The discussion surrounding the ‘R’ word is a frenzied one. Retinoids (the umbrella term for retinol products) are powerful enough to improve skin texture, pigmentation, and tone in just a few drops of a retinol serum or dollops of cream. The transformative effects on your skin are due to very potent formulations, which have caused retinols to garner a lot of differing opinions — and even more questions. When should you use them (along with when should you definitely steer clear of them)? How do the formulas work? Are they compatible with sensitive skin? And even, how do you refer to them? Are they retinols? And what’s retin-A? These questions and more have confused many a skin-care fanatic.
With plenty of false information floating around about retinoids, below are 11 myths about retinols and the truth behind them.
All these ingredients starting with ‘R’ (Retinol, Retinoic Acid) basically do the same thing.
Yes and no. Prescription formulas contain retinoic acid, the magic ingredient that fights visible signs of aging; nonprescription alternatives need to be converted into retinoic acid by the skin at the cellular level. “In off-the-shelf formulas, the ingredient called retinol is the only derivative of vitamin A worth using,” says Dana Sachs, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Michigan Medical School. “There’s a lot of literature showing that while retinol is more gentle than retinoic acid, biochemically it does exactly the same thing — it may just take longer to see results.” The same can’t be said for the derivatives called pro-retinols (aka, retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, and retinyl linoleate), which are the most gentle — but weaker, too. Of these formulas, Retin-A requires a prescription, but others are available over the counter.
For a simple yet potent shot of rejuvenating power in the form of 0.3% pure retinol, try the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Night Serum, shown below. Another option: Incorporate it into your routine with a moisturizer, like Skinceuticals’s Retinol 0.5. or the Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream (which contains a less irritating form of vitamin A known as retinyl propionate).
Retinoids work by exfoliating your skin.
“There’s often peeling and redness, but that’s a side effect of the irritation, not a true and even exfoliation like the one you get from an ingredient like glycolic acid,” says Sachs. “The peeling is certainly not why people start looking better. In fact, it’s why most people give it up.” Retinoids work at a much more profound level by affecting gene expression and causing enhanced collagen production, skin smoothing, and an evening of pigmentation.
You shouldn’t wear retinoids during the day because they increase your risk of sunburn.
“This is one of the biggest myths out there,” says Sachs. It’s true that retinoids break down in sunlight, which is why they are bottled in opaque packaging and are still best worn at night to make sure they aren’t rendered inactive. However, they do not make the skin more prone to sunburn. “This misconception came about because in some early studies, people described putting on a retinoid, walking into the sun, and immediately burning. But that redness is likely related to heat exposure,” says Sachs. “Clinical studies have shown pretty definitively that retinoids do not lower the MED — or minimal erythemal dos — of human skin, which is the amount of UV light you can take before the skin burns.”
You should always apply retinoids to dry skin.
Sometimes, even doctors break the rules: “I know the instructions on the box often recommend waiting until your face is completely dry before applying a retinoid,” says Sachs. “But there’s no evidence in the scientific literature I’ve seen that shows damp or wet skin exacerbates sensitivity.” And while we’re on the topic, applying a retinoid to damp skin doesn’t maximize its potency, either. “Nothing having to do with application decides how much of the retinol is converted into retinoic acid, the form of vitamin A that actually repairs skin,” Sachs says. “That’s solely related to your skin’s chemistry and retinoid receptors.”
You’ll need to wait four to six weeks for your retinoid to really work.
Turns out it’ll be double — or even triple — that amount of time, according to Gary Fisher, a professor of dermatology at the University of Michigan Medical School. “Many over-the-counter formulas claim you’ll see results within weeks,” says Fisher. “But in my experience, it takes an average of 12 weeks for retinoic acid to produce noticeable changes in the skin. So stick with it for at least that long to see the benefits.”
Gentle retinoids can be just as effective as stronger ones.
“The words ‘sensitive skin’ on a label (such as on RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream shown here) are often code for a low concentration of active ingredients,” says Sachs. However, dermatologists still recommend them because these lower concentrations (and soothing supplemental ingredients) make them the perfect gateway retinoid. “Once a patient with sensitive skin has tolerated a tube of that over a period of several weeks, we can then graduate to a stronger retinoid knowing the skin cells are now better adapted to handle it,” says Jonathan Weiss, an Atlanta-based dermatologist.
You should stop applying retinoid if your skin gets irritated.
Irritation that flares up after adding vitamin A to your regimen is “all part of the process,” says Weiss. “We’ve seen clinically that after two or three weeks the skin cells adapt to the retinoic acid and begin to tolerate the ingredient.” The caveat: We’re talking about reasonably flushed, drier-than-usual, lightly peeling skin. “If the discomfort is prolonged or very uncomfortable, use it once a week or switch to a weaker formula,” says Sachs.
You can’t take your retinoid on vacation.
