top of page

Retinol vs Retinoid vs Bakuchiol

Disclaimer: All contents of this blog post are from The Organic Pharmacy

Image Credit:

Retinoid is an umbrella term for the entire family of Vitamin A derivates, which includes both prescription and over-the-counter products. Retinol is probably the most famous one in this group of active 'skin-improving' ingredients and is available in over-the-counter products. Retinoids are considered the 'holy grail of actives in skincare'. They are multifunctional:

• Reduce oiliness and help with blemishes, • Quieten down the production of excess pigmentation which will help to even out tone and pigmentation issues • Stimulate collagen production and prevent collagen breakdown which will result in improving and preventing fine lines.

You can find below all the members of the retinoid family, ranging from the strongest to weakest members of the family:

1. Retinoic acid (also known as tretinoin) is the most effective one but is only available on prescription. 2. Retinoid acid esters such as hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR, also known as granactive retinoid) and retinyl retinoate. 3. Retinol, the most famous one 4. Retinaldehyde (also known as retinal) 5. Retinol esters such as retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, and retinyl proprionate. The very mildest ones, are unlikely to cause any irritation but are also not very effective.

The strongest ones will be the most effective ones, but are often less well tolerated, especially in ‘retinoid newbies’ .

What do you need to know before adding a retinoid to your skincare routine?

Important tips for those who want to add retinol to their skincare:

• Do not expect results from retinoids overnight! Retinoids are used at night and should be used at least 12 weeks before you can start to see results. • Always start slow and build up. You might wonder what it means to start slow: start the product with a low frequency and a small amount and increase the frequency and amount over the next weeks. For a retinoid newbie, this would mean starting twice a week with less than a pea-size amount and slowly build up to daily use of a pea-size amount (or instructed otherwise by the specific product). Some people can increase faster than others, everyone’s skin is unique! • Always use sunscreen in the morning, always! but especially when you are using a retinoid as your skin will burn more easily. • Moisturise your eyes before applying your retinoid and avoid going with your retinoid close to your eyes unless it is a product specially developed for the eye area. • If you use more retinoid than is good for you, your skin will become red and flakey. It does not mean you are allergic to it, it means you cannot tolerate it. Stop, rest and try again if you’re brave enough, but at a lower pace. • Always introduce only one new product at a time. • Oily skin tends to tolerate retinoids better than dry skin. • If you have sensitive skin, you might want to work on the skin barrier first before adding in a retinoid. • Discuss with your practitioner if in doubt about how/when to use retinoids or if you suffer from irritation with the mildest retinoids.

The alternative for those who cannot tolerate any retinoids, is Bakuchiol.

What exactly is Bakuchiol?

Bakuchiol does not belong to the family of the retinoids. It is structurally different but induces similar gene expression which means that they similarly affect cell pathways. Bakuchiol is derived from the seeds of the Babchi plant and hence is often portrayed in the media as 'the natural alternative to retinol' or 'a plant-based retinol’.

The advantage of bakuchiol is that it is generally better tolerated than retinoids whilst doing the same job. One recent study compared the use of retinol to bakuchiol as a treatment of skin aging and showed that the effects of twice-daily bakuchiol are similar to the effects of once-daily retinol with less irritation seen in participants treated with bakuchiol. In summary, there is still quite a lot of unknowns with bakuchiol so if you can tolerate retinol or another retinoid, maybe it is best to stick to the product with the most evidence.

According to Harvard Medical School, Topical vitamin A-based drugs called retinoids- the most used and most studied anti-aging compounds- may reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Tretinoin was the first retinoid. It was used as an acne treatment in the 1970s, but researchers later discovered that it also fades actinic keratosis spots, evens pigmentation, and speeds the turnover of superficial skin cells.

Retinoids reduce fine lines and wrinkles by increasing the production of collagen. They also stimulate the production of new blood vessels in the skin. Additional benefits include fading age spots and softening rough patches of skin. However, it takes three to six months of regular use before improvements in wrinkles are apparent - and the best results take six to 12 months.

Wear sunscreen during the day because retinoids increase the skin's sensitivity to sunlight. These drugs must be used continually to maintain their benefits.

Written by: Dr. Amélie Seghers Consultant dermatologist to The Organic Pharmacy

bottom of page