Is it Time to Find a Retinol Alternative?
Elevated Simplicity Blog

Is it Time to Find a Retinol Alternative?

by Heather Smith on Jan 23, 2022

Many people are making the switch to retinol alternatives right now. They each have their own reasons, but they all share a desire to find an alternative to retinol that is effective.

Retinoids are potent chemicals used to treat both photo-aging and acne. They are clinically proven and, depending on the strength and type used, the results can be dramatic.

This article takes a look at why some people choose a retinol alternative and how to make a decision that is right for your skin.

4 Reasons to Consider Alternatives to Retinol

Skincare is very personal. Different things matter to each consumer. The colour, scent, texture matter more to some. The brand name and price matter more to others. The number of natural vs. synthetic ingredients matter more to other people.

There are plenty of reasons a consumer might prefer to use a retinol alternative. The main reason people use retinol are either for the anti aging effects (reduced fine lines and wrinkles, stimulates collagen, repairs sun damage) or the anti-acne effects.

When searching for a product or an alternative regimen, matching those cosmetic effects (without retinol) is the goal. 

#1 Retinol Intolerance

Retinol intolerance is significant for many people. Retinoids have a long list of unpleasant side effects and cause many people a great deal of trouble.

Using retinol requires starting a low dose and gradually increasing over time until you (hopefully) eventually start to tolerate it. People experience sensitive skin, redness, dryness, skin barrier damage, inflammation, flaky skin, photosensitivity, and purging (increased acne in the early stages).

There are ways to minimize the negative experience with retinol, but many consumers have tried numerous times and just need a different option all together. 
Another less common retinol intolerance that affects your tear ducts is called meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). Caused by changes to the cells lining the gland gradually over time, the symptoms range from dry eyes to lid inflammation to corneal damage. 
Pushing through the side effects of starting retinol is often "worth it" to many consumers, especially those suffering from significant acne and using a retinoid as a prescribed medication. However, many people prefer to use a retinol alternative rather than endure a lengthy period of unpleasant side effects.

It takes at least six months before the peak effects of retinol are visible. All skincare regimens take time to work, but other routines do not cause the same degree of side effects while you're waiting to get to the benefits.

#2 Pregnancy Safe Retinol Alternative

Prescription oral retinoids are dangerous to a developing fetus. However, topical versions (even prescription strength) have not been shown to cause congenital disabilities or birth defects. Therefore, the FDA does not declare it unsafe in pregnancy and considers it class C. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends avoiding topical retinoids in the first trimester of pregnancy. This is a cautious approach because they are not essential for the pregnant woman. A peace-of-mind decision to avoid it during pregnancy is best.
Seeking a retinol alternative for pregnancy is one of the main reasons many women give for making the switch.

#3 Ingredient Preferences: Botanical Natural Alternative to Retinol

Retinol is a synthetically formulated chemical that has a lot of side effects. Many consumers would rather use ingredients that are closer to nature. Brands that develop natural retinol alternatives often name them things like bio retinol, phyto retinolnatural retinol, or retinoic nutrients.
It's no secret that we're big fans of Bakuchiol as a natural retinol alternative. It's extracted directly from the seeds of the Psoralea corylifolia (babchi) plant and shows promising results in clinical studies. When comparing Bakuchiol vs retinol, researchers found Bakuchiol was comparably effective. None of the retinol side effects, including dry eyes, were reported. The study compared them each at a concentration of 0.5%.

We've summarized the Bakuchiol research, and for those looking for a plant-based, natural retinol alternative, pure concentrated bakuchiol is a star ingredient. Best to skip babchi seed carrier oil though, due to the presence of psoralens (a skin irritant)

A lot of products that contain high levels of vitamin A and beta carotene are marketed as natural retinol alternatives. This includes ingredients that we love and use like carrot seed oil, buriti oil, and sea buckthorn oil.

It is important to know that topical vitamin A really doesn't turn into retinol when used on the skin (there are too many metabolic steps), but that doesn't mean they aren't amazing ingredients to use.

There are plenty of natural ways to brighten your skin tone and, while Bakuchiol is amazing, Vitamin C oils are also very effective. Treating hyperpigmentation is possible with a variety of ingredients, at home remedies, or in-office procedures. 

#4 Many Other Effective Ingredients Exist

Retinol isn't the only cosmetic active that works and many of the same desired effects can be achieved using a combination of other products and ingredients. 

These ingredients, and others, can help you improve the tone and texture of your skin - without requiring you to go through the process of dealing with retinol.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

Acids exfoliate, promote cell turnover and skin renewal and will improve the appearance of the skin. Although they can also be irritating, you can try different strengths and types easily without having to wait months to see if they work for you. Glycolic acid is often the first choice, but people looking for a gentle regimen should look at others like lactic and mandelic acid. 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps repair skin cells, improve tone/pigmentation, and improve collagen type and production.


Niacinamide is another skin-brightening agent that reduces pore size and also helps improve acne.

Peptides, Amino Acids, Growth Factors

Certain peptides and amino acids have good clinical evidence for stimulating collagen production and firming the skin. Some growth factors are also worth looking at, especially if you are doing collagen induction therapy.

Procedures like microneedling are complex. If you'd rather keep a simple, skinimalism routine, you could try starting out with only rosehip seed oil. Rosehip oil is one of the best face oils all around. While carrier oils will not give you dramatic results, it shouldn't be discounted as a good choice for those who want to keep their routine 100% pure and simple. 


The bottom line is that retinoids are not for everyone. There are many retinol alternative regimens that can be effective and help support your skin through the different stages of life.

Using a combination of ingredients like Vitamin C and alpha-hydroxy acids or trying natural retinol alternatives, like Bakuchiol, are all excellent approaches for those who cannot or do not want to use retinoids.


bareLUXE Skincare is dedicated to producing simple but effective natural products. Check out our award-winning Bakuchiol Serum, a natural alternative to retinol. 




Mukherjee S, Date A, Patravale V, Korting HC, Roeder A, Weindl G. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clin Interv Aging. 2006;1(4):327-348. doi:10.2147/ciia.2006.1.4.327. 

Zasada M, Budzisz E. Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2019;36(4):392-397. doi:10.5114/ada.2019.87443

Valérie Haydont, Bruno A. Bernard, Nicolas O. Fortunel, Age-related evolutions of the dermis: Clinical signs, fibroblast and extracellular matrix dynamics, Mechanisms of Ageing and Development, Volume 177, 2019, Pages 150-156, ISSN 0047-6374


    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.