The It Ingredient: Bakuchiol

It’s touted as the trendy and new alternative to retinol, without the not-so-pretty side effects, and is suitable even for sensitive skin.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

You’ve heard of retinol – that magical ingredient loved for its anti-ageing benefits. It plumps lines by stimulating collagen production; lightens pigmentation and gives youthful-looking skin by increasing cell turnover; and minimises breakouts by unclogging pores.

But its side effects – redness, itching, peeling, stinging or burning – make it challenging for those with sensitive skin and/ or conditions like eczema and rosacea to use.

And, says Dr Suzanne Cheng, senior consultant at National Skin Centre: “There’s also the risk of skin photosensitivity (where skin reacts adversely to light), which is why retinol is recommended for night use.”

Enter bakuchiol (say “ba-coo-chi-ole”), the trendy It ingredient touted as the “retinol-like alternative”. It’s not related to retinol, nor is it a derivative or “gentler version”. What has skin scientists excited is this: It has none of retinol’s side effects, which makes it good for those with sensitive skin. “It’s an oil extracted from the seeds and leaves of the purple-flowered psoralea corylifolia plant, which grows throughout India,” says Spain-based dermatologist-entrepreneur Dr Gabriel Serrano, who was a speaker at the Asia Derma Conference & Exhibition 2019 in October. “It’s an excellent alternative to retinol for people looking for a natural and gentler option.”

In Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, bakuchiol has been used for centuries to treat cuts and soothe rashes, as it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Modern science recently took an interest because of its retinol-like benefits. A clinical study by the British Academy of Dermatology this year found an overall decrease in the look of fine wrinkles and pigmentation, minus side effects like dryness and irritation. 

Brands have incorporated it into serums and face oils that can be used in the day. “Photosensitivity is not usually encountered with bakuchiol, so it can be used twice daily,” says Dr Cheng. “Its anti-inflammatory properties may also be why it causes less skin irritation.”

While it is better tolerated, Dr Cheng says those with sensitive skin should still do a patch test to check for skin irritation.

– CT 

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Bakuchiol-based Skincare

1. Bybi Beauty Bakuchiol Booster, $23. Add to any skincare product for an anti-ageing boost. It softens and sloughs away rough patches.

2. Ren Bio Retinoid Anti-Wrinkle Concentrate Oil, $121. Pat four to five drops on for hydrated, radiant and even skin.

3. Herbivore Botanicals Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Smoothing Serum, $79. It has a lovely, rich texture that melts into skin, reducing the look of fine lines.

4. Allies Of Skin Mandelic Pigmentation Corrector Night Serum, $92. It treats stubborn pigmentation, large pores and blackheads.

5. Oskia Super 16 Serum, $106.64, from There are 16 skin-loving nutrients, including the star bakuchiol, to keep skin looking young and supple.