“A change in climate won’t suddenly make your skin react to a retinoid you were tolerating a few days earlier at home,” says Weiss. Once skin cells have adapted to the strength of the retinoid you’re applying, any irritation (called retinoid dermatitis) generally stops. “It’s unlikely to flare up again until you switch to something stronger,” says Weiss. Still, if you’re jumping on a long-haul flight or going skiing, it’s a good idea to layer a heavier moisturizer over your retinoid to avoid dryness, which makes skin more susceptible to irritation in general.
OK, but you shouldn’t take it with you on yourbeach vacation.
I’m still processing the fact that retinoids don’t increase the risk of sunburn, too. But get this: Combining retinoids with island hopping may even be a good thing. They not only boost collagen production, but may also have the potential to stop photoaging before it starts. “They’ve been shown to prevent the rise of collagenase — the enzyme that breaks down collagen — after UV exposure,” says Sachs.
Don’t put retinoids around your eyes. The skin there is too sensitive.
Not only can you, you really should — that’s where most of the damage shows up, says Weiss. “Studies have shown that people who apply retinoids right up to the eyes get the best results.” And if you get it in your eye? “It may sting a little, but it won’t do any harm,” says Weiss, and the skin there is no more likely to get red or flaky than anywhere else on the face.
The skin-smoothing benefits of retinoids plateau after six months.
“Several clinical studies have shown that prescription retinoids will significantly improve skin for over a year,” says Weiss — and Johnson & Johnson recently completed a trial demonstrating that over-the-counter retinol smooths wrinkles and fades blotches over 12 months, too. OK, so what are you supposed to do after the year is up? The answer isn’t to rush off and embrace a new ingredient (peptides, anyone?). Your skin may just be ready for a stronger prescription retinoid, says Weiss.
It feels almost weightless, absorbs instantly, and doesn’t leave a single trace of white cast or residue.
Every day, without fail, you need to be slathering sunscreen on your face. After not wearing SPF regularly for the first 21 years of my life, it’s basically become my way of sending a love letter to my skin. However, I’d be absolutely lying if I said that I wasn’t picky about my sunscreens.
Look, some people will stand by mineral sunscreens, and if they were the only option available — sure, I would, too. But if I’m choosing from a range of broad-spectrum (meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays) sunscreens that are at or above the American Academy of Dermatology-recommended SPF 30 level — barring any irritation or side effects — I’ll choose a sunscreen that I’ll actually enjoy putting on every day.
Current cult-favorite is Flesh Beauty’s Sheer Flesh Hydrating Serum, which is a chemical sunscreen that delivers broad-spectrum SPF 35 protection. “Chemical sunscreens penetrate the top layers of the skin and absorb UV rays to prevent them from causing damage,” Y. Claire Chang, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, explains.
Sheer Flesh contains common chemical sunscreen ingredients, like homosalate, octisalate, and avobenzone (but does not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate), but there are actually over 30 chemical sunscreen ingredients. “A combination of ingredients is often used together to ensure broad-spectrum coverage,” Chang says.
Mineral sunscreens, on the other hand, are made with ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. “They are small mineral particles that sit on the surface of the skin and act as a [physical] barrier to reflect UVA and UVB rays away from the skin,” Chang says.
Science aside, let’s get into why Sheer Flesh, in my opinion, is one of the best sunscreens out there. As most people of color would agree (even though I’m light-skinned), nobody likes dealing with white cast or taking a long time to fully rub in sunscreen. “Chemical sunscreens tend to be more lightweight and non-sticky, so they are generally easier to apply and do not leave a whitening effect,” Chang says, speaking to their appeal.
So not only does Sheer Flesh absorb immediately without any hint of residue, but it’s also really hydrating — which I’m about all day, every day. It feels like a cool burst of moisture, and my skin can’t get enough of it. To be more specific, it’s infused with glycerin, pomegranate, and honey extract — all ingredients that hydrate and nourish skin. It also gives the skin a slightly dewy finish, which is usually only achieved with makeup products.
It also has a lovely, but not overwhelming, scent, thanks to a blend of chamomile, orange, and lemon notes. I can live with sunscreens that smell, well, like sunscreens — because it’s serving a greater purpose — but if a sunscreen smells like citrus fruits, I’m not complaining. It’s also the perfect follow-up to my morning moisturizer!
The vitamin that makes orange juice so nutritious also happens to be one the the most powerful players in skincare. Obviously, we’re talking vitamin C.
Apart from being your saving grace during a cold that just won’t quit, the vitamin can help brighten dark spots, even out skin tone, and support collagen production. In other words, there’s a reason why there are so many serums with Vitamin C — it’s a versatile ingredient that can work wonders for the skin.
Whether your dermatologist recommended adding one to your routine, or your friend is swearing by their vitamin C splurge and you want in on the hype, here are a few of the best out right now.
