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Bakuchiol vs Retinol: What’s Better For Acne?

Retinol is one of the most powerful, well-researched skincare ingredients out there. It’s an excellent tool for reducing signs of aging and maintaining a youthful complexion, and can also be a useful solution for minimizing breakouts and targeting hyperpigmentation. 

That said, while retinol is undoubtedly a great skincare ingredient, it is known to trigger many negative side effects when applied to the skin. Most notably, this can include irritation, redness, and dryness. If this sounds familiar, bakuchiol may pique your interest. This natural alternative to retinol works very similarly to this well-loved skincare ingredient, but is a much gentler, sensitive skin-friendly option. 

Curious to learn more? We’ll dive into everything you should know in the battle of retinol vs. bakuchiol, and the role they both play for those with acne-prone skin. 

What are Retinoids?

First, let’s talk about retinoids. A retinoid is a vitamin A derivative that is converted into retinoic acid in order to be used in skincare solutions. 

Retinoids offer a range of benefits for the skin. Most notably, they boost collagen and elastin production, which helps target fine lines, wrinkles, and loss of firmness and elasticity. They also act as antioxidants, and can protect the complexion against skin-aging free radicals. 

Beyond that, retinoids are frequently used to treat breakouts. Since they increase skin cell turnover, they help keep the pores clear of pore-clogging sebum and debris. They also help improve hyperpigmentation for a more even skin tone. 

It should be noted that retinoid is an overarching umbrella term used for both over-the-counter and prescription-strength solutions. The level of effects that you’ll see can vary greatly depending on what specific product you’re using.

Retinol is a type of retinoid that you’ll find in OTC products. While effective, it has a lower concentration of retinoic acid (the active ingredient responsible for the benefits of this vitamin A derivative) compared to prescription solutions, and therefore isn’t as strong as prescription retinoids. Note that there is an exception with Differin, which is commonly used to treat acne and uneven skin tone. This is a prescription-strength retinoid that is available to purchase over-the-counter.  

What is Bakuchiol?

Bakuchiol is a newer skincare ingredient that has quickly emerged as one of the best alternatives to retinol. It’s plant-derived, coming from the seeds of the babchi plant (also known as psoralea corylifolia), which has traditionally been used in ayurveda and Chinese medicine. While quite different from retinol, it does offer many of the same benefits, which we’ll talk about below.  

Is Bakuchiol a Retinoid?

One important thing to note is that, while it can be used similarly in skincare, bakuchiol is not a retinoid. It offers many of the same benefits as retinoids when applied topically, but it is not a vitamin A derivative. 

Bakuchiol Benefits

When applied to the skin, bakuchiol offers a range of benefits. It’s been shown to stimulate collagen synthesis and increase skin cell turnover. This natural ingredient also has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties. What does this mean for your complexion? Let’s dive into the specifics of what concerns and needs bakuchiol can target. 

Is Bakuchiol Good For Acne?

Early research has demonstrated that bakuchiol is an effective ingredient against acne. This is in part due to its antibacterial properties, as well as its ability to boost skin cell turnover, which keeps the pores clear. Since it also has anti-inflammatory effects, it’s a suitable ingredient for calming acne and general skin irritation. 

Is Bakuchiol Anti-Aging?

Bakuchiol is perhaps best known for its ability to minimize and prevent signs of aging. In a recent study, researchers found that after twelve weeks of using bakuchiol twice daily, participants saw noticeable improvements in fine lines and wrinkles, firmness, elasticity, and discoloration.

As noted above, bakuchiol also has potent antioxidant effects. This means it can defend the skin against damaging free radicals, which are known to cause visible signs of aging. 

Main Difference Between Retinol and Bakuchiol

The primary difference between retinol and bakuchiol is that the latter is much better tolerated by all skin types, including sensitive skin. Those with sensitive skin often are intolerant to retinol, due to the fact that it can easily irritate and dry out their complexion. Even those that don’t have sensitive skin may find that retinol is too aggravating for their skin. Bakuchiol is far gentler on the skin, and doesn’t commonly cause irritation, dryness, or other side effects that are associated with retinol use. 

Another lesser known difference between these ingredients is that bakuchiol is photostable. Retinol, on the other hand, is at risk of degradation when exposed to the sun. While it’s typically advised that you only use retinol in the evening in order to prevent degradation, bakuchiol can be used at any time. This means it’s ultimately an easier ingredient to work into your routine. 

Main Similarities Between Bakuchiol vs Retinol

While there are some key differences between these two ingredients, they do share one major thing in common: they both target many of the same skin concerns. 

Bakuchiol and retinol increase skin cell turnover and boost collagen and elastin production, which means both are effectively able to fight signs of aging (including lines, wrinkles, and discoloration) and minimize breakouts for a clear and youthful complexion.

Let’s look at some of the research. In one bakuchiol vs. retinol study, researchers found that bakuchiol was just as effective as retinol when it came to minimizing both wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. However, they did note that retinol users reported much more irritation and redness compared to the bakuchiol users. 

