched to clean beauty products while I was pregnant. These seemed to calm my skin and help me avoid the painful cysts that had previously plagued my chin. But when perimenopause reared its ugly head last year, I was suddenly back in the dermatologist’s chair with silver-dollar-sized acne that seemed hell-bent on eating my face. I’ve since begun using prescription Retin-A again, with great results. My skin is clear, my wrinkles reduced, and I don’t feel sensitized. However, I still worry that it may prompt the skin to turn over too rapidly, eventually causing problems like sensitivity and susceptibility to sun damage. In addition, retinoid use has been limited by both Canada and the European Union because they believe there’s sufficient evidence indicating that the do, in fact, harm developing fetuses.

I’ve also since learned that prescription Retin-A is actually a synthetic version of vitamin A, not a naturally-derived vitamin product as I had previously assumed. And as someone who prefers more natural skincare, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a better, cleaner alternative.

Well, now there is.

What Is Bakuchiol?

Bakuchiol (pronounced ba-KOO-chee-all) is a plant-derived ingredient traditionally used in Chinese and Aryuvedic medicines for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. It also stimulates cell renewal in the epidermis, creating an effect very similar to retinol. According to a recent study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, 0.5 percent bakuchiol cream applied twice a day was as effective in decreasing wrinkles and hyperpigmentation as 0.5 percent over-the-counter retinol applied once at night.

In clinical studies, bakuchiol has been shown to have many of retinol’s other positive effects – but without the irritation. It stimulates collagen production, strengthens the skin’s foundation, minimizes the appearance of lines and wrinkles, and even shows promise in treating adult acne.

It’s also one of the key ingredients in Beautycounter’s freshly-launched Countertime line. According to the better beauty company, 91 percent of people who tested their bakuchiol-laced products reported renewed and revitalized skin, and 97 percent said their skin texture had improved.

I’ll take those odds!

How To Use Bakuchiol

While bakuchiol doesn’t cause irritation, I find I get better results when I phase in active skincare products gently. So while I have received the entire Countertime line, I’m introducing it slowly, starting by using just a few products only twice a week. I’m skipping my Retin-A on days when I use bakuchiol, and also forgoing the Overnight Resurfacing Peel that I would otherwise use daily. I figure I can work back up to daily peeling once my skin has acclimated. 

I’m also starting with the most hydrating, barrier-building products first: the overnight and eye creams. The lipids and peptides contained in these products should help build up my skin’s natural barrier and keep it from freaking out. These are also the last two steps in my skincare routine, so the bakuchiol is pretty diluted by the time it hits my skin. 

Unlike retinoids, bakuchiol is generally considered to be safe for nursing and pregnant women. To me, this is final confirmation that this product is truly safer skincare. However, I would still advise checking with your OB to make sure she endorses it. After all, it’s a powerful, active ingredient, and I am not a doctor.  

Also unlike retinoids, bakuchiol products are safe to use during the day because they have not been shown to increase photosensitivity. I’m really excited about this because I’m developing a nasty age spot on my left hand and I’m reluctant to use anything too active on it because I wash my handso often, which means I’m also washing off my sunscreen. I can use a product containing bakuchiol without fear that I’ll make my sunspot even worse if I forget to reapply.

Finally, I mentioned that I’ve been using my Overnight Resurfacing Peel daily. What I left out is that I’ve had to use it in the morning (under a thick layer of SPF, of course) because my nightly Retin-A doesn’t interact well with alpha hydroxy acids. Retinoids also don’t play well with common acne treatments like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Not so with bakuchiol, which won’t damage your skin or de-activate any of your other products. 


It will take me about 12 weeks of regular use to see how well bakuchiol stacks up against prescription Retin-A. I’ll be sure to share my results! In the meantime, I’d love to hear from anyone who has already tried bakuchiol! Share your thoughts in comments!

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