No7 Youthful Vitamin C Fresh Radiance Essence
At less than $30, you can’t really beat the price of this radiance-boosting vitamin C-based serum, which promises results in two weeks.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare C + Collagen Brighten & Firm Serum
Your secret to curing dull winter skin? This serum, which not only helps prevent the formation of fine lines and wrinkles, but evens out your skin tone and gives it that healthy glow you’ve been missing since August.
This L-ascorbic acid-based serum delivers on warding off free radicals and the signs of aging, but it’s also made with pumpkin ferment extract and pomegranate enzyme to exfoliate dead skin cells sitting on the surface of your skin.
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum
Now this is a powerful one. It’s made with vitamin C and E, as well as ferulic acid to help those two components do their jobs of neutralizing free radicals and improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles way better. It also keeps working on your skin for 72 hours.
Sunday Riley C.E.O. Rapid Flash Brightening Serum
Sunday Riley’s 15 percent vitamin C serum delivers all the anti-aging benefits you’d hope for, while reducing redness and gently exfoliating the surface of your skin.
DIOR Capture Youth Glow Booster Age-Delay Illuminating Serum
Dior just one-upped your glass of orange juice with a serum that’s made with murunga plum, a fruit that the brand claims is 100 times more concentrated in vitamin C than oranges. That, combined with AHAs and antioxidant-rich ingredients, makes this glow-boosting tonic a must-have for winter.
Olay Regenerist Collagen Peptide24 Hydrating Moisturizer
For plump skin, try Olay’s Collagen Peptide24 Moisturizer. Its lightweight formula has vitamin B3 to brighten your complexion and collagen-boosting peptides to firm skin and diminish fine lines. When the two work together, you’re looking at a hydrated, smooth complexion.
Yes to Avocado Hand Cream
If there’s anything 2020 taught us, it’s that we need to wash our hands all the time. With hand-washing comes dry skin and the Yes to Avocado Hand Cream will fix those dehydrated, cracked hands right up. The avocado-based formula replenishes skin, and hyaluronic acid will maintain hydration.
Mario Badescu Caffeine Eye Cream
If you didn’t get enough sleep, that’s OK because Mario Badescu’s Caffeine Eye Cream will make you look like you got a full night’s rest. The moisturizer in this tub is filled with caffeine for brightness, hyaluronic acid for hydration, and jojoba oil to help treat dryness.
Dermalogica Neck Fit Contour Serum
Dermalogica’s Neck Fit Contour Serum is filled with firming ingredients to give you a tight, line-free neck. The list includes rye seed extract, which smooths skin, and resurrection plant to strengthen the area. It’s applied with the built-in roller bar that also gives a cooling effect.
Clinique Smart Night Clinical MD Multi-Dimensional Repair Treatment Retinol
The Clinique Smart Night Clinical MD Multi-Dimensional Repair Treatment Retinol flattens out fine lines with the power of retinol. Plus, it also has hyaluronic acid and squalane to give you a boost of hydration while you sleep.
Simple Instant Glow Cleansing Wipes
The new Simple Instant Glow Cleansing Wipes do way more than flawlessly take off stubborn makeup. Each cloth is made with niacinamide to brighten skin and glycerin to moisturize. So once your skin is clean, it’s also glowing.
$5 for 25 wipes (Shop)
The Inkey List Succinic Acid Acne Treatment
Meet the Inkey List’s first spot treatment: Succinic Acid Acne. This magical little tube is loaded with succinic acid, an anti-inflammatory ingredient that helps to reduce oil levels in your skin, as well as salicylic acid to exfoliate, sulfur powder to unclog pores, and hyaluronic acid to ensure skin stays hydrated.
L’Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Facial Drops
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you can’t bronze up your complexion. The L’Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Facial Drops give fairer skin tones a subtle glow when you mix five drops of this serum made with dihydroxyacetone (a sugar that when mixed with proteins on your skin makes it tan) and hydrating hyaluronic acid with your favorite moisturizer.
Drunk Elephant Sweet Biome Fermented Sake Spray
Your skin’s about to be drunk in love with Drunk Elephant’s Sweet Biome Fermented Sake Spray. It’s a cocktail of coconut water, vitamin F, and sake extract to calm redness and hydrate the skin. Use it as a step in your skincare routine after cleansing or as a refresher during the day.
Holifrog Halo AHA + BHA Evening Serum
The blend of alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids in the HoliFrog Halo AHA + BHA Evening Serum is going to give you clearer skin once you start using it for a few weeks. Not to mention, this formula is packed with moisturizing oils like that of rosehip and prickly pear, so no need to worry about all of those acids drying your skin out.
Nothing has impressed me until I tried the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Sheet Mask. It has the same hydrogel material I loved about prestige brands I’ve tried prior, which is thicker than traditional paper sheet masks, adheres better to my skin, and resists drying out so that you get more serum out of it (a hyaluronic acid-based serum, in this case).