Bakuchiol vs. Retinol During Pregnancy

Retinoids are considered unsafe to use during pregnancy (and while nursing), as they may pose a risk to the fetus. You’ll need to avoid both prescription retinoids and OTC retinol products during this time. 

Since bakuchiol isn’t a retinoid, it’s often considered to be a suitable, safer alternative for use during pregnancy. However, it should be noted that there isn’t extensive research into the subject. You should consult with a medical professional before adding any new ingredients to your routine while pregnant, including bakuchiol. 

Types of Bakuchiol

Much like with retinol, you can find bakuchiol used in a variety of skincare formulas, such as eye creams, masks, serums, cleansers, moisturizers, and oils. For those with acne, a moisturizer, serum, or oil formulated with bakuchiol will be one of the best options for maintaining a clear complexion. 

Of course, it’s important to pick a bakuchiol product that’s made with other ingredients that are suitable for acne-prone skin. You’ll find a few recommendations below. 

Recommended Bakuchiol Products

Not all bakuchiol products are created equal. If you have acne-prone skin and are looking to work bakuchiol into your routine, these are some of my top product recommendations.

Best Bakuchiol Moisturizer:
CLEARSTEM – HYDRAGLOW Stem Cell Moisturizer

This bakuchiol moisturizer from Clearstem is made to give acne-prone skin the hydration and support that it needs without clogging pores. It also fights signs of aging while improving tone and texture.

GoodGlow Score

4.9 /5 5/5 Product Rating
Benefit

Expertly Crafted

With Bakuchiol (a natural alternative to retinol), plant stem cells, and olive squalane.

Effective

Effective Plant Stem Cells

Bakuchiol in your moisturizer is your secret weapon for collagen production as it trains your skin to look younger while you sleep.

Vegan - Clean Ingredients

Clean Ingredients

No hormone disruptors, no toxins, cruelty free, gluten free, vegan, and silicon free

Gentle

Non-comedogenic

Zero pore-cloggers and zero toxins

  • Bakuchiol – Bakuchiol is a vegan skincare ingredient found in the leaves and seeds of the Psoralea corylifolia plant. It acts as a natural alternative to retinol. It has the same powerful anti-aging effects as retinol without the toxicity and skin dryness that typically comes along with retinol use.
  • Squalane – Squalane is a derivative of squalene, which is a natural lipid found in many plants and animals. Squalane is much lighter, making it a much better option for acne-prone skin. It’s extremely hydrating and it also acts as a natural antioxidant for the skin, which is key for anti-aging.
  • Stem cells – Stem cells are made of amino acids and peptides, which are powerhouse ingredients for skin rejuvenation. Stem cells work to repair the skin on a cellular level, which promotes cell turnover, diminishes fine lines & wrinkles, and improves skin texture & tone.

Water/Aqua, Squalane, Propanediol, Cannabis Sativa (Hemp) Seed Oil, Punica Granatum (Pomegranate) Seed Oil, Polyglyceryl-6 Distearate, Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol, Raphanus Sativux (Radish) Seed Extract, Bakuchiol, Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Extract, Hyaluronic Acid, Jojoba Esters, Boswellia Carteri (Frankincense) oil, Camellia Sinensis (Green Leaf) Extract, Amino Acids: (Lysine, Histidine, Arginine, Aspartic Acid, Threonine, Serine, Glutamic Acid, Proline, Glycine, Alanine, Valine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Tyrosine), Phenylalanine, Argania Spinosa (Argan) Sprout Stem Cell Extract, Curcuma Longa (Turmeric) Root Extract, Blueberry Essential Oil, Lactobacillus Ferment, Diglucosyl Gallic Acid, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Lactic Acid, Xanthan Gum, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin

The Clearstem HYDRAGLOW Stem Cell Moisturizer is one of the best moisturizers with bakuchiol for those with acneic skin. This non-comedogenic formula is suitable for all skin types, and made with breakout-prone skin in mind. It uses the power of bakuchiol to minimize acne while also improving elasticity and softening lines for a clear, youthful complexion. 

This non-greasy moisturizer is also made with stem cells, which further promote skin cell turnover. This helps to further soften lines and wrinkles while improving skin tone and texture. Squalane and hyaluronic acid (which are both effective and lightweight hydrators) give skin the hydration it needs without clogging pores. 

The HYDRAGLOW Stem Cell Moisturizer is supported with a variety of other ingredients that soothe and further hydrate the skin, including hemp seed oil, aloe extract, and pomegranate seed oil. This formula is vegan and cruelty-free, and made without gluten, silicones, hormone disruptors, or toxins.

Best Bakuchiol Serum:
Biossance – Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum

This Biossance serum uses the power of bakuchiol, niacinamide, and other ingredients to gently fight a variety of signs of aging while minimizing blemishes for a clearer and more radiant complexion.

GoodGlow Score

4.2 /5 4.5/5 Product Rating
Effective

Hydrating

Packed with lightweight hydrators, including sodium hyaluronate and squalane.

Benefit

Anti-Aging

Bakuchiol targets a range of visible signs of aging for a more youthful complexion.

