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An unbiased comparison of the gold standard of anti-ageing and its plant-based counterpart.

There has been a lot of buzz throughout the industry of late around the ingredient Bakuchiol, with media heralding it as the ‘safe and natural alternative to retinol’. Often regarded as leaders in retinol-based skincare, cosmeceutical brand Medik8 prides itself on extensive research and development around retinoids, which are complex and notoriously unstable. The brand has just released their very own bakuchiol-concentrated serum, so we thought to ourselves – who could explain (honestly and unbiased!) the differences between the two better than Medik8’s Director of Research, Daniel Isaacs. Here, Daniel compares the actions of both ingredients side-by-side, their unique benefits, and how they both act on a cellular level.

“Bakuchiol is a natural, plant-based retinol alternative,” explains Daniel. “It is derived from the seeds and leaves of the Indian Babchi Plant. It has been clinically proven to harness anti-ageing powers that are comparable to retinol, without any side effects that can sometimes occur with vitamin A use. Bakuchiol is currently trending in skincare because of a new study published by the British Journal of Dermatology which investigated the comparison between retinol and Bakuchiol – kicking off the buzz around Bakuchiol in 2019.”

The study demonstrated that Bakuchiol and retinol shared similar benefits, significantly decreasing wrinkle surface area and hyperpigmentation, with no statistical difference between them.

Bakuchiol has also been found to provide similar results in collagen stimulation and skin rejuvenation, but without retinol-like side effects like dryness.

Daniel tells us other key similarities include sharing the ability to speed up cellular turnover in the skin, giving it a smoother, softer surface, as well as helping to hinder excess production of melanin, leaving the skin evenly-toned and brightened.

The key differences between the two are, says Daniel, “as an ingredient, Bakuchiol is a lot more gentle on the skin than retinol, working to naturally soothe and calm the skin. Bakuchiol is also photostable, and can be used day and night. Sometimes, people are unable to use vitamin A; such as pregnant and nursing mothers, those with sensitivities to vitamin A and those with extremely sensitive skin. Vitamin A on the other hand, may not be photostable but is still considered to be the ‘gold-standard’ in anti-ageing due to unparalleled results and scientific data.”

So who is the ideal client to recommend Bakuchiol to? According to Daniel, basically, anyone who is contraindicated to, or experiencing adverse reactions from, retinol; but still seeks the same anti-ageing benefits. “Bakuchiol is able to help prevent and restore signs of premature ageing, due to its antioxidant, collagen-stimulating and hydrating properties. It is also great for clear skin, as it uses its gentle anti-inflammatory powers to minimise the formation of blemishes and to calm the skin.”

So how does this differ to retinol? Daniel tells us by elaborating on the two forms of retinoids used throughout Medik8’s ranges: retinol and retinaldehyde. “We use these because as far as we know (reading the literature), they are the only forms of vitamin A, apart from retinoic acid (aka tretinoin/retin-A – highly irritating and prescription-only) which are well proven to help improve skin conditions incredible studies published in scientific journals.

This is why we do not use traditional retinol esters such as retinyl palmitate (where trials show little to zero effects). Retinol is the traditionally used form of vitamin A, which is most well known in the beauty industry.”

“Retinaldehyde is one step closer than retinol to biologically active vitamin A, and is proven to work 11x faster  than traditional retinol and has antibacterial properties which are great for blemish-prone skin types.”

Retinaldehyde has been independently proven to be:

  • Similar to retinoic acid in helping to restore aged/sun -damaged skin
  • Low irritation – similar to low/mid strength retinol
  • Converts to retinoic acid 11x faster than retinol
  • 2.8x more biologically active than retinol
  • Directly anti-bacterial – highly effective and very well tolerated on acne patients when compared with retinoic acid

As with any new skincare ‘buzzword’ or ingredient, our advice is – don’t buy into the hype until the research has caught up, but be sure to educate yourself on what’s out there in the consumer market. Your clients will be coming into your clinic and asking you about these shiny new trends they’ve read about online or seen at Mecca or Sephora, and if you want to be the superstar top-of-their-game therapist we know you are, you need to keep yourself in the know.

As advocates for inclusivity and cheerleaders for all the incredible mums of the world: pregnancy-safe retinol alternatives – we salute you!