Shop now: $3; walmart.com
I find that this gel-like mask really helps to seal in moisture better than others I’ve used, providing a barrier between my skin and the environment and allowing the serum to deeply penetrate. After using it, my skin is soft, smooth, and glowing — even in the dead of winter, when it’s at its most dry.
Maybe my favorite part, though, is the sheet mask’s design. It comes in two separate pieces, one for the top half of the face and one for the bottom. Speaking as someone with a small face, the two-part design helps adjust the mask to fit my face better than traditional single-piece masks. With a mask that fits, it can deliver hydration where I actually need it — not in my hairline or over my eyelids.
In addition to the sheet mask, you’re also getting a little extra serum left over in the packaging. There’s usually enough left to squeeze into a bottle, which I use on days I’m not masking. It works just as well as other hydrating serums I’ve tried, and it’s essentially an entirely new product that comes free with the purchase of the mask.
I’m not the only one who’s obsessed with the mask’s skin-quenching powers. Brand ambassador Jennifer Garner loves it so much, she has everyone in her house giving it a try. And Walmart shoppers who’ve reviewed it say that it’s among the best sheet masks they’ve tried, soothing everything from dry skin to eczema to sunburns. One reviewer said that after using the mask once, they immediately ordered 10 more. With Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost Sheet Mask, available for just $3 at Walmart, you’ll never feel guilty about a weekly skincare treat again.
If you add one thing to your skincare routine this season, make it a high-quality oil.
It wasn’t so long ago that “oil” was a dirty word in skincare. The only time you’d see it on a label was when paired with the phrases “-free” or “-reducing.” Thankfully, conventional wisdom has reversed course to be inclusive of the millennia-old practice of treating skin ailments with nourishing oils.
With the season change upon us, there’s no better time than the present to supercharge your routine with a hydrating, oil-balancing, or anti-aging oil. Dermatologists tested countless oils and rounded up the best options for every concern and skin type, from brands like Sunday Riley, Tata Harper, Vintner’s Daughter, and more.
These are the best oils to buy for every need:
- Best for Glowing Skin: Sunday Riley C.E.O Glow Vitamin C + Turmeric Face Oil
- Best for Wrinkles: Tata Harper Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil
- Best for Acne: Aesop Fabulous Face Oil
- Best for Extremely Dry Skin: Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum
- Best for Dehydrated Skin: Indie Lee Squalane Facial Oil
- Best for Oily Skin: Biossance Squalane + Tea Tree Balancing Oil
- Best for Combination Skin: Supernal Cosmic Glow Oil
- Best With Makeup: Costa Brazil Kaya Anti-Aging Face Oil
- Best Drugstore: Milani Prep+Sooth Camellia Face Oil
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Antioxidant Face Oil
- Best for Scars: Bio-Oil Multiuse Skincare Oil
- Best for Firming: Herbivore Botanicals Orchid Facial Oil
- Best for Rosacea: Cliganic USDA Organic Jojoba Oil
- Best Multi-Use: NOTO Botanics Rooted Body + Hair Oil
- Best for Travel: F. Miller Necessity Kit
- Best for Cleansing: Glossier Milky Oil
Keep scrolling to find out why each of these oils made best in class.
Best for Glowing Skin: Sunday Riley C.E.O Glow Vitamin C + Turmeric Face Oil
The secret to glowing skin is actually quite simple: It’s vitamin C. The powerful antioxidant fades pigmentation and lends an overall brightness to your complexion. This lightweight oil by Sunday Riley is chock-full of the stuff, in the form of THD ascorbate, a shelf-stable variety. Turmeric extract also imparts a warm radiance to the skin.
Shop now: $40; sephora.com
Best for Wrinkles: Tata Harper Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil
This luxurious, all-natural facial oil by Tata Harper is formulated with rosehip oil-derived retinol, one of the best-researched, most-proven anti-aging ingredients. This oil’s keystone ingredient, plus a cocktail of other antioxidants, will reduce the appearance of wrinkles and plump out fine lines while fighting free radicals and slowing signs of premature aging.
Shop now: $132; nordstrom.com
Best for Acne: Aesop Fabulous Face Oil
This non-greasy oil is a great choice for those with congested skin or clogged pores. A rich blend of carrier plant oils contains benzyl salicylate, a form of salicylic acid, an oil-soluble exfoliant that breaks down acne-causing bacteria. Those sensitive to smells should be forewarned: Effective though this product may be, it’s on the pungent side.
Shop now: $57; nordstrom.com
Best for Extremely Dry Skin: Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum
Whether you naturally suffer from dry skin or you’re gearing up for a long season of moisture-sapping winter air, this rich cult-loved oil from Vintner’s Daughter is the bottle you need on your vanity. A plush blend of 22 active ingredients found in natural oils like grapeseed, hazelnut, and bergamot peel work together to relieve tight, cracked, and thirsty skin.
