ingredient focus: bakuchiol

bakuchiol retinol alternative anokha skincare

the bottom line

Bakuchiol is one of the most exciting natural actives to arrive on the scene. Hailed as one of the trendiest ingredients of 2019 by the marketing intelligence agency Mintel, bakuchiol appeared in 150 new product launches in 2020 alone. Believed to be an alternative to retinol in the treatment of fine lines, pigmentation, and acne, this botanical beauty holds tremendous potential for use on sensitive skin. Join us as we dig into the history and science of bakuchiol.


first layer: the history

Bakuchiol was isolated in 1966 from the babchi seed obtained from the plant Psoralea corylifolia, a plant used in traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. Bakuchiol derives its name from the Sanskrit word for this plant, “bakuchi”. Psoralea coryifolia is found in South Asian countries including Pakistan and India. Requiring 7-8 months to reach maturity, its seeds are harvested between December and March. Babchi seeds have been used topically and internally for various skin conditions, including leukoderma, psoriasis, and leprosy. Bakuchiol has also been isolated from other plants, including Psoralea grandulosa, Psorlea drupaceae, Ulmus davidiana, Otholobium pubescens, Piper longum, and Aerva sangulnolenta Blume.


second layer: the science

In addition to its long history, bakuchiol also possesses one of our favorite things in the world – data. When discussing why bakuchiol is such a promising ingredient, we first have to review the gold standard in anti-aging skincare, retinol.

Retinoic acid and its derivatives, including retinol, act at the level of the epidermis through regulation of specific genes. They have been found to be clinically effective against wrinkles and numerous skin conditions, including psoriasis, acne, and hyperpigmentation. However, their use is limited by the high incidence of side effects including irritation, dryness, peeling, redness, and burning – which makes them off-limits for those with sensitive skin. Although bakuchiol does not resemble retinoids at a structural level, there is marked similarity between the ingredients in terms of their effects on anti-aging genes and proteins. Bakuchiol has been shown to stimulate key anti-aging genes, including retinoid-binding and metabolizing genes, extracellular matrix genes, and dermo-epidermal junction genes. 

Collagens secreted by fibroblasts in the dermis are major components of the skin’s extracellular matrix (type I and type III collagen) and basement membrane (type IV collagen).  Bakuchiol has also been demonstrated to upregulate types I and IV collagen, and to stimulate type III collagen. It has notable collagenase and elastase inhibitory activity, too, which indicates that it is able to stop the enzymes that break down the collagen and elastin found in our dermis.

Bakuchiol has additionally been found to have antiproliferative, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-acne activity. Bakuchiol decreases pigment by means of its antioxidant effects as well as its ability to disrupt melanin synthesis by blocking both alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone activation and tyrosinase, which is the rate-limiting step in melanin synthesis. The anti-acne effect is regulated by bakuchiol’s ability to down-regulate the formation of 5-alpha-reductase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) with a subsequent increase in excess oil production. Bakuchiol also exhibits activity against organisms implicated in acne, including Propionibacterium acnes, Staphylococcus aureus, and Candida, which is a especially important given the increasing drug resistance of organisms implicated in acne.

Finally, bakuchiol improves hydration by up-regulating the synthesis of hyaluronic acid, which helps to improve hydration of the skin. This relatively unknown botanical is literally a powerhouse of activity.


third layer: the skin

Bakuchiol is the ideal anti-aging, pigmentation reducing, and anti-acne ingredient for use on sensitive skin.

A key study by Dhaliwal et al in 2019 evaluated the effects of bakuchiol versus retinol in a double-blinded, prospective study - neither the study administrators nor the recipients knew which cream they were receiving until after the trial had ended. They evaluated 44 volunteers who randomly received creams with either 0.5% of retinol or 0.5% of bakuchiol. Both ingredients significantly reduced fine wrinkles by the 12-week time point, without differences between the two ingredients. Pigmentation was also assessed and at 12 weeks, 59% of the bakuchiol group noted improvement in their hyperpigmentation, while 44% of the retinol had improvements. The most significant difference between the two groups was found in the degree of adverse effects, in that there was significantly more scaling and stinging in the retinol group. Both ingredients produced some degree of redness, itching, and burning, although this was more notable in the retinol group.

Another study by Chaudhuri et al evaluated 16 volunteers who received a lotion containing 0.5% of bakuchiol. After 12 weeks, there were statistically significant reductions in wrinkle depth and skin roughness. Improvements in elasticity, skin firmness, and skin tone were also noted. While results were apparent at 4 weeks, they were more remarkable at 8 weeks and 12 weeks, suggesting a cumulative effect with continued use.

Finally, Chaudhuri et al studied the use of bakuchiol in acne-affected skin by performing a pilot study in the treatment of acne patients with 1% bakuchiol, 2% salicylic acid, or 1% bakuchiol with 2% salicylic acid. The best results were seen in the combined bakuchiol-salicylic acid group, who showed a 70% decrease in acne lesions and inflammation after six weeks of twice daily use. Bakuchiol-only patients had a reduction of 57%, followed by salicylic acid patients who experienced a 48% decrease. None of the patients experienced adverse effects with any of these products.


fourth layer: how we do it

Our bakuchiol & pomegranate facial oil is dropping in November, 2021. We’ve incorporated bakuchiol at 1% into our formula, along with key actives including bisabolol and coenzyme Q10 to enhance dermal penetration while reducing the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. We’ve also used a base consisting of cucumber, rosehip seed, and cranberry oils to help brighten skin and improve skin texture. Sea buckthorn seed, pomegranate, and kukui nut oils round out the mix with support of the skin barrier and collagen. 


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