Protecting Skin

Anti-Acne

Bakuchiol and niacinamide work together to minimize blemishes

Skin Type

Skin Type

Suitable for all skin types, including sensitive and acneic skin

Acrylates, Aluminum Salts, Animal Musks/Fats/Oils, Benzophenones and related compounds, Butoxyethanol, Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), Butylated hydroxytulolene (BHT) under 0.1% , Carbon Black or Black 2, Coal Tar, Ethanolamines, Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde Releasing Agents, Hydroquinone, Lead and Lead Acetate, Mercury + Mercury Compounds (Thimerisol), Methoxyethanol, Methyl Cellosolve, Methylchloroisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone, Mineral Oil, Nanomaterials (restrictions for specific nanomaterials only), Oxybenzone, Parabens, Petrolatum and Parrafin (USP grade only), Phenoxyethanol under 1%, Phthalates, Plastic Microbeads, Polyacrylamide & Acrylamide, Resorcinol, Retinyl Palmitate, Styrene, Sulfates, Talc (no detection of asbestos) , Toluene, Triclosan and Triclocarban, Undisclosed Synthetic Fragrance (under 1% and formulated without Acetaldehyde, Acetone, Acetonitrile, Benzalkonium chloride, BPA, EDTA, Methylene chloride, PTFE, PFOA), 1, 4, Dioxane (ingredients must comply with impurity thresholds), Octinoxate, PFAS compounds, Nitromusks and Polycyclic Musks, Ethoxylated Ingredients (including PEGS or polyethylene glycol must meet contamination limits for 1’4 Dioxane and ethylene oxide), Cyclic Silicones, EDTA and derivatives (allowed if no technical substitute under 0.2%)

The Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum has a potent formula that’s great for addressing a variety of skin concerns. It uses the power of bakuchiol to soften fine lines and wrinkles, boost firmness, improve uneven skin tone, and encourage a blemish-free complexion. 

In addition to the bakuchiol, this serum is formulated with niacinamide, a powerful multi-tasking skincare ingredient that is great for acneic skin. It helps minimize blemishes while also controlling sebum production, refining pores, and calming the skin. 

The lightweight serum also features hydrating squalane, glycerin, and sodium hyaluronate. It’s vegan and cruelty-free, made with non-toxic ingredients, and packaged in recyclable packaging.

Best Budget-Friendly Serum:
Acure – Radically Rejuvenating Dual Phase Bakuchiol Serum

This affordable serum from Acure pairs bakuchiol with a blend of other powerful ingredients to minimize signs of aging, protect against free radicals, and promote a clearer, brighter complexion.

GoodGlow Score

4.4 /5 4.5/5 Product Rating
Natural

Plant based retinol alternative

Unique Dual-Phase Ampoule with soothing and rejuvenating eggplant, turmeric, holy basil and bakuchiol to defend the skin against damaging free radicals

Benefit

Fights Signs of Aging

Bakuchiol provides anti-aging support for a more youthful appearance

Vegan - Clean Ingredients

Vegan and certified cruelty-free

Also Paraben free, Sulfate free, Mineral oil free, Petrolatum free and Formaldehyde free

Skin Type

Skin Type

Suitable for all skin types

Water, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Propanediol, Glycerin, Tocopherol, Ascorbyl Glucoside, Bakuchiol, Solanum Melongena (Eggplant) Fruit Extract, Ocimum Basilicum (Basil) Flower/Leaf Extract, Curcuma Longa (Turmeric) Root Extract, Coccinia Indica Fruit Extract, Melia Azadirachta Flower Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Flower Extract*, Melia Azadirachta Leaf Extract, Ocimum Sanctum Leaf Extract, Marrubium Vulgare Extract, Corallina Officinalis Extract, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Xanthan Gum, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Phenethyl Alcohol.

If you’re looking for a more affordable alternative to the Biossance serum, check out the Acure Radically Rejuvenating Dual Phase Bakuchiol Serum. The formula provides anti-aging and anti-acne benefits (thanks to the bakuchiol) while also boosting radiance and hydration. 

In addition to bakuchiol, this budget-friendly serum contains turmeric root and eggplant fruit extracts, which provide antioxidant support to protect the skin against damaging free radicals. These natural extracts also help brighten the skin for a more radiant complexion. 

A blend of additional ingredients moisturize and soothe the complexion, including glycerin, aloe extract, and jojoba seed oil. This formula is vegan and cruelty-free, and made without parabens, sulfates, petroleum, or mineral oil.

Originally Published: October 13, 2022

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sam wood is GoodGlow's Chief Editor
Analyzed by Sam Wood

Hi, I’m Sam Wood, the chief editor, lead acne expert, and health coach at GoodGlow, as well as a best-selling author for one of the top acne books on Amazon. I struggled with acne for over 10 years, and began studying the effects of diet on skin quality while pursuing a degree in Nutrition Sciences at the University of Missouri. After shifting from mainstream skincare trends to in-depth research in medical journals, I experienced significant personal success in managing my acne. This inspired me to start GoodGlow, where I simplify complex scientific findings into easy-to-understand advice. With over 10 years in the field, I’ve helped more than 2,500 people achieve clearer skin through natural, holistic methods, and I’m dedicated to personally assisting those seeking guidance on their acne journey.

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