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Retinol: The Pros, The Cons, and a Powerful Natural Alternative

It would be hard to find a more highly touted anti-aging skincare ingredient than retinol. You’ll find it in a wide range of products and will often hear its praises sung in skincare circles.

Retinol is undoubtedly a powerful ingredient that can noticeably change the appearance of skin, which is exactly what has made it so popular. However, it can cause problems for certain skin types and may not be the best ingredient to use long-term for anyone.

If you use or have thought about using retinol, here are some important pros and cons to consider- plus a natural alternative that will blow you away.

What is Retinol?

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A. It belongs to a larger group of vitamin A compounds known as retinoids and is one of the over-the-counter (OTC) versions available for skincare.

In order for retinol to work, it has to be converted at the cellular level of your skin into retinaldehyde and then to retinoic acid, the active form of the compound.

This means that while retinol is a powerful ingredient, it’s still on the weaker end of the spectrum as far as retinoids go. Products with retinoic acid (only available by prescription) are much stronger, but also harsher on your skin. Using lower strength retinol means you have to wait longer to see results, but it’s also a bit gentler than retinoic acid.

If you are looking into retinol, keep in mind that retinoids can come from either animal or synthetic sources.

Animal sources are common because they contain the active form of retinol. Plant sources only contain the inactive form of vitamin A, beta carotene. This means that any vegan retinol product contains lab-made retinol- no natural versions.

You can find retinol in many kinds of products: serums, creams, balms, eye creams, overnight treatments, etc. The strength of each one depends on the formulation but all have similar effects.

The Upside of Retinol & Retinoid Products

Improves Signs of Skin Aging

retinol graphic

Perhaps the most popular reason for using retinol is to fight signs of skin aging. By enhancing skin cell turnover and boosting collagen production, retinol minimizes the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, thin-looking skin, etc.

Using it regularly also has a brightening effect on your skin. Retinol products can fade the appearance of hyperpigmentation- dark spots that show up with age or get left behind by something like acne.

Overall, retinol products can give you younger-looking skin, although the results won’t be instantaneous.

Enhances Skin Tone and Texture

By promoting collagen synthesis, retinol helps to improve the overall texture of your skin. It can make your complexion appear smoother, brighter, and less dull- or dry-looking.

There’s a misconception that this rejuvenating effect comes from exfoliating, but this isn’t strictly true. One of the keys to retinol’s power is that it speeds up skin cell turnover so that skin cells are constantly renewing themselves.

This has the effect of minimizing pores and restoring a glow to your complexion.

Helps Treat Acne

A second major use for retinol products is in acne treatment. Some of the same properties that help skin look younger also help those with breakout-prone skin.

In fact, retinoids are one of the most commonly prescribed acne products by dermatologists. They have an anti-inflammatory effect and also help to unclog pores and decrease or prevent overproduction of oil.

This all contributes to reduced breakouts, but there’s more.

Many acne sufferers have slower skin cell turnover than normal, something that leads to clogged pores and breakouts. By improving skin cell turnover, retinoids can help prevent future breakouts as well as treating existing ones.

Of course, retinol can also help fade the appearance of pigmentation, which is a bonus for dealing with acne scars.

The Downsides of Retinol Products

Can Cause Dryness, Irritation, and Redness

Unfortunately, retinol has several well-known side effects that counteract its benefits for certain people.

Most notably, it can cause skin to become red, dry, and irritated. For some, applying it also comes with a burning or stinging sensation and causes skin to peel.

Now, some skincare experts will advise you to expect these kinds of side effects for the few weeks and to allow your skin some time to adjust.

With time and perhaps less usage, certain skin types do adjust to the use of retinol. However, some will never adjust, and it raises the question of whether your skin needs something with such a harsh nature to look better.

Hard on Sensitive Skin & Can Increase Sensitivity

Retinol products are typically the worst for those with sensitive skin. If your skin already reacts to normal products, it likely won’t respond well to such a strong ingredient.

Those with skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, etc. should also typically avoid all types of retinoids. There have been many reports of eczema flare-ups when using retinoids, and these products can also cause skin discoloration and itching.

It’s also important to be aware that retinol can make your skin more sensitive to other products. For example, there are recommendations to limit face scrubs, vitamin C, toners, astringents, and other facial treatments while you are using retinol.

