Bakuchiol is increasingly being hailed as the more skin-friendly alternative to retinol (vitamin A) - one of the most important anti-aging ingredients in cosmetics. What exactly does vitamin A do for your skin? And is Bakuchiol indeed a healthier alternative? Or 'to good to be true'? Read it in this blog.
Why is Vitamin A important for your skin?
- The production of new cells.
- Reduction of pigmentation.
- Improving your skin barrier (thickening).
- Improve hydration of your skin.
- Increasing the collagen content in your skin. Which helps against (deep) wrinkles and skin firmness.
- Improving the elasticity (smoothness) of your skin.
- Reduce acne.
Different forms of vitamin A
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. The pure form of vitamin A is retinol. In your body, vitamin A is stored in ester form, such as retinyl palmitate, retinyl stearate, retinyl propionate or retinyl acetate. When your body needs vitamin A, enzymes in your body convert it to the active form of vitamin A.
But then we're not there yet. Vitamin A acid (retonoic acid or tretinoin) is what vitamin A is converted into so that it can do its job in your body. For this, vitamin A is first converted into retinaldehyde and then into retinoic acid.
Provitamin A is a precursor of vitamin A. The most important and best known form is beta-carotene. Provitamin A is stored in your body. And converted into vitamin A when your body needs it. Our body needs 12 mg of beta-carotene to produce 1 mg of vitamin A (retinol).
Vitamin A in food
Vitamin A can be found in animal products such as liver, butter and goat cheese. Provitamin A in the form of beta-carotene can be found in carrots and other orange and yellow colored fruits and vegetables. Green leafy vegetables such as bok choy and kale are also rich in provitamin A. Egg yolk, butter and salmon are good animal beta-carotene sources.
Beta-carotene in vegetable form is absorbed up to ten times better in combination with a fat. Also as fresh juice or slightly heating vegetables or fruit, for example, makes beta-carotene more easily available to your body. Overheating breaks down the beta-carotene again.
Vitamin A in cosmetics
Retinyl palmitate (vitamin A palmitate, one of the vitamin A esters) is usually used in cosmetics. Pure vitamin A in a product would immediately oxidize and lose its effect in the jar. Vitamin A also oxidizes very quickly on the skin, for example through air, light, sun or water. Retinyl palmitate is stored in your body and converted by enzymes in your skin to the active form of vitamin A (retinol) when your skin needs it.
8% of retinyl palmitate in a cream is converted into retinol. 1% of this penetrates into the underlying skin layers to stimulate skin improvement. That doesn't sound like much, but a concentration of 0.5% vitamin A palmitate in a cosmetic product is already sufficient for maximum effect. Higher percentages do not have a better effect. Except in case of poor absorption through the skin.
Also used in cosmetics, but less commonly than retinyl palmitate is retinyl propionate. A lot of research has been done in recent years into how this works. With varying results [ 5 ], [ 6 ] Retinyl propionate seems more effective than retinyl palmitate. And even more effective in combination with niacinamide and carob pod extract. [ 7 ]
Less commonly used in cosmetics, but stronger than retinyl palmitate is retinaldehyde. It takes fewer 'steps' to convert retinaldehyde into retinol (vitamin A) than retinyl palmitate. Research shows that retinaldehyde has a stronger effect than retinol in a number of anti-aging functions  Also in acne, retinaldehyde seems to have a stronger effect than retinol  and is less likely to cause skin irritation.
Retinol, retinaldehyde and retinol esters in cosmetic products are often the synthetic versions. At least with vegan brands.
Disadvantages of Vitamin A
The disadvantage of vitamin A, retinaldehyde and vitamin A esters is that they can cause skin irritation, dry skin or skin flaking. They are also very sensitive to sunlight. As a result, part of the effect may be lost. But it can also cause damage, because free radicals can be created by the influence of sunlight. These include skin aging. It is therefore recommended to use (cosmetic) products with retinol, retinol esters or retinaldehyde only at night.
Safe during pregnancy?
Vitamin A is said to be taken with caution during pregnancy as it is said to increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight and serious birth defects.
The recommended daily allowance of vitamin A for an adult is set at 680 mcg (micrograms) for a woman and 800 mcg for a man or pregnant woman. With a safe upper limit of 3000 mcg per day, according to the Health Council. Vitamin A champion liver contains 9800 mcg per 100 grams. Hence, it is said to be careful about eating liver during pregnancy.
But watch out! Worldwide, there are more people with a vitamin A deficiency than a 'surplus'. With all the adverse health effects that entails. Vitamin A is one of the most crucial vitamins during pregnancy and breastfeeding! Caution with vitamin A use therefore only applies if you do not have a deficiency.
Do you also have to be careful with vitamin A or derivatives in cosmetic products during your pregnancy? Two studies in which one group had used retinoids on the skin during pregnancy and one group had not, showed no increased risks. [10 ], [ 11 ]
In addition, a vitamin A derivative in a skin care product is normally stored in the skin to be converted into vitamin A for the skin when needed. And will therefore not quickly enter the bloodstream.
Nevertheless, these studies indicate that the use of cosmetics containing vitamin A or derivatives is not recommended during pregnancy. The study results are especially reassuring for women who used vitamin A on the skin during pregnancy. In my opinion, you should do what feels safe to you. It does not seem to do any harm to use cosmetics with vitamin A during your pregnancy.
You cannot get too much of provitamin A in the form of beta-carotene. Your body only converts what is necessary into vitamin A. The only side effect of a very high beta-carotene intake is the yellowing of your skin. This is completely harmless, so it is not harmful to your health. [ 12 ]
What is Bakuchiol?
Bakuchiol is an extract from the leaves and seeds of the Psoralea Coryfolia plant from India. And is seen as the plant-based and skin-friendly alternative to retinol (vitamin A). Bakuchiol has been an important ingredient in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for many years. Is it the new wonder ingredient for your skin in cosmetics? Or 'to good, to be true'?
Super anti aging ingredient
Small-scale studies indeed show that Bakuchiol is at least as effective as vitamin A or derivatives thereof, without the disadvantages of vitamin A. [ 13 ] [ 14 ] A more extensive study in 2022 confirms the earlier findings [ 15 ].
Compared to vitamin A and derivatives, Bakuchiol is a relatively new ingredient. Although initial studies seem promising, more research is needed to fully understand how it works, to study long-term effects and to find out how Bakuchiol interacts with other ingredients in a skin care product. Vitamin A and derivatives have been researched since 1980. [ 16 ]
Skin benefits of Bakuchiol
Initial clinical studies show the following skin benefits
- Reduces fine lines, wrinkles.
- Stimulates the production of collagen, which ensures firmer and smoother skin.
- Reduces hyperpigmentation.
- Antioxidant. Protects your skin from damage from skin-aging free radicals.
- Anti-inflammatory. Improves acne skin or psoriasis.
- Heals the skin.
- Reduces redness and soothes skin irritation.
- Skin-friendly. Unlike vitamin A, it does not cause skin irritation, dryness or redness.
- Does not react with sunlight. Which means you can also safely use it as day care.
- Can be used in combination with vitamin C. Vitamin A and vitamin C cannot be used at the same time because of the acidity.
A concentration of Bakuchiol between 0.5 and 2% in a cosmetic product gives the best results, according to research.
Bakuchiol and retinol a power duo?
Bakuchiol seems to enhance the effect of retinol when used in combination. Due to the calming effect of Bakuchiol, your skin may be able to tolerate retinol better. Bakuchiol also ensures that retinol can do its job longer before it is broken down by light or air. And that retinol stabilizes better in a cosmetic product.
To good to be true?
According to Indian celebrity dermatologist Dr Jaishree Sharad, Bakuchiol takes longer to achieve the same effects as retinol. [ 17 ] However, this is contrary to the results of studies that have been done.
Much less (long-term) research has been done into Bakuchiol and its effects on your skin than into vitamin A. The first studies are promising. Bakuchiol seems to be a very good plant-based alternative to retinol. But evidence of its effects on skin is even less solid than with retinol. It has been researched for over 50 years.
Bakuchiol seems to be a very valuable ingredient, among other things for pure, natural brands that do not want to use synthetic or animal ingredients.
Provitamin A as an anti-ageing alternative?
And what about provitamin A? Like beta-carotene. That is also entirely vegetable and is converted into vitamin A in your body, if your body needs vitamin A? Provitamin A components make an important contribution to keep and protect your skin healthy and younger. But have less strong anti-aging effects than retinol has. Used in combination with other powerful ingredients in a cosmetic product, beta-carotene can provide good anti-aging effects.
- Provitamin A, and especially the beta-carotenes, is a super strong anti-oxidant. Much stronger than retinol. In that sense, they certainly have a very important anti-aging effect, because anti-oxidants counteract the formation of skin-aging free radicals.
- For other anti-aging functions, retinol is up to 12 times stronger than provitamin A/beta-carotene.
- For example, cold-pressed Senchi oil has a strong anti-aging effect due to the combination of provitamin A with vitamin E and essential fatty acids. And helps against acne and psoriasis.
- Do you also want an effect against hyperpigmentation? Then choose a combination with, for example, certain forms of vitamin C, liquorice extract, niacinamide, ellagic acid (in raspberries) and mulberry extract.
For the time being, the anti-aging effect of Bakuchiol for your skin seems promising. More research is needed to say this with more certainty. However, a recent, comprehensive study in 2022 confirms the results of previous small-scale studies.
It is therefore not unlikely that Bakuchiol has anti-aging benefits for your skin. In any case, Bakuchiol does not seem to be able to harm your skin. It has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to heal wounds and reduce inflammation.
Compared to provitamin A/beta-carotene, Bakuchiol stands out when it comes to a comparable anti-aging effect as vitamin A in cosmetic products.
The only way to find out if Bakuchiol gives your skin a rejuvenating boost is to try it out. Use a Bakuchiol product on one half of your face and a Retinol product on the other half. And find out if you see a difference.