I love retinol. I think it’s a really important healthy aging* ally. But if you have sensitive skin, using retinol can be extremely challenging. Using it with vitamin C or acid based exfoliants, forget it. Enter Bakuchiol, a plant extract that works via the same receptors in skin cells as retinol, but without the side effects. Too good to be true? I road tested it on my own sensitive skin.
My love-hate relationship with retinol
I used high strength retinol products on my skin during my family’s year-long sabbatical in the UK. Retinol and I were besties as we explored the beaches of Devon, Cornwall and South Wales, hiked up mountains in Scotland and skidded in mud around the English country side chomping on blackberries and picking Hawthorn flowers. I loved retinol then. And it loved me, in spite of spending loads of time outside in the sun (yes, we did actually see lots of sun in the UK). I really noticed a huge improvement in my skin from using retinol for just that year.
Unfortunately, retinol and I had to break up on our return to Australia. Using retinol on pale, sensitive skin while living in the UV gifted Sunshine Coast of South East Qld was never going to be a match made in heaven.
I’d tried retinol products on and off before my 12-month affair happened. But I could never get past the initial breaking in phase that most retinol users experience. When your skin is sensitive this phase can be extremely challenging. Red, dry, itchy and inflamed skin. Despite following all the 'retinol rules', I’d spend 3 to 4 weeks looking and feeling like I had a bad case of facial eczema and trying hard not to scratch at my neck all day and all night. Then I’d give up and stop using it. I’m also convinced that retinol gave me freckles on my lips.
So I was skeptical when I first discovered Bakuchiol. I couldn’t quite believe the claims that it worked via the same receptors as retinol BUT didn’t come with that horrible breaking in period. AND it didn’t make you more sensitive to the sun. If it sounds too good to be true…..
The truth about Bakuchiol
I live in SE Qld and spend lots of time outside – we keep our own bees and have goats that we milk every morning. Sun and the elements are not kind to sensitive skin. Any skincare ingredient that makes your skin more sensitive to the sun should only ever be used over winter months in this part of the world – especially if your skin is sensitive.
I started by using Bakuchiol 1% in squalane [my number one favourite skincare ingredient] on my forearms for a few weeks and didn’t notice any reaction from the sun, so I started to use it on my face, throat and décolletage. No increased sensitivity to the sun or rashes. It did however, cause some very mild itching around my neck which is something I have experienced every time I used retinol – only with the retinol it wasn’t mild. This lasted about a week and came back when I added the Bakuchiol in with 30% Vitamin C, which also lasted a week before going away. No redness, scaling or dry, hot skin from 1% Bakuchiol.
My skin certainly looks & feels better while using Bakuchiol, especially when combined with vitamin C. It’s also helping with my ongoing battle with pigmentation that escalated as I reached mid 40’s.
My skin only has to catch an errant sunbeam to develop pigmentation. Spending so much time outside it feels Iike I’m constantly whack-a-mole with my pigmentation. The dark patches of pigmentation themselves don’t actually worry me, my concern centres around the fact that pigmentation is a sign of accelerated skin aging and this is why I do what I can to minimise and prevent it getting worse. I could easily win the war by completely avoiding the sun, but that would require a whole lifestyle change including returning to living back in the inner city burbs [and I'm not sure my neighbors would appreciate having goats live next door to them]. I do a lot of other things to support skin health including taking supplements like Broccoli Sprout Extract, Niacinamide and Astaxanthin. They all help, but adding in Bakuchiol produced a noticeable improvement.
It’s a huge relief to know that I can use a natural plant extract that gives me similar healthy aging benefits to retinol without the down sides of a breaking-in period of dry, itchy, red & peeling skin + you need to hide from the sun like a vampire, especially if you have sensitive skin.
What is Bakuchiol?
Bakuchiol is an oil extracted from the seeds and leaves of the plant, Psoralea coryfolia, known as Babchi in Ayurvedic medicine.
It is a completely natural and sustainable plant extract that has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine and has an excellent safety profile. It’s also suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Read more about what the science has to say about Bakuchiol
Benefits of Bakuchiol: What does the science have to say?
Coming very soon in a separate post. This one is already too long [your Honor, I plead guilty to over verbalising]
History of Bakuchiol
Bakuchiol comes to us from the ancient Ayurvedic medicine plant called Babchi. The leaves and seeds of the Babchi plant have a long history of use in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine for the treatment of skin ailments. Even the plants botanical name, Psoralea coryfolia, gives some clues as to its traditional uses – the word psora is derived from ancient Greek and translates to “itching skin disease”.
What does Bakuchiol smell like
Bakuchiol has a warm, earthy smell. It’s not unpleasant, but if you’re used to artificially fragranced skincare it may take a little time to appreciate it’s smell.
We haven’t tried to hide the natural aroma of Bakuchiol in our serums, we’ve complemented its earthiness with the fresh aroma of freshly picked lemons with steam distilled lemon oil. Steam distilled lemon oil does not make skin more sensitive to the sun like cold pressed lemon oil does.
Is Bakuchiol safe to use during pregnancy
YES!!!!! Unlike retinol, Bakuchiol is safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Side effects from using Bakuchiol
Those with very sensitive skin, especially skin prone to eczema and dermatitis may experience some short term stinging and itching which usually lasts around a week. In my experience, using in conjunction with high dose vitamin C will exacerbate this. Use with 10% vitamin C to start with and you can slowly increase the percentage of vitamin C if you’re tackling extensive pigmentation or acne scarring.