Increases Sun Sensitivity (and Possibly Cancer Risk)

Another well-known aspect of retinol and retinoids is that they can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Experts advise using them at night and wearing a strong sunscreen during the day because your skin is more likely to burn.

This is a downside in itself, but it’s also possible that this increased sensitivity may open you up to a greater skin cancer risk. Animal studies have found that retinyl palmitate and retinoic acid, in particular, can increase tumor growth on exposure to synthetic sunlight.

To add to this, one of the biggest accelerators for skin aging is sun damage. This means that long-term use of retinol may do more harm than good in several ways.

Natural Retinol Alternative: Bakuchiol from Babchi Oil

If you are interested in the skin benefits of retinol without the potential side effects, nature may have the perfect ingredient for you.

Bakuchiol is an up-and-coming skincare ingredient that is so powerful it’s been dubbed the “natural retinol alternative.” It comes from the babchi plant (Psoralea corylifolia), which is a medicinal plant used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.

You’ll find bakuchiol in babchi oil (an excellent carrier oil for skin), and it can also be extracted from the leaves and seeds as a potent, isolated compound.

And as you’ll soon see, bakuchiol may someday surpass retinol as the most popular anti-aging skincare ingredient.

Top Skincare Benefits of Bakuchiol

Matches Retinol for Effectiveness in Studies

Bakuchiol first started to be compared to retinol because preliminary research indicated that the two worked similarly at the molecular level. Then, a breakthrough clinical trial from 2018 took it even further…

This particular clinical trial focused on comparing retinol and bakuchiol side by side. The goal was to determine how the effectiveness of each one for improving signs of facial aging compared with the other.

To do this, participants were divided into groups that either applied a bakuchiol cream or a retinol cream twice daily. They then had high-resolution images taken at 0, 4, 8, and 12 weeks. The final results were compared to each other at the 12-week mark.

The results of this small, but important, study were very clear: Bakuchiol and retinol were equally effective at reducing signs of skin aging, specifically wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.

Of course, larger studies are being called for, but these results are already incredible. It’s also great news for anyone who can’t use retinol and has been searching for an alternative.

Boosts Collagen to Eliminate the Appearance of Wrinkles

One of the most important ways bakuchiol works is by stimulating collagen production.

Collagen is the central protein in your skin’s makeup and very important when it comes to fighting signs of aging. As collagen decreases, your skin starts losing some its firmness and thickness. This, in turn, leads to wrinkles, fine lines, and the other signs of aging we are so familiar with.

By boosting collagen, bakuchiol helps reverse the aging process and keeps your skin looking younger for longer.

In fact, studies have shown that using bakuchiol can result in “significant improvement [of] lines and wrinkles.”

Brightens Skin & Fades the Look of Hyperpigmentation

Another way bakuchiol makes your skin look younger is by reducing the appearance of dark spots.

Dark spots (also called age spots or hyperpigmentation) typically come from melanin, a dark pigment in your skin. Usually, melanin fades when you spend time out of the sun- like a fading tan. But as you get older, certain spots don’t fade, leaving you with darker areas of skin.

Fortunately, bakuchiol has demonstrated an ability to fade the appearance of these dark spots. It brightens skin and evens out skin tone to give you a brighter, glowing complexion!

Renews Skin Elasticity and Firmness

The elasticity of your skin is another huge part of keeping it looking youthful. As elasticity decreases, your skin loses its ability to “bounce back” and starts looking saggy, loose, and old.

This is yet another aspect of skincare that bakuchiol can help with.

In another 12-week study, a skincare product made with bakuchiol was able to improve both elasticity and skin firmness in participants. It reduced overall signs of skin aging as well- and with NO undesirable side effects!

Soothing- Not Irritating- For Skin

Speaking of undesirable side effects- these are something bakuchiol does not have.

Of course, there’s always the chance of an individualized allergic reaction to any skincare ingredient. But overall, bakuchiol has proven to be just as effective as retinol but without the same downsides.

The same clinical trial that compared retinol and bakuchiol side by side found that the retinol cream came along with facial scaling and stinging for some participants, while the bakuchiol cream did not.

In fact, bakuchiol possesses anti-inflammatory properties that can be soothing for skin. It also has a hydrating, rather than a drying, effect- particularly when used naturally in babchi oil.

Antioxidant Power that Protects Skin

Along with its other amazing skincare benefits, bakuchiol also acts as a powerful antioxidant.

