A Unicorn Ingredient

With all the whims and fads of the beauty industry, retinol (also known as vitamin A) has long been heralded as a holy grail, known to increase cell turnover and stimulate collagen. Typically derived from the enzymes of animal byproducts, retinol and retinoids (its stronger, prescription parallel) work at the deeper layers of the skin to smooth fine lines and wrinkles. Although dermatologists recommend using the face product as early as your mid-twenties, the list of no’s accompanying retinol use is long. No sun exposure. Not if you have eczema or sensitive skin. Pregnant or breastfeeding? It’s a hard no.

The powerful botanical has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat skin conditions.

Enter the cooler, more sustainable sister of retinol: bakuchiol (pronounced “buh-koo-chee-all”). The powerful botanical has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat skin conditions like vitiligo, remove blood impurities, and even as a remedy for bone fractures.

It’s extracted from babchi (Psoralea corylifolia), a plant native to India and Sri Lanka with mint-like leaves and lilac flowers. Since babchi has a low germination rate, scientists have cited concerns over its sustainability with increasing rates of illegal harvesting, which threaten to skyrocket alongside backuhiol’s popularity. 

Fortunately, Psoralea corylifolia has never been listed as an endangered species by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). To this day, the babchi plant is cultivated in fields regulated and protected by the Indian government to ensure the plant is not over-harvested.  

Bakuchiol has been gaining clout as a clean, plant-powered alternative to retinol—without the sun sensitivity, flakiness, or irritation.

In the past few years, bakuchiol has been gaining clout as a clean, plant-powered alternative to retinol with all the same benefits—without the sun sensitivity, flakiness, or irritation. 

And it’s not just hype: bakuchiol is clinically proven to be a gentler, retinol-like botanic and one of the hottest beauty ingredients to incorporate into your skincare routine. Like hemp seed oil, bakuchiol is considered a unicorn ingredient for its almost-too-good-to-be-true properties, lauded by some as even better than retinol itself. 

Now that you know what the fuss is all about, here are six bakuchiol-forward beauty products to “spring clean” your beauty routine.

1. Yuni Beauty Bakuchiol + Biotic Serum

Ingredients | Ashwagandha, maypops, rose, cucumber
Ethics | Organic, vegan, Leaping Bunny Certified, sustainably sourced, no synthetic colors or fragrances
Price | $28

When you catch your ZZZs, put on a few drops first of this rose-tinted and rosewater-scented serum and watch the magic happen overnight. After all, sleep is the skin’s most active renewal period, so bakuchiol can really get to work, keeping skin plump, smooth, and as fresh as your linen bed sheets. Even better, YUNI sustainably and ethically sources all of its ingredients. Did we mention 90 percent of YUNI products are made in solar-powered or wind-powered facilities?

2. Okoko Cosmetiques Les 16 Precieux

Ingredients | White lupin, marula, prickly pear seed, seabuckthorn
Ethics | Vegan, Leaping Bunny Certified, wild harvested ingredients
Price | $108

This Black-owned skincare brand is catching sunshine in a bottle with this golden face oil, dripping with bakuchiol and other superstar ingredients. With African ingredients like wild-harvested marula and baobab seed oil next to others like argan oil, this luxury oil screams “hydration, hydration, hydration.” If you can’t get enough, Okoko reminds you that this face oil can do it all: quadrupling down as an eye, lip, and hand oil serum. Drench away.

3. Herbivore Botanicals Bakuchiol Smoothing Serum

Ingredients | Amethyst extract, holy basil, tremella mushroom, and eggplant extracts
Ethics | Vegan, cruelty-free, no synthetic ingredients
Price | $54

Herbivore’s bakuchiol serum is perfection: dreamy, lavender-tinted, and jelly-like to the touch. Apart from its aesthetic place on our vanity, this serum is chock-full of adaptogens such as holy basil to counter waves of anxiety with chill vibes and tremella mushroom to plump skin, able to hold up to 500 times its own weight in water. In fact, Herbivore’s bakuchiol serum is such a fan-favorite that when the brand discontinued the product for a season, aficionados petitioned for it to be brought back. Now, it’s restocked and more beloved than ever. 

4. Beautycounter Countertime Tetrapeptide Cream

Ingredients | Swiss alpine rose, shea butter, tetrapeptide, sunflower seed oil
Ethics | Vegan, Leaping Bunny Certified, EWG Verified™
Price | $89

Award-winning clean beauty brand Beautycounter is obsessed with bakuchiol. Their entire Countertime line (bottled in glass packaging!) features bakuchiol as the star ingredient, alongside Swiss Alpine rose as an antioxidant. It’s no wonder that Women’s Health magazine included this super cream in its 2020 Beauty Awards—after just four weeks of use, 94 percent of participants in a 33-person survey reported that their skin looked and felt firmer. And 91 percent said they woke up to glowing skin and more even skin tone. If you’re looking for a complete reset of your skincare routine, Countertime’s six-step line might be a good starting point to go out with the old, and in with the new. 

5. Joaquina Botánica Orquídea + Vitamin C Glow Oil

Ingredients | Swiss alpine rose, shea butter, tetrapeptide, sunflower seed oil
Ethics | Vegan, cruelty-free, no synthetic ingredients (fragrance- & essential oil-free)
Price | $88

Founded by a New Yorker with Colombian roots, this clean beauty brand has a bakuchiol serum with a Latin American twist. For its glow oil, Joaquina Botanica pairs bakuchiol alongside Amazonian ingredients like passionfruit, Cacay, and papaya for this zesty, lightweight oil. If that wasn’t enough, this oil gives back to at-risk migrants and Latin American communities. It also comes in glass bottles and recyclable packaging with vegetable-based ink.

6. Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum

Ingredients | Squalane, niacinamide, rose canina fruit oil, bitter orange peel oil
Ethics | Vegan, Leaping Bunny Certified, EWG Verified™, no synthetic colors or fragrances
Price | $72

For skincare purists looking for a no-nonsense bakuchiol serum, Biossance combines its version with classic pairings like niacinamide for oil regulation and squalane for hydration, derived from renewable sugarcane. This serum is silky smooth with a texture like frosting (maybe we’re thinking frosting because bakuchiol is rumored to have a natural vanilla-esque scent), but don’t underestimate its potency. In a clinical study of 33 women, 100 percent of participants agreed that their fine lines appeared smoother, with a visible reduction in wrinkles after use.

Have you tried bakuchiol in your skincare routine? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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Alice is a California-grown writer thinking on the things shaping urban living, the modern woman, and living a conscious life of impact in light of a bigger world. A graduate of Northwestern University’s j-school, she spent time abroad working with a microfinance project in Peru before transitioning into a 9-5 in the global development sector. When she’s not daydreaming about opening a social impact coffee shop, you can find her traveling, plié-ing at the barre studio, or curled up with a good book. Follow her latest creative endeavors and musings on Instagram at @alice.zhng.