Shop now: $185; net-a-porter.com
Best for Dehydrated Skin: Indie Lee Squalane Facial Oil
Dehydrated skin is first and foremost in need of hydration, then moisture. Prep your skin barrier with a watery toner like Indie Lee’s restorative CoQ-10 Toner, and then follow up with a non-irritating squalane oil from the same brand.
Shop now: $34; sephora.com
Best for Oily Skin: Biossance Squalane + Tea Tree Balancing Oil
Though using an oil to manage oil production may seem counterintuitive, sometimes it’s exactly what sebaceous skin types need the most. This elegant blend by Biossance puts squalane — a lightweight, fast-drying olive-derived oil — at the core of its formula, which will help manage shine. The oil also includes tea tree oil, an astringent and anti-inflammatory agent.
Shop now: $49; sephora.com
Best for Combination Skin: Supernal Cosmic Glow Oil
A newcomer to the scene, this emergent face oil by a former creative director is destined to be one of the most beautiful items on your shelf. But more than just a pretty face, Cosmic Glow Oil achieves the unachievable with a formula that is at once moisturizing and oil-balancing. The luxurious, pleasantly fragrant blend penetrates quickly, making it a great option for combination skin and daytime use.
Shop now: $108; credobeauty.com
Best With Makeup: Costa Brazil Kaya Anti-Aging Face Oil
Skincare freshman Costa Brazil isn’t playing around when it comes to moisture. With ingredients sustainably sourced from the Amazon Rainforest like Tucuma, Brazil Nut and Pataua extracts, the brand’s signature product, Kaya, takes on the aging process as naturally as it does powerfully. Better yet, this satin oil pairs excellently with makeup, and can even be mixed directly in with your foundation.
Shop now: $125; net-a-porter.com
Best Drugstore: Milani Prep+Soothe Camellia Face Oil
If you’re in between bottles, need a substitute while traveling, or just prefer to buy cosmetics while stocking up on other vanity essentials, this oil by Milani is a great, affordable drugstore choice. A blend of grapeseed, camellia seed, moringa seed, and six other oils, plus anti-aging ingredients like tocopherol, add up to make this weightless blend with a satin finish. The quick-drying formula makes this product appropriate to wear comfortably beneath makeup.
Shop now: $9 (Originally $14); amazon.com
Best for Sensitive Skin: Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Antioxidant Face Oil
A general rule of thumb for sensitive skin is to use products with as few ingredients as possible — that way, you’re eliminating the number of triggers that may disagree with your skin. This best-selling oil from Drunk Elephant uses just one ingredient: high-quality virgin marula oil. This single-origin oil delivers omegas 6 and 9, and is absorbed quickly.
Shop now: $40; sephora.com
Best for Scars: Bio-Oil Multiuse Skincare Oil
If you’ve heard of Bio-Oil before, it was likely in a Kardashian kontext — Kim, Khloé, and Kourtney have all at one point or another extolled the virtues of this vaguely medicinal-looking bottle of skin oil. Anecdotally, reviewers tend to agree with the assessment of this product as a valid mechanism for fading scars.
Shop now: $15 (Originally $19); amazon.com
Best for Firming: Herbivore Botanicals Orchid Facial Oil
This elegant blend from Herbivore calls upon floral oils to fight signs of aging. Orchid extract hydrates skin, while camellia flower oil and jasmine sambac oil increase elasticity. The blend’s bouquet of botanical garden-worthy ingredients makes for an oil that’s as naturally fragrant as it is skin-strengthening.
Shop now: $64; nordstrom.com
Best for Rosacea: Cliganic USDA Organic Jojoba Oil
Jojoba oil is a solid choice for those with rosacea, and is even recommended by the Rosacea Foundation. The carrier oil contains anti-inflammatory agent myristic acid, which can reduce redness. This 100 percent pure jojoba has over 3,000 five-star ratings on Amazon, and is Amazon’s choice for “jojoba oil.”
Shop now: $10; amazon.com
Best Multi-Use: NOTO Botanics Rooted Body + Hair Oil
For the multi-tasking minimalist, we can’t recommend this versatile, all-natural oil from breakout brand NOTO enough. With palo santo wood oil as its hero ingredient, this face, body, and hair oil will re-energize your cells and soothe your mood at the same time.
Shop now: $55; needsupply.com
Best for Travel: F. Miller Necessity Kit
When you’re on the go, it’s most comfortable to pair down your routine to just the essentials, and finding a good oil will help you on your way. This three-piece kit from F.Miller includes a face oil, body oil, and moisturizing lip balm, each with just a handful of ingredients (that you can actually pronounce). Take this set in its included canvas satchel with you on the plane and reapply generously. By the time you land, your face will be glowing, and your lips and hands will feel totally nourished.
