Retinol vs. Bakuchiol: What is it? What does it do? What are the alternatives.

Why do people like to use Retinols when it comes to anti-ageing? 

Our skin is constantly undergoing self renewal, and is battling the environment and damage that comes from that every day. This can be in the form of chemicals, pollution and especially UV from the sun. This causes detrimental effects, otherwise known in the skin care world as Extrinsic ageing. Basically all of those little traumas are oxidants, and we need cell renewal and anti-oxidants to help intervene to repair the damage. This then helps to reduce ageing.

Topical retinols, which are derivatives of Vitamin A, were first discovered to have a positive effect and have some age-reversal effects in 1983. In those early studies, retinol was shown to reduce surface roughness, pigmentation and improve fine lines and wrinkles. As the improvement was cumulative, further studies were done to show that the change happens deeper within the skin, in the dermis. The dermis looked more and more like that of a young person. So since that time, retinol has probably become one of the most studied ingredients in skin care to date. There are many permutations as the Vitamin A family is large, so the choice of products that include some form of retinol is huge.

How do Retinols slow down the skins ageing process?

Retinol helps to resurface and rejuvenate the skin, leaving users with skin that is more vibrant, clear and youthful. Vitamin A cannot be synthesized by our body, so it needs to be supplied topically or orally. When applied topically to the skin, retinol helps the skin cell communicate. This means that damaged skin cells can return to better function. When UV hits the skin, healthy skin cells can be attacked and that leads to somewhat abnormal function of those cells. Retinol helps to stop the negative energy by attaching itself to the damaged cells, allowing the cells to repair. This then improve the collagen and elastin quality, reducing wrinkles.

Aside from this deeper function, retinol also helps to break the bonds on the very surface of your skin so that dead skin cells gently fall away. This regulates your skin cell cycle, so that the epidermis turns over more frequently. The skin will glow as the skin is replaced frequently, and pigmentation is reduced as the already pigmented cells are lost in a regular manner.

Why do some people not like Retinols? What are some disadvantages to its use?

When our skin cycle is sluggish, using vitamin a for the first time can cause irritation, especially if the topical application is a higher strength retinol. This is called a Retinoid reaction, were there can be redness, irritation and dermatitis. This occurs because too many cells are lost and activated all at once. It is better to start with a very low concentration retinol-derivative, and use it every third day. Once your skin cycle slowly becomes more active, use the retinol everyday. Once your skin is working more efficiently, your skin care professional will likely recommend a slightly more concentrated retinol to work deeper and faster.

Since retinol can dry out your skin and boost sensitivity, you need to make sure that you use a great moisturiser to seal moisture in, and use SPF (which you should do anyway) to further protect your skin.

The main problems with Vitamin A occur when you take it in the form of a supplement. Pregnant women consuming an increased level of vitamin A early in the pregnancy are also at risk for birth defects. For this reason, topical retinol use is contra-indicated for pregnant women so that no possible increase in risk is introduced through this happy stage of life.

Why do you think people are turning away from Retinols and instead opting for greener skincare? 

As consumers we are all becoming more aware of ingredients and what we are doing to our bodies. That is a good thing. However I think we need to be wary of believing hype or hysteria where there is no science to back up a claim. 

Some time ago, there was a small study undertaken on mice that concluded that Vitamin a was associated with an increased susceptibility to developing tumours. However if you read that particular study closely, the mice were “coated” in vitamin A and then subjected to UV radiation at maximum intensity. It is not surprising that the mice developed tumours under those conditions, and likely would have done so regardless of the use of vitamin A. I feel that most people understand that sunlight increases your risk of sun-related cancers. So the study was unethical and biased from the outset. 

In your opinion do natural alternatives to Retinols work? How does their use on the skin differ from the chemical version?

Regular topical retinol isn’t for everyone. Those people with rosacea and pregnant women should avoid its use. In rosacea the skins barrier is compromised, so sloughing away dead skin cells in the form of a regular topical retinol can be too much. As mentioned earlier, excess amounts of Vitamin A has been shown to interfere with fetal development, so retinol should be avoided during this time.

