Bakuchiol plant
Originally used in ancient medicine, bakuchiol is now the new skincare ingredient taking over the beauty industry. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Hello, glow-getters! Bakuchiol could just be your secret weapon for radiant skin.

In the ongoing search for a radiant, youthful complexion, bakuchiol has emerged as a powerful contender. This gentle plant-derived, vegan alternative to retinol has taken the skincare world by storm, offering promising results without the irritation sometimes associated with retinol. Found in the babchi plant, Psoralea corylifolia, it has similar effects: Smoother, glowing skin. It increases cell turnover, thereby stimulating collagen production and diminishing signs of aging such as fine lines, wrinkles, skin laxity, and overall photodamage, explains Sheetal Sinha, a Dubai-based skincare specialist and dermatologist. Originally used in ancient Chinese and Indian medicine, bakuchiol is now flying off shelves all over the world.

babchi plant
Bakuchiol is touted as a vegan alternative to retinol and it is derived from the babchi plant (Psoralea corylifolia). Image Credit: Shutterstock

Keeping this in mind, it’s time to level up your skincare routine. How so? Well, the real strength of bakuchiol lies in its versatility. It can be paired with other ingredients to address different skincare concerns. “Owing to its gentle nature, it usually plays well with other ingredients to address different skincare concerns. However, your best bet, could be Vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, as it’s quite a dream team,” she says.

Elaborating more, she explains, if you combine bakuchiol with vitamin C, it fights wrinkles and dullness. Vitamin C also protects existing collagen, while bakuchiol boosts production. If you are wondering about hydrated skin, you can pair it with hyaluronic acid. “Hyaluronic acid attracts and retains moisture, while bakuchiol's oil-based formula helps lock it in,” she says. Nevertheless, as the dermatologists warn, always better to do a patch test first to see what exactly vibes with your skin, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Bakuchiol with Vitamin C

Forget the saying "oil and water don't mix" – in the world of skincare, opposites can attract and create magic. Bakuchiol, and vitamin C are a perfect example. This duo tackles different aspects of skin ageing, working together to reveal a brighter, smoother, and more youthful complexion.

How so? Well, while we now know that bakuchiol mirrors the anti-ageing benefits of retinol, Vitamin C is also quite the champion for brightening and anti-ageing, explains Sinha. For starters, bakuchiol stimulates collagen production that offers structure and support to the skin, which is essential as collagen decreases when we age. Bakuchiol helps to keep the skin plump and contributes to reducing wrinkles, as she says. Meanwhile, Vitamin C works as an antioxidant, neutralising the harmful radicals from the environment, which are in the form of UV rays and pollution. “It fights the dark spots, uneven skin tone and signs of ageing,” she says.

So when these two ingredients come together, they can pack a punch. “Bakuchiol's oil-based formula actually helps lock in the water-soluble vitamin C, maximising its benefits. They work together in harmony, amplifying each other's strengths for a more noticeable effect,” explains Shalini Kakkar, a UK-based dermatologist. “The antioxidant prowess of Vitamin C fuels the impact of bakuchiol, by protecting the skin from the radicals in the environment that age and dull the complexion. Bakuchiol can also mitigate any irritation that Vitamin C may cause,” she says.

How to layer the two:

After your cleansing, layer Vitamin C, explains Sinha. Owing to its acidic properties, it needs to be first, as it penetrates the skin effectively. After your skin has soaked up all the Vitamin C, add bakuchiol. “Don’t add it all together, as layering each ingredient allows it to function at its best,” she warns. By layering Vitamin C first, you’re able to target issues such as dark spots and skin tone, without any barriers. “Bakuchiol helps to refine skin texture, reducing the appearance of lines, and being gentle while doing it. Applying it after Vitamin C means that it can focus on these tasks without competing for absorption,” she adds.

Bakuchiol with niacinamide

Looking for a multi-tasking partner for bakuchiol? Look no further than niacinamide.

“Niacinamide, also called nicotinamide, is the physiologically active form of vitamin B3 (niacin), an essential nutrient that supports many cellular processes,” explains Kakkar. It also helps to strengthen the skin's natural barrier, making it more resilient to environmental damage and promoting overall skin health.

The water-soluble vitamin has a host of important functions – including keeping skin healthy. It can be taken as a supplement but you can meet your body’s needs for it through diet in sources like green leafy vegetables, wheat, oat, meat, liver, palm kernel oil, mushrooms, yeast, legumes, nuts, milk, fish, tea and coffee.

So, how can you pair it with bakuchiol? “Niacinamide minimises pores, controls oil, and evens out your skin tone, while bakuchiol takes charge of smoothing out wrinkles and boosting skin’s elasticity,” she says. These two work together and can target these different skin concerns, and are normally gentle on the skin.

How to layer the two

Start with niacinamide, advise the dermatologists. Apply a water-based niacinamide serum first, followed by a bakuchiol moisturizer. This layering allows each ingredient to penetrate effectively and deliver its benefits.

Moreover, the popularity of these two ingredients aren’t just hype: Research backs it up too. A 2020 study published in the US-based Journal of Drugs in Dermatology found that bakuchiol improved the appearance of wrinkles and roughness when used for 12 weeks. On the other hand, a 2017 review, by US-based researchers, published in the International Journal of Dermatology highlighted niacinamide's effectiveness in reducing pore size, redness, and improving overall skin texture.