Shop now: $50 (Originally $72); needsupply.com
Best for Cleansing: Glossier Milky Oil
More of a micellar water than a conventional oil, this syrupy product harnesses the power of ingredients like castor oil as a cleanser. The suspension uses droplets of oil within a watery solution to attract grime away from the skin. Pair that with nourishing vitamins deposited on the skin, and you’ve got a gentle yet hardworking formula that’s nothing like conventional cleansers. Follow up with Glossier’s Milky Jelly for best results.
Shop now: $12; glossier.com
It’s been called “herbal Botox” and a “natural retinol” — but does it actually work?
Bakuchiol (pronounced “buh-KOO-chee-all”) is a “naturally occurring antioxidant found in the seeds of Psoralea Corylifolia, a plant found in Eastern Asia,” explains Jesse Werner, founder of Whish, one of the first brands to incorporate the ingredient into its product offerings.
I’ve heard bakuchiol described as a “natural version of retinol” or an “herbal Botox,” so editors asked Werner if there was any truth to those claims. His answer made my highly-sensitive skin positively tingle with anticipation: “Clinical studies have confirmed that bakuchiol is a true retinol-like functional compound without the negative effects of retinol.” In other words, bakuchiol is a potential game-changer for those who struggle with sensitive or reactive skin and aren’t confident in the risk-to-reward ratio of retinol.
First, a quick refresher on retinol: A member of the retinoid family, which includes all vitamin A derivatives, it’s considered a Holy Grail ingredient for all things anti-aging and anti-acne; but even though it’s derived from natural vitamin A, the majority of retinoids are synthesized in some way. Retinol is commonly found in over-the-counter anti-aging products, and can be prescribed in higher concentrations by a dermatologist.
When applied to the skin, retinol “interacts with special retinoic acid receptors” and “initiates a biochemical cascade that leads to activation of certain genes that control collagen production, and reduction of the release of inflammatory mediators,” says Dr. Neil Sadick of Sadick Dermatology in New York City. The result? Smoother, clearer, younger-looking skin.
Oh, and potentially a whole lot of irritation.
Nearly all retinol users go through something called retinization: a period of about four weeks when redness, inflammation, dryness and even peeling occur while the skin adjusts to the medication. Dermatologists largely recognize this phase as temporary and safe, which is why retinol is so popular. But for some skin types, the “it-gets-worse-before-it-gets-better” functionality of retinol often ends at “it-gets-worse”. In addition to retinization, a small percentage of retinol users contract a red, scaly, itchy rash known as retinoid dermatitis.
While naturally derived ingredients aren’t always less-irritating than synthetics, the notion that bakuchiol may be a less-harsh anti-aging option is certainly an appealing one. “We were looking for the most effective ingredients to prevent and repair wrinkles, sagging skin and overall skin health. We kept coming back to retinol,” remembers Werner. “However, retinol is not natural, it’s very harsh on the skin, and it is very unstable. We searched the globe for an effective and natural retinol-like ingredient and we finally found bakuchiol.”
Bakuchiol doesn’t function in quite the same way that retinol does, but here’s the amazing thing: It offers similar results. “In one third party, 12-week clinical study, the conclusion was that retinol and bakuchiol do not have close structural similarities, yet they exhibit a similar gene expression profile especially on key anti-aging genes and proteins, which is remarkable,” explains Werner. In layman’s terms, bakuchiol visibly reduces fine lines, wrinkles and acne, and is considered a functional analog of retinol.
What’s more, the ingredient actually has some advantages over retinol, aside from simply being a natural alternative. Dr. Sadick confirms that it can be used “without any harsh side effects like irritation, flakiness and redness.” It also has photostability on its side; ulike retinol, which can break down and become less effective, it remains active even in direct sunlight.
It should be noted that bakuchi seed powder, sometimes called babchi seed powder, isn’t the same thing as bakuchiol – bakuchiol is the “compound extracted from the seeds using a solvent,” says cosmetic chemist Perry Romanowski, who adds that “there’s not likely to be a downside to adding bakuchi powder to a facial mask.” He notes that “no topical treatment would compare to Botox,” but can’t deny that bakuchiol has all the makings of a natural alternative to retinol.
Bakhuchiol is actually becoming much more common at beauty retailers of late. The ingredient first started popping up in skin-care formulations back in 2014, and its popularity has only grown since then, though it’s remained somewhat under the radar and is still far from ubiquitous. If you’re curious to try out the natural alternative to retinol for yourself — and honestly, you should be — scroll through the gallery below to see some of fan-favorite formulas.
Ole Henriksen Glow Cycle Retin-ALT Power Serum
An all-in-one skin-perfecting day serum made with a natural retinol alternative that targets fine lines, wrinkles, pores, and dark spots, while instantly brightening.
Biossance Squalane & Phyto-Retinol Serum
A serum with backuchiol, a plant-derived retinol alternative, that targets the look of fine lines, wrinkles, and sun damage and works on sensitive skin.