 “Green” products are those that have a much shorter ingredient list, without as many chemicals such as sulfates and parabens. Retinol is a safe product, but to maintain its efficacy, it needs to have a preservative added. So anyone trying to use a Green retinol should look for a natural, plant-based retinol alternative should seek out “Bakuchiol”. This ingredient has been studied and has some scientific backing of its retinol-like activity.

Retinol is usually synthetically made, but can be sourced from animals, being found in liver, kidney and eggs. Bakuchiol comes from the seeds and leaves of Psoralea Corylifolia, a plant found in Eastern Asia

What happens when we apply beta carotene onto the skin?

Beta carotene, is sometimes called “proVitamin A”, as it is a precursor to Vitamin A. It is found in many 

many fruits and vegetables, giving them their orange colour. It is an antioxidant, helping to protect against free radical breakdown. 

Beta carotene is used in the cosmetics industry, but mainly in suntan products, hair care products and other cosmetics. When applied topically on skin, there is no conclusive evidence to show that beta-carotene will convert to Vitamin A, so this means it may not have the same anti-ageing effects of retinol. Additionally, the orange colour of beta carotene makes it challenging to have it included in topical formulations. The best way to ensure you have adequate beta carotene is to ingest it in your diet, particularly your fruits and veg.

Can rosehip oil have the same type of effect on the skin as vitamin A?

Rosehip oil has been shown to have great effects on the skin, but acting like a vitamin A is not one of them. It just doesn’t contain enough retinoic acid (another form of retinol) to be potent enough. Rosehip oil is made from rose petals. Whilst it does contain small amounts of Vitamin A, it contains higher levels of vitamin C, which is the building block for collagen in the skin. This then naturally increases skin firmness and elasticity, but not in the same way that retinol does. Rosehip oil is a great moisturizer, and because it has such low levels of Vitamin A, it can be used on all people, including those with rosacea.

Have you heard of bakuchiol? What are your thoughts on it’s proven results and comparison to Retinols?

I have heard of Bakuchiol! It is has been studied, and definitely has comparable effects to retinol at this stage. In one study undertaken in 2014, concluded that people that used bakuchiol twice a day for 12 weeks saw a vast improvement in fine lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, skin elasticity, and firmness. It had the additional benefit of stimulating collagen production. However, I would like to see more studies to support these retinol-like effects, before we cast retinol aside.

Bakuchiol seems to work along a similar pathway to retinol, but does not make the skin as dried out or flaky as retinol sometimes can. Bakuchiol works to regulate the skin cell cycle, meaning that cells turnover regularly such that newer, better-appearing cells to come to the top surface of the skin. However at this stage, I would recommend sticking with Retinol if you skin is tolerating it well, as this ingredient is seriously impressive. Before implementing anything new, you need to make sure that you are not allergic to this plant-based ingredient, because just like anything natural, that is always a possibility.

Would bakuchiol work for somebody who can’t tolerate normal Retinols? 

For those who can tolerate retinol, there is no reason to phase it our and use anything else. However for those that have rosacea or very sensitive skin, this can be a great alternative. As mentioned, Bakuchiol seems to work along a similar pathway to retinol, encouraging up-regulation of the skin cell cycle. So using bakuchiol in the absence of retinol would be a great choice.

Would bakuchiol be safe during pregnancy and while breastfeeding?

Since retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A, and vitamin a is associated with fetal development interruption it cannot be used htorugh preganacy. However Bakuchiol is not vitamin A, so there is no restriction on its use through pregancny or breast-feeding. It is a botanical extract from the seeds and leaves of the psoralea corylifolia plant, and has traditionally used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat skin diseases for many years.

Thanks for reading!

Written by Giulia D’Anna

BDSc (Melb), MRACDS, Graduate Diploma Dermal Therapies (AACDS), Cert. Practice Man (UNE) + | + 3 Belmore Road, Balwyn North, Victoria, Australia 3104 + | + Founder of iDental and Dermal Distinction

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