Bakuchiol vs Retinol: A Comprehensive Comparison

Aug 3, 2023by Heather Smith


I've written a deep dive about the skincare ingredient bakuchiol, and I've also discussed the reasons some people quit retinoids in favour of a natural alternative. However, there's no question that retinoids are highly effective, so now it's time to pit the two ingredients head-to-head in this article that will definitively compare bakuchiol vs retinol.

If you've decided you cannot (or will not) use retinoids, you've probably been scouring Sephora's shelves for an effective replacement option. Wrinkles and acne can be stamped out with different strategies and ingredients. Bakuchiol is the popular choice, and there's good reason why.

But in the debate between bakuchiol vs retinol, what comes out ahead?


Bakuchiol vs retinol? The answer is: it depends.

For me, bakuchiol, absolutely. I have amazing skin benefits and none of the downsides of retinol - an ingredient I'm completely intolerant of. It doesn't matter if retinol is a million times more effective than bakuchiol; I can't use it.

For you? It depends on your shopping preferences, skin tolerance, and goals. If you're interested in trying bakuchiol, the research evidence comparing the 2 ingredients is compelling. However, retinol has many more years of experience and data. Bakuchiol hasn't been studied in large trials or in head-to-head studies against other retinoids (i.e. prescription strength) or in situations of very long-term use. From a pure results standpoint, it's likely that retinol would win; however, there is so much more to consider.

Bakuchiol vs Retinol

Clearly, I'm biased. I love bakuchiol, and I'm the founder of a skincare brand that sells an award-winning bakuchiol serum. There are many differences between bakuchiol and retinol. In order to provide as balanced and unbiased a review as possible, I decided to ask Ai for an unbiased summary comparing the two ingredients, then I declared a winner in each category:

Bakuchiol vs retinol - infographic by bareLUXE Skincare
  • Source: Bakuchiol is a natural ingredient derived from the seeds and leaves of the Psoralea corylifolia, or "Babchi," plant. Retinoids, on the other hand, are a class of chemical compounds that are either derived from Vitamin A or are chemically similar to it. This is a tie, individual preference prevails.
  • Skin Irritation: Retinoids are known to cause skin irritation, redness, and peeling, especially when you first start using them or if you use them in higher concentrations. Bakuchiol, on the other hand, has been shown to cause less irritation, making it a more gentle option for people with sensitive skin. Winner: Bakuchiol. 
  • Antioxidant Properties: Retinol and bakuchiol both have antioxidant properties, but bakuchiol's antioxidant profile is broader. In addition to counteracting damage from free radicals (which retinoids also do), bakuchiol also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which may make it more suitable for those with acne-prone or sensitive skin types. Winner: Bakuchiol. 
  • Mechanism of Action: Retinoids bind to and activate retinoic acid receptors in your skin, causing a host of effects like increased cell turnover and collagen production. Bakuchiol doesn't work the same way - instead, it acts on retinoid receptors but does not bind to them in the same way. This may contribute to its gentler profile since it doesn't cause the same intensity of skin cell turnover that can lead to irritation and flaking. Winner: ?
  • Skin Sensitivity to Sunlight: Retinoids can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, increasing the risk of sunburn. While it's always important to use sun protection, it's especially crucial when using retinoids. Bakuchiol does not have this same effect, making it safer to use during the day. Winner: Bakuchiol.
  • Eye Dryness: Eye involvement from meibomian gland dysfunction is a possible complication of using retinol. This has not been reported in bakuchiol users. Thankfully the damage shouldn't be permanent, but you should always consult with a dermatologist before using retinoids if this has happened to you. Winner: Bakuchiol.
  • Purging: Starting retinoids often results in a process called "skin purging" when first introduced. This is due to the accelerated rate at which new skin cells are produced, and old ones are removed, leading to an initial acne breakout or worsening. This phase generally lasts around 4-6 weeks before improvements begin to show. Bakuchiol, on the other hand, does not typically cause skin purging. It works differently from retinoids and is generally gentler on the skin, so bakuchiol doesn't cause purging. Winner: Bakuchiol.
  • Pregnancy: Retinoids, particularly prescription retinoids like retinoic acid, are not recommended during pregnancy or while nursing due to the potential risk they pose to the baby. Bakuchiol is often touted as a safer alternative during these periods, although, as always, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional before using any new skincare product during pregnancy or nursing. Winner: Bakuchiol.
  • Compatibility with Other Skincare Ingredients: Some skincare ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide, can reduce the effectiveness of retinoids. It's not usually advisable to use retinol with Vitamin C or hydroxy acids. Bakuchiol doesn't have these same compatibility issues, making it a more versatile ingredient in skincare routines. Winner: Bakuchiol.
  • Research and Proven Efficacy: Retinoids have been extensively studied and are proven to combat a variety of skin issues, from acne to signs of aging. While early research on bakuchiol is promising, and it appears to provide similar benefits to retinoids, there's still less scientific evidence supporting its use, mainly because it's a newer ingredient. Retinol & bakuchiol tie, BUT the entire class "retinoid" wins overall. 
  • Availability and Cost: Retinoids come in both over-the-counter versions (like retinol) and stronger, prescription-strength versions (like tretinoin). Bakuchiol, being a natural compound, is available over the counter. However, it is often more expensive as it is a niche product. Winner: Retinol.

Final Thoughts

The research comparing bakuchiol vs retinol head-to-head found bakuchiol to be comparable to retinol (this was at a 0.5% concentration for both ingredients).

This makes it safe to assume you will see results regardless of which ingredient you choose. 

When it comes to chemical structure and function, bakuchiol is a meroterpene phenol. Even though the skin effects and visible results are comparable to retinol, the bakuchiol molecule is not similar. They are entirely different chemicals. The two both work on cells that produce collagen and melanin. The end result is similar, but the chemical structures are unrelated. This explains why the two have such different side effects.

Everybody wants to know if bakuchiol is better than retinol.

The current evidence only suggests bakuchiol is comparable - not better. For some people, it's better (particularly people who can't or won't use retinol). Although the research supporting bakuchiol as an alternative is promising, we need larger and longer studies that are controlled and blinded to avoid bias.

Another issue is that isn't any data comparing bakuchiol to prescription retinoids. When it comes to a long-term comparison of bakuchiol vs retinoids (not just retinol), the safe assumption is that retinoids (as a whole) are probably more effective. The data for retinoids goes back to at least 1984.

However, there are many other factors to consider when deciding what to use. Results matter, but not if the risks or side effects are too high. So many people can't tolerate retinol due to the skin barrier damage it causes. That is why we view retinol alternative regimens as important options. 

 Bottom Line:

If results are top priority and you have no specific reason to avoid retinoids (pregnancy, preference for natural ingredients, known history of eye involvement or severe irritation) then starting with a prescription retinoid is probably the best bang for your buck. See a dermatologist. Stick with it. Push through the pain. Be patient. 

If that doesn't describe you, the bakuchiol is the ingredient for you!


I'm putting the finishing touches on a review of all the bakuchiol research that's been done to date. Check back soon to read it!

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About the Author

Dr. Heather Smith developed her love for skinimalism and clean beauty years ago when she began making home remedies for her newborn's eczema. She is an expert in natural ingredients and active botanicals and has now launched bareLUXE Skincare - a full line of effective oil serums. She dedicates this blog to consumers who are researching ingredients and working to make their beauty ritual more natural and sustainable.


This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Smith nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content should consult their physicians about their skincare concerns and routines.