REN Bio Retinoid Anti-Ageing Cream
REN Clean Skincare’s Bio Retinoid™ Anti-Ageing Cream minimizes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles for firmer skin. Its bio extracts moisturize your skin and help repair damaged cells. Rich in antioxidants that protect from free radicals, the formula leaves your skin looking younger and smoother.
Alpyn Beauty PlantGenius Melt Moisturizer
Alpyn Beauty PlantGenius Melt Moisturizer contains PlantGenius, a proprietary complex of wildcrafted and hand-cultivated botanicals grown at elevation in the mountains surrounding Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This all natural, super-hydrator melts into skin leaving a fresh, velvety finish. Ceramides and squalane help fortify the moisture barrier; vitamin C helps brighten and support skin against environmental stressors; a non-irritating bio-available retinol diminishes the appearance of fine lines. Wild actives nourish with essential vitamins and fatty acids.
Strivectin S.T.A.R. Light Retinol Night Oil
First of its kind, ultra-lightweight oil corrects the look of fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin tone & texture. This advanced formula combines three separate but synergistic Retinol technologies, including naturally-derived Biomimetic Retinol – which mimics skin’s natural processes to better receive the benefits of Retinol ¿ with nourishing Squalane Oil and patented NIA-114 technology to limit sensitivity. Plant-derived Squalane & Chia Seed oils moisturize and replenished skin with essential fatty acids. Astaxanthin & Pro-anthocyanidins, two of the most powerful antioxidants, soothe and protect dry skin.
No more excuses for skipping sunscreen!
Wearing a bra, pants, or even a T-shirt without holes in it are all optional when working from home, but sunscreen should be non-negotiable.
I know what you’re probably thinking: “Why do I need SPF if I’m inside?” Well, if you have windows in your house, then it’s possible for UVA rays to penetrate through the glass and onto your skin.
My skincare routine since the beginning of COVID-19 in March 2020 has fluctuated: from being neglected to super intense. I’ve stripped the products I use every day down to the essentials (including SPF!), but I jump at an easy way out. That’s where hybrid products like Supergoop!’s Daily Dose Vitamin C + SPF enter the conversation.
Daily Dose is the first serum to combine vitamin C with SPF. Here’s how it works: the formula contains a stable form of vitamin C (10% 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid) to tackle dark spots, plus additional radiance-boosting ingredients such as niacinamide, and kakadu plum extract. Because mineral sunscreen operates at a different pH level than vitamin C, Supergoop! has included an oxybenzone-free chemical SPF 40 in the serum. There’s also marine extract to protect skin against blue light, another cause of hyperpigmentation.
Skin cancer and sun damage are the two most important reasons for wearing sunscreen despite spending most of your time social distancing at home. But if the focus of your skincare routine is hyperpigmentation, acne, uneven texture, or all of the above, you’re wasting your money buying expensive products with active ingredients if you’re not topping off your routine with sunscreen to prevent further damage.
That’s why, as someone who has become somewhat lazy with their skincare, replacing my vitamin C serum and SPF with Daily Dose was a no-brainer.
If you’re using the serum in lieu of a traditional SPF, Daily Dose should be the last step in your morning skincare routine. However, you can add another SPF over top for an extra layer of protection, or you can finish things off with your favorite moisturizer, which won’t disrupt SPF filter.
While serum comes out of the bottle with a thin gel-like texture, it gets thicker like a traditional SPF when you apply it. However, the white cast goes away with a bit of massaging and it doesn’t feel heavy under any moisturizer or make it pill.
The verdict is still out whether the vitamin C is doing anything to get rid of dark spots. But reviews are being patient. And in the meantime, its glow-boosting ingredients gives an instantly dewy look.
Plus, I like the convenience of having two important skincare steps in one product!
I feel as though physical exfoliation is one of the most satisfying skin-care practices because of the instant gratification it can provide (hello, immediately refreshed skin). Not only does exfoliation feel amazing and leave skin instantly more luminous; a good face scrub paves the way for the serums and moisturizers to follow, according to board-certified dermatologist Jeannette Graf.
“Exfoliating can help skin-care products penetrate 20 percent better,” she tells Allure. But here’s a word to the wise: As with most things, there is such thing as too much of a good thing in the case of scrubbing your face. You can avoid over-exfoliation by capping your scrub sessions to a maximum of three times per week.
Whether you need something that’s extra gentle for sensitive skin or want a scrub with a little extra oomph for perpetually clogged pores, I’ve got you — and your wallet — covered. Happy scrubbing, folks.
Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub
It’s not ideal to use a face scrub every day, according to dermatologists — so if you’re going to kick up your exfoliation, use the most gentle scrub possible to prevent damage to your skin barrier. The daily scrub from Cetaphil is packed with pH-balancing glycerin, so it hydrates while it sloughs away dead skin cells.
