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Retinoids are everywhere as a prime skin care ingredient, and for good reason. Studies suggest these derivatives of vitamin A are one of the most effective topical defenses against premature signs of aging in skin.

But they’re not without their fair share of side effects.

“While retinoids are often hailed as the gold standard of anti-aging topical therapy, they can very often cause irritation ― dryness, redness, peeling, and sun-sensitivity,” said Dr. Julie Karen, a board-certified dermatologist Complete Skin MD in New York City and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. These symptoms can be even more prevalent for individuals who have sensitive skin or conditions like eczema or rosacea.

This is where bakuchiol, a new, less irritating plant-based alternative can be of use.

“Bakuchiol is a natural alternative to retinoids that is derived from a seed. [It] has anti-aging benefits that mimic those of retinoids, but lacks the potentially irritating effects,” Karen said.

She explained that, like retinoids, bakuchiol can promote cell turnover, which prompts improvements in skin’s smoothness, texture and tone, plus the appearance of fine lines.

Dr. Paul M. Friedman, a board-certified dermatologist and ddirector of Dermatology & Laser Surgery Center in Houston, said that in addition to Bakuchiol’s retinol-like functionality, it also has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-acne and antibacterial properties.

I have explained that another difference between bakuchiol and retinoids is how they can be used. Retinoids must be introduced slowly with a gradual increase in application in order to allow skin to acclimate, build tolerance and prevent irritation. They also cannot be applied at least a week before laser treatments or prior to sun exposure due to their tendency to increase burning. Bakuchiol, on the other hand, is photostable, meaning it can be used any time of the day without sensitizing the skin to sun. It’s also safe to use during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

“It also does not require dose escalation and is more effective at inhibiting matrix metalloprotease compared to retinol, which is the enzyme that attacks collagen in our skin,” Friedman said.

Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of Loretta Skincare, pointed out that because bakuchiol is a newer ingredient, there isn’t as much research supporting its efficacy in comparison to retinoids like retinol and tretinoin.

“Retinol has been put through a 12-week study that showed it causes increase in collagen production, and a clinical trial showing lessening of lines and wrinkles. The only way to prove the claim that Bakuchiol is as effective or gentler than retinol would be with a double blind or half-face study showing that it gives similar results to retinol, ”said he said. “However, to date there is just one study.”

If you experience excessive burning, flaking and redness with retinoids or just want to try something new, read on to the list below to see what bakuchiol products these dermatologists recommended, plus a few we found on our own.

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