Better with bakuchiol

Find out why everyone is talking about skincare’s new wonder ingredient, which is touted as a milder, yet effective, alternative to retinol

Published - November 01, 2019 04:45 pm IST

Group of cosmetics products with babchi dry raw seeds (Psoralea Corylifolia) on pink surface. Bakuchiol cosmetics concept. Natural alternative to retinol.

Group of cosmetics products with babchi dry raw seeds (Psoralea Corylifolia) on pink surface. Bakuchiol cosmetics concept. Natural alternative to retinol.

When I hear about any new “wonder ingredient”, I regard it with a healthy amount of scepticism. For me, the best beauty ingredients are those that have stood the test of time — fruit acids, vitamin C, niacinamide. But what really piqued my curiosity about bakuchiol was that it was touted to be a retinol replacement.

Among all cult skincare additives, retinol is the one I don’t really enjoy. I’m not sure it works very well for Indian women, because our primary concern is pigmentation and not wrinkles. I use a very mild retinol product, Zelens Power A, which contains three different types in an oil base, but even this I use no more than once or twice a week. So when I heard about bakuchiol I was more than interested, because it gives the same effects without the irritation.

The India connection

For the uninitiated, bakuchiol comes from the babchi plant, which is native to India. In fact, the seeds are often used in Ayurveda as a cure for vitiligo. Dr Abhijeet Jinde, the Pune-based Ayurevdic physician who has been practising and teaching for more than 15 years, says, “The melanocytes become dormant because of excess kapha , and babchi makes these functional again.” He adds that it reduces inflammation and is an effective wormicidal. Ancient texts suggest that it is also a rasayana or an anti-ageing ingredient. If you think about it, all these qualities are essential for a good skincare ingredient. Care must be taken, however, that it isn’t put directly on the skin, as the seeds are extremely potent and can cause blisters. “We use it in three forms — orally, to remove blood impurities; as an oil or paste or traditionally with gau mutra (cow urine) for skin problems; and for weight loss, because it reduces water retention and fat.

Modern usage

“Bakuchiol is effective for many different aspects of skincare,” says Dr Kiran Kaur Sethi, Delhi-based, Columbia-educated, integrative skin, aesthetic and wellness expert. She explains that not only does it boost collagen, it reduces the enzymes that break down collagen and elastin. “It also reduces inflammation and DHT receptor activity,” she says. DHT is an androgen which causes acne and balding, so Sethi thinks that it may even have applications on the scalp. “It has application in both acne and psoriasis as the irritation potential is significantly less — in fact, I read a study where bakuchiol 1% and salicylic acid 2% reduces acne by 67% in six weeks,” she says.

As far as its effects on vitiligo are concerned, she explains that there is a compound called psoralen in these seeds. “It makes you super sensitive to the sun, you tan and the colour patches on the skin become normal.” She also talks about a psolaren-induced therapy where this ingredient is applied on the skin, and then exposed for 20 minutes in UVA light. “It helps with psoriasis, some types of cancers and eczema.” Even though there are many studies done on this wonder ingredient, all of them are in-vitro. “Only when we see large-scale studies on humans can we actually confirm it is it indeed as wonderful as it seems.”

Tried and tested

After looking at the reviews of various products, I settled on the Herbivore Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Serum. The first few ingredients (or the only ones that matter) include aloe, glycerin, bakuchiol 4%, with 1% PHA (poly-hydroxy acids). I have been trying the serum for a month without my usual exfoliants. The first week, I didn’t see any difference, but after two weeks, my skin felt butter-smooth, without using a potent exfoliant like Biologique Recherche’s Lotion P50. The best part was that it did it without any irritation. In addition, I noticed that even when I used the product without adding moisturiser on top, my skin felt hydrated in the morning. However, I don’t know if these effects are because of the bakuchiol or PHAs, which are very sophisticated and effective exfoliants.

If you want to layer your bakuchiol product, the options are aplenty. “It is safe to be mixed with other ingredients except something which has a metallic ion like a copper isolate,” says Sethi. I have combined it with vitamin C, a niacinamide cream, and hyaluronic acid, and it has worked well every time. But even though it makes my skin look good with short use, the jury is still out on the long-term effects. Sure it makes the skin smooth and glowing, but can it erase long-standing signs of sun damage? Or soften acne scarring? Or reduce deep-seated frown lines? Only time will tell.

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