$10 (Shop Now)
Bioderma Sebium Exfoliating Gel
If you’re prone to acne, dullness, and hyperpigmentation, here’s a prime pick for you. The itty-bitty granules in Bioderma’s Exfoliating Gel physically exfoliate until they burst with salicylic and glycolic acid, which chemically exfoliate away impurities. With this formula, you’re getting twice the exfoliation in one product.
$15 (Shop Now)
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefuit Exfoliating Scrub
Dermatologists love the Best of Beauty-winning Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser from Neutrogena, and the scrub version is full of all the same clarifying ingredients, plus tiny microbeads that give an added boost of physical exfoliation.
$11 (Shop Now)
No7 Radiant Results Revitalising Daily Face Polish
No7’s Daily Face Polish contains ginseng root, which, all by itself, comes with a multitude of skin benefits. According to dermatologists, ginseng contains all sorts of antioxidants and vitamins that prevent fine lines, acne, and even hyperpigmentation.
$9 (Shop Now)
Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Daily Scrub
You can always count on an Aveeno product to be gentle on even the most sensitive skin types, and its Radiant Skin Brightening Daily Scrub is no exception. With antioxidant soy extract, gylcerin, and jojoba oil, this scrub exfoliates just as much as it soothes and nourishes.
$12 (Shop Now)
Bliss Micro Magic
Just like the treatments available at Bliss Spa locations, the Micro Magic scrub will leave you feeling totally refreshed. It’s basically a gentle, at-home version of a microdermabrasion that sloughs away dirt and oil with volcanic pumice while its aloe vera soothes and de-puffs.
$13 (Shop Now)
La Roche-Posay Ultra-Fine Scrub
If sensitive skin plus physical exfoliation sounds like a recipe for disaster, let the Ultra-Fine Scrub by La Roche-Posay change your mind. Super-fine pumice particles — suspended in a cooling gel formula — provide just the right amount of grit without feeling scratchy. Plus, this stuff leaves skin with a quenched suppleness you might expect from a water-based gel moisturizer.
$18 (Shop Now)
L’Oréal Paris Pure-Sugar Scrub Nourish & Soften
This L’Oréal Paris sugar scrub is everything a sugar scrub should be — but better. The Pure-Sugar Scrub is infused with not one but three different types of sugar, suspended in a creamy mixture of coconut oil and cocoa butter. The skin-softening formula isn’t overly abrasive, yet it leaves skin visibly glowing after one use. As you probably guessed by the ingredients, the formula smells like baking batter — but just like real batter, you definitely shouldn’t eat it. That said, it does doubles as an excellent lip scrub if you’re compelled to use it near your mouth.
$10 (Shop Now)
Simple Smoothing Facial Scrub
Oily-skinned folks, listen up. The creamy white exfoliator from Simple contains rice powder to absorb excess oil, and the gentle silica particles — a replacement for microbeads — work to manually slough off dead skin, leaving you positively glowing.
$8 (Shop Now)
Yes To Coconut Energizing Coffee 2-in-1 Scrub & Cleanser Stick
In case you prefer toting your cleansers around in stick form, consider this portable scrub by Yes to Coconut, which makes exfoliating way easier than ever. Not to mention, Yes To’s coconut and coffee combo smells amazing.
$10 (Shop Now)
Olay Micropolishing Cleansing Infusions Facial Cleanser with Crushed Ginger
This micro-polish cleanser from Olay reminds me of formulas that are five times its price. The tiny granules feel pleasantly sandy and break down into a creamy consistency as you cleanse, leaving skin visibly glowy post-rinse. Plus, the formula has a zingy scent that smells like summer and happy days, thanks to crushed ginger and citrus.
$10 (Shop Now)
St. Ives Energizing Coconut & Coffee Scrub
Fun fact: This concoction from St. Ives was born after the brand asked fans which scrub they’d like to see next on shelves. This enlivening coffee and coconut combo won. Fans of the (albeit, controversial) Apricot Scrub will love how this provides the same level of super-deep exfoliation (thanks to an infusion of crushed walnut) with the added benefits of skin-softening coconut and circulation-promoting coffee.
$5 (Shop Now)
Yes To Grapefruit Daily Facial Scrub
Citrus scents in the shower are a pick-me-up as much as they are a wake-me-up. The grapefruit extract in Yes To’s citrusy scrub is naturally high in vitamin C (so it boosts collagen production and helps reduce hyperpigmentation), as well as lycopene, which naturally aids in protecting skin from UV damage.
$7 (Shop Now)
Bioré Charcoal Pore Minimizer
The beaker-like nozzle of Bioré’s Charcoal Pore Minimizer makes you feel like you’re in chemistry class every time you use this black scrub. The charcoal powder pulls out oil and pollutants like a magnet, and it all rinses away with the gel.
$10 (Shop Now)
Mario Badescu Kiwi Face Scrub
The super-creamy formula, which features kiwi seeds and alpha-hydroxy acids (which you can read more about here), leaves your skin smoother than ever — and yet it’s astonishingly nonabrasive. The pearlescent mint-green color is so