Bakuchiol and Vitamin C
Bakuchiol and vitamin C are a match made in heaven for Australian skin. Add in some niacinamide and you have the perfect triad of skin actives for:
- Hyperpigmentation including melasma
- Acne scarring
- Healthy, normal aging
- Protecting against accelerated photoaging (the aging effects from sun exposure – for some skin types, even incidental sun exposure is enough to trigger photo damage).
Adding in Broccoli sprouts for some sulforaphane skincare a few times a week is icing on the cake.
If you’re tacking severe pigmentation, using the above in conjunction with some regular LED Light Therapy will work magic.
How to fit Bakuchiol into your skincare routine
Bakuchiol can be used twice daily, unlike retinol which should only be used at night time only, especially in Australia.
Use twice a day morning and evening for at least 6 months and then reduce to once daily for maintenance. If your skin is badly sun damaged or looking old before it’s time, you may need to use twice daily for a few years before dropping back to a maintenance dose.
Bakuchiol is an oil based ingredient and can be found in oil serums, moisturisers and cleansers. Bakuchiol is an expensive active ingredient, although the price has come down in recent years, making it more affordable. To me it doesn’t make much sense adding it to a cleanser which is only going to be in contact with your skin for a few minutes before being wiped off and washed down the drain – so save your money on Bakuchiol cleansers. A moisturiser or oil serum that contains Bakuchiol will allow it be fully absorbed into your skin for best benefits.
Bakuchiol is safe to use with:
- Vitamin C – can be used alongside both ascorbic acid and the fat-soluble vitamin C derivative, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. If you're using ascorbic acid, you'll need to wait a few minutes before applying.
- Retinol – For established retinol users who also want to benefit from Bakuchiol, simply add it into your morning routine.
- Exfoliating acids – combine Bakuchiol with skin bio compatible oils like squalane to help strength and protect the skin barrier after using AHA’s. Wait 15-20 after applying your exfoliating acid product, gently wipe any excess from skin and apply Bakuchiol oil serum
Bakuchiol is generally safe for:
- Sensitive and very sensitive skin
For extra sensitive skin, it’s always recommended to start low and increase slowly. Start with using Bakuchiol every 2-3 days and slowly increase to applying it daily and then twice daily.
What % of Bakuchiol is most effective?
Studies on Bakuchiol that have shown that 0.5% to 1% is comparable to retinol for:
- Reducing hyper pigmentation
- Decreasing wrinkle surface area
- Increasing skin clarity and radiance
- Improving visual and tactile (touch) smoothness
- Increasing skin’s moisture holding capacity
Another point of difference between Bakuchiol and retinol is that Bakuchiol does not require dose escalation. Most retinol users find they need to keep increasing the strength of their retinol products, slowly moving up to prescription versions in order to maintain the benefit. Bakuchiol keeps on working just as effectively without needing to increase the strength. So there’s no extra benefit of using a product with more than 2% Bakuchiol.
*Healthy Aging vs Anti Aging
I make it a point to never use the term Anti-Aging, I think it's a toxic term. Aging is aging, it happens and we can’t “anti” it [yet]. But, what we can do is prevent accelerated or premature aging – which is far more common than you probably realise, especially in such a sun blessed country. The goal is to help your skin age gracefully, healthily and normally. The aging process of the skin can be slammed into fast forward by obvious things like sun exposure, smoking, alcohol and not enough sleep. Other inside-out contributors to premature aging include:
- Blood sugar imbalance
- Inflammation generated by an out of balance gut microbiome
- Inadequate nutrition. The failure to provide your body with sufficient resource nutrients to maintain a healthy antioxidant status and fuel optimal detoxification. These processes don’t happen in a vacuum, they require nutrients to function properly.
- Hormonal imbalance.
Skincare ingredients that can contribute to symptoms of premature aging include:
- Emulsifiers (ingredients used to allow oily and watery ingredients to mix together). They weaken the ability of your skin to hold onto moisture, creating dehydrated skin (a lack of water/moisture).
- These are the most common skincare ingredient along with fragrances responsible for allergic reactions in the skin. Allergic reactions = heat, redness, itching and inflammation. Many people go for years without realising their skin issues are due to an allergic reaction to preservatives and/or fragrances in their skin care. Inflammation causes accelerated aging.
Are you ready to benefit from Bakuchiol?
Whether your skin is sensitive or not, if you live, work and play in Australia, you should probably consider adding Bakuchiol to your daily skincare routine. If you’re over 35, it’s a no brainer. Bakuchiol is all benefit with no risks or side effects to speak of. I’m certainly hooked on this natural plant extract and it’s become an established part of my daily skincare routine.
- Prospective, randomized, double-blind assessment of topical bakuchiol and retinol for facial photoageing – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Bakuchiol: a retinol-like functional compound revealed by gene expression profiling and clinically proven to have anti-aging effects – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Article – JDDonline – Journal of Drugs in Dermatology
- Role of Matrix Metalloproteinases in Photoaging and Photocarcinogenesis – PMC (nih.gov)
- Efficacy of a Dermocosmetic Serum Combining Bakuchiol and Vanilla Tahi | CCID (dovepress.com)
Active Skincare for Sensitive Skin
30% Vitamin C + Bakuchiol 1% is an antioxidant serum with Bakuchiol to help prevent and reduce the signs of premature aging.