Antioxidants should be a major part of any anti-aging skincare routine. They combat free radicals that can do damage to skin cells and protect the anti-aging proteins collagen and elastin from degradation.

Antioxidants are also key to protecting your skin from photodamage, meaning signs of aging that come from too much UV exposure. Photodamage includes wrinkles, dark spots, rough or thin skin, loss of elasticity, and so on.

The antioxidant nature of bakuchiol may be able to provide protection against photodamage, and we already know it helps reverse the appearance of photodamage.

Also, while retinol makes your skin more sensitive to sunlight and UV rays, bakuchiol has not shown this effect.

May Help Fight Acne

In yet another comparison to retinol, bakuchiol has shown potential for fighting acne. This potential is mostly still untapped because clinical trials are limited at this point in time, but the studies conducted so far are very promising.

In one clinical study, a topical treatment made with bakuchiol was able to decrease acne more effectively than salicylic acid. This is significant because salicylic acid is frequently prescribed by dermatologists as an acne treatment.

Also of note, combining bakuchiol with salicylic acid greatly improved acne treatment in the trial- far better than either on their own. This could make bakuchiol a natural booster for conventional acne preparations.

100% Vegan and Natural

If you enjoy a plant-based lifestyle, one of the biggest downsides of retinol is that it can’t be plant-derived.

Yes, you will see products labeled “vegan retinol” or something similar. However, vegan retinol has to come from a synthetic source (aka made in a lab), even though it may be used in a product alongside other natural, plant-based ingredients.

Bakuchiol has the advantage of being 100% plant-based and natural. You don’t ever have to worry about it being lab-made, although you do want to use an organic extract to avoid toxins that will damage your skin.

Bakuchiol to Rejuvenate Old- and Tired-Looking Eyes

Bakuchiol is a perfect ingredient for giving you the youngest-looking skin around your eyes, which is why it is an ingredient in the Age-Defying Eye Cream from Purity Woods.

This outstanding and completely plant-based eye cream contains bakuchiol from organic babchi oil, plus over 20 other pure botanicals. You’ll find ingredients like elastin-boosting maple leaf extract and the antioxidant powerhouses of sumac berry extract and turkey tail mushroom extract.

The formula also contains superb moisturizers, like mango seed butter and rosehip seed oil, to nourish and care for the delicate skin around your eyes. All ingredients are USDA Certified Organic, which means no toxins and no GMOs.

Head here to learn more about the Age-Defying Eye Cream for a plant-derived, effective solution to under-eye bags, dark circles, fine lines, etc., and make bakuchiol a part of your daily skincare routine!

9 thoughts on “Retinol: The Pros, The Cons, and a Powerful Natural Alternative”

  1. Wow! Sounds fantastic, but sadly- have a really, really bad Dad joke: I’m in that 3-5% that is allergic to everything, including roses, lavender, mango (I od’d on it 1st time in Hawaii and ended up in ICU). Explain that one to the authorities.
    Will follow up on some of your other products.

    Reply
  2. Thank you for this very specific article about retinol versus bakuchiol. The eye area is in fact a problematic zone in anti aging and I am glad I know better now. Perhaps I will try the cream soon.

    Reply
  3. I have sensitive skin and am happy to know Bakuchiol is an alternative. It is in a product I currently use and I was always wondering if it was a good option.

    Reply
  4. I have been a Botox and Retinol girl for twenty-some years. I am also a natural health enthusiast…yes, I know…sounds like a contradiction but hey! What’s a senior 70-years young gal gonna’ do?!? I have been using Purity Woods Dream Cream for about a month now – in lieu of another organic brand of moisturizer – and am VERY pleased with the natural complexion glow the cream creates. I would very much like to have an anti-aging program designed for me by Purity Woods, as the Dream Cream is all I’ve been using. Would like to try all other useful products. I do not have sensitive skin and – actually – my skin looks like I’m in my 40 or 50’s so maintaining that is very important to me. Congratulations on your research and on the development of a wonderful product. I really love the Dream Cream.

    Reply
  5. Actually, now that I just looked at the ingredient list your site provides for the eye cream, it doesn’t seem to contain bakuchiol either, unless it’s listed by some other name.

    Reply
    • Hi Laurie, as explained on the info page for The Age-Defying Dream Cream, it contains babchi oil. Bakuchiol is a compound in babchi oil (similar to curcumin being a compound in turmeric).

      Reply

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