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I don’t have to tout the benefits of retinol (although I always like to). Most of us already know that the vitamin A derivative is the ingredient most cited and recommended for getting the kind of skin that makes you feel better about going makeup-free. The only limitation for a significant number of us is that it’s literally a chore to use. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that alternative retinol products are popping up to save the day (and our faces).
Personally, I’ve never had an adverse reaction to a retinol product, but I won’t deny the uncomfortable tingling sensation that occurs when you apply more than a dime-sized amount to your face. And for anyone with sensitive skin, that’s likely to happen even if you use the recommended amount and Limit it to just a few nights a week. Truly, nothing embodies “beauty is pain” better than this. So it’s no wonder people are trading in the real thing for a seemingly equally effective substitute.
Lately, bakuchiol is undoubtedly the most popular ingredient to replace retinol in skincare routines. For one, it’s plant-based, which automatically makes the decision to switch feel like a responsible one. More specifically, it is extracted from the seeds and leaves of the Psoralea corylifolia, better known as the Babchi plant, which is native to India and Sri Lanka. It has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to heal wounds, but is only now being recognized for its ability to also smooth wrinkles and even reduce hyperpigmentation.
Word of mouth is great and all, but I can’t help but wonder if a watered-down version of retinol is ultimately as effective as the original. According to Peach & Lily founder and licensed esthetician Alicia Yoon, most of the signs are yes.
“Retinol is so well researched. It’s an ingredient that’s one of the most researched. That being said, there are definitely a lot more clinical studies on retinol right now, so it’s hard to know,” she says. “In about 10 years these things (alternatives) will probably have a lot of funding and research behind them as well.” In short, the number of tests and clinical trials done so far is probably not accurate or complete enough to make a judgment.
Whether we want to gamble with Bakuchiol or another alternative until then depends largely on the experiences of others. The upside, according to Yoon, is that the majority of people who share their experiences are getting great results and shouldn’t be overlooked. “For me personally, I find the anecdotal testimonials from people who really try the product consistently every day and approach it properly. That says volumes.” And whether you’re using retinol or bakuchiol, the same usage rules apply to both.
“When it comes to retinol, be very thoughtful and careful because you never want to overdo it. It’s so important to make sure you don’t mix too many other acids and things like that,” says Yoon. “With some skin types, there is definitely a phase that you have to go through before you can see the real benefits. Bakuchiol or some of those other alternative ingredients – if you don’t want to go through with it or even risk it – it might be a great thing to try.” This is an especially wise decision if you’re new to retinol and an important event like a wedding stands on the horizon.
“Start with the lowest amount and see how your skin reacts. It’s tempting because you want results like tomorrow, so go to extremes. Skincare needs consistency, and over time you’ll see bigger results anyway because your skin isn’t going through that stressful phase that sets you back a few steps,” says Yoon. If you want to start with something super gentle, here are the most popular retinol alternatives.
TIED TOGETHER: The 5 most groundbreaking facial serums for wrinkles – each under $35 at Amazon
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Dermelect Flawless Bakuchiol Treatment
This natural retinol alternative is specially formulated to be gentle on skin, even for those with ultra-sensitive complexions. But that doesn’t mean you won’t see transformative results – a blend of powerful botanicals brings rapid changes to issues like uneven texture, fine lines and wrinkles, crepey skin and dullness. While it normally retails for $59, you can now snag it for 15 percent off with a code JOY15.
CLEARSTEM HYDRAGLOW stem cell moisturizer
Enriched with Bakuchiol, Squalane and Stem Cells, this moisturizer trains your skin to boost collagen production overnight. It leaves your skin plump, healthy and youthful. Plus, the formula eliminates all toxins that could damage skin or clog pores.
Pro-Collagen Renewal Serum
If your skin is sensitive to retinol, you need to try this renewal serum, which is just as powerful as retinol but much gentler. Its ingredients consist of stevia extract, brown seaweed, and red microalgae, all of which have benefits similar to retinol. These combine to reduce the appearance of fine lines, increase firmness, hydrate and protect your skin. According to a user study, an impressive 97 percent of users say this serum offers “all the anti-aging benefits of retinol without excessive drying or irritation.”
Sunday Riley A+ High Strength Retinol Serum
6.5 percent of this retinol serum is a blend of retinol esters and alternative retinol ingredients that allow for a gentler application.
The Inkey List Bakuchiol Moisturizer
If you’d rather cut the serums (and steps) out of your nightly routine, try this daily moisturizer, which is fortified with bakuchiol and squalane.
Versed Press Start Gentle Retinol Serum
This is another mix-and-match formula made with encapsulated retinol and herbal alternatives to soothe irritation without sacrificing visible results.
Herbivore Botanicals Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Serum
Herbivore’s Skin Smoothing Serum is another best-selling bakuchiol product, also enriched with tremella mushroom for moisture retention and polyhydroxy acids, the gentlest of chemical acids, for exfoliation.
bareMinerals Ageless 10% Phyto-Retinol Night Concentrate
This lightweight lotion reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles thanks to the plant-based phyto-retinol present in the formula. The formula is non-comedogenic and suitable for all skin types, ages and tones.
Alpyn Beauty PlantGenius Melt Moisturizing Cream
Get a multitasking moisturizer like this that moisturizes (ceramides and squalane), brightens (vitamin C) and diminishes fine lines (bakuchiol).
Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum
Try this lightweight, deeply hydrating serum between your cleanser and moisturizer for noticeable results without irritation.
REN Bio Retinoid Anti-Aging Cream
In addition to bakuchiol, this moisturizer also contains a derivative of the Brazilian organic white tick that also improves skin texture.
Ole Henriksen Goodnight Glow Bakuchiol Sleep Cream
This night cream contains bakuchiol to boost your skin’s natural repair process while you sleep.
Lancer Advanced Retinol Treatment
This unique formula contains an exclusive blend of real retinol, bakuchiol and a soy complex that is slowly released into the skin.
Omorovicza Miracle Facial Oil
If you prefer to fight oil with oil, this luxurious option will do just that, in addition to fighting fine lines.
Bakuchiol + Olive Oil Squalane Oil Booster
This inexpensive booster — enriched with bakuchiol and olive oil — should be mixed with your moisturizer and serum to improve your skin’s texture while you sleep.