Bakuchiol and hyaluronic acid

Both these skincare ingredients offer unique benefits, with bakuchiol providing gentle anti-aging effects and hyaluronic acid offering unparalleled hydration. It’s another powerful combination, as hyaluronic acid, a naturally occurring substance in the skin, is a humectant. This means it attracts and holds onto water molecules, keeping your skin hydrated and plump.

“So, while bakuchiol helps prevent moisture loss with its oil-based formula, hyaluronic acid actively attracts and retains water. This two-pronged approach ensures your skin stays well-hydrated and plump, adds Sinha. Hyaluronic acid also plumps the skin from the inside out, further enhancing the wrinkle-reducing effects of bakuchiol-stimulated collagen production.

How to layer:

To get the most out of these two ingredients, it's important to layer them correctly:

Start with hyaluronic acid: Apply a hyaluronic acid serum first on damp skin while it's most receptive to moisture absorption.

Lock it in with bakuchiol: Follow with a bakuchiol moisturizer. The oil-based formula creates a barrier that helps trap the hyaluronic acid and other water molecules in your skin.

Bakichiol and ceramides

While bakuchiol tackles the signs of aging by boosting collagen production, it doesn't directly address the skin's moisture barrier. This is where ceramides come in. “Ceramides are naturally occurring lipids that make up a significant portion of your skin's outermost layer. They form a strong barrier that keeps moisture locked in and environmental irritants out,” adds Sinha. When ceramides are depleted, the skin barrier weakens. This leads to dryness, irritation, and increased sensitivity.

So, when you apply both bakuchiol and ceramides, these ingredients address both anti-aging concerns and barrier function. This creates a smoother, more youthful complexion with a healthy, hydrated glow, adds Kakkar. Both of them are gentle on the skin, and bakuchiol doesn’t disrupt the skin's natural moisture barrier, which allows ceramides to work even more effectively.

How to layer:

Ceramides first: Apply a ceramide-containing moisturizer or serum first. This creates a strong foundation and locks in hydration.

Bakuchiol: Follow with a bakuchiol serum or moisturizer to target wrinkles and stimulate collagen production.

Should you swap retinol for bakuchiol? 

Retinol is the crème de la crème of skincare ingredients and is the cure to wrinkles, acne and hyperpigmentation. So, can bakuchiol live up to the expectations or compete with retinol, a titan and juggernaut in the skincare world?

It’s first important to remember that bakuchiol is not a form of retinol, and neither is it identical. Both are structurally and chemically different. As Victoria Fu and Gloria Lu, the founders of US-based Chemist Confessions, a skincare brand and educational website and resource about skincare, explain.

Victoria Fu explained why retinol and bakuchiol are opposites. She said: "Bakuchiol and retinol are not related compounds. Retinol is a form of vitamin A that has been in use for decades for skincare, while bakuchiol is a relatively much newer ingredient." 

Bakuchiol and retinol are not related compounds. Retinol is a form of vitamin A that has been in use for decades for the skin while bakuchiol is a relatively much newer ingredient

- Victoria Fu, co-founder of Chemist Confessions

A 2014 study by US-based researchers published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science discovered that bakuchiol has no structural resemblance to retinoids but can function as a functional analogue of retinol. Functional analogues are chemical compounds that have similar physical and chemical properties. 

However, bakuchiol-based studies are still in the early stages. "Bakuchiol first caught researchers' eyes because it seems to activate very similar biological pathways as retinol. But more studies are needed to fully understand bakuchiol's mechanism," said Fu.

The same study also found that after 12 weeks of using bakuchiol, the subjects in the study found significant improvement in lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, firmness, collagen increase and reduction in photo damage. Photo damaged skin is wrinkles, roughness and hyperpigmentation caused by prolonged sun exposure.

Brimming with anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, bakuchiol sounds like the dream ingredient, but there's no reason you should promptly swap your mighty retinol for bakuchiol, explain the specialists. Retinol has been used in the cosmetic industry for almost 40 years. It has solidified its claims in curing acne and photo-damage and has treated additional dermatological conditions. "Tretinoin (retinoic acid) or retinol is still the gold standard proven to work on both cystic acne and hyperpigmentation. If you're looking for an over the counter alternative, we also recommend looking into 0.1 per cent adapalene," said Gloria Lu. 

Bakuchiol skincare
Bakuchiol also claims to improve hyperpigmentation and increase collagen, but clinical studies on the ingredient are limited. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Word of advice…

Bakuchiol is a pretty friendly ingredient that gets along with other actives like PHA (polyhydroxy acids) and AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) but it should be slowly incorporated into your daily routine. Victoria Fu suggests: "With exfoliants like PHA, AHA, it is always important to proceed with caution and not over layer. So introduce bakuchiol slowly into your routine. Use 2 to 3 times a week and monitor."

Tretinoin (retinoic acid) is still the gold standard proven to work on both cystic acne and hyperpigmentation.

- Gloria Lu, co-founder of Chemist Confessions

So which should I choose - retinol or bakuchiol?

Bakuchiol is vying for the number one spot, but it might need more scientific data and evidence to achieve that. Nevertheless, if you're facing issues with retinol, it's time to visit the dermatologist and see if bakuchiol is the right fit for you.

- With inputs from Zainab Hussain, Features Writer