Is bakuchiol a retinoid?

The trend of the last year has been bakuchiol. It has truly came out of nowhere for skincare and now every brand is using it saying it is a natural retinol, but is it actually a retinol?

Let’s start off with what the hell is bakuchiol? Bakuchiol is extracted from the seeds/leaves of a Psoralea corylifolia plant. This plant is native to India and Sri Lanka. As previously mentioned, it is been coined a “natural retinol” and called a “retinoid” by some brands.

The only way you can actually understand this is with a visual of the structure of retinoids and the structure of bakuchiol. The term ’retinoid’ is an umbrella term used for vitamin A derivatives. I go into grave details in this post about retinoids, so if you want more information about them, that is the place to go!

Each structure looks like this:

Bakuchiol‘s structure looks like this:

So, as you can see, they do not look alike, at all. What does that mean though? Well, it means that it is NOT a retinoid. But does that mean it is not able to work the same way a retinoid works, in terms of anti-aging benefits? No.

Although bakuchiol is NOT a retinoid or a “natural retinol” because in order to be a natural retinol derivative it has to have that same molecular structure, it still does have those anti-aging benefits!

In a randomized double-blinded study, results showed after 12-weeks of use compared with retinol that it was able to reduce wrinkles/lines and treat pigmentation as well.

In another study, they compared bakuchiol and retinol in a 12-week period and had similar results. Both results also showed that bakuchiol did not show the same side-effects that comes with retinoid (retinol) therapy. This is a great and very valuable key point because a lot of people do not like using any form of retinoid because it causes inflammation, redness, dry-flaking skin, and many more side-effects.

However, there is a con with bakuchiol. For starters, there are limited studies surrounding bakuchiol and it’s effectiveness for long-term exposure, when used topically for anti-aging and/or hyperpigmentation therapy. When comparing it to any of the first generation retinoids in the first figure, it just lacks the years upon years of studies. Retinoids have been used in dermatology for decades, we know they are safe and we know they are effective which are key things we need to know. A lot of people see plants/natural alternatives to man-made/synthetic chemical compounds as being “superior” but it is good to know that poison ivy is a natural plant and obviously it is dangerous. I am not trying to say Psoralea corylifolia is anything like poison ivy, I am just trying to get this ridiculous thought that natural automatically equals safe. The other downfall to this plant is that it IS endangered. I really do think that it is beneficial for us to study bakuchiol oil in cosmetics more, but I don’t think we can continue to do that with a plant that is endangered. The cosmetic industry obviously uses a LOT to get these extractions and on such a huge scale, so instead of making this plant go extinct, it would be smarter to synthetically copy its structure. A perfect example is Iron Oxide in cosmetics, its naturally occurring, however all iron oxide in skincare is synthetically made and highly regulated by the FDA. That’s my opinion, I would hate for humans to make yet another organism go extinct for selfish reasons like cosmetics - especially when we already have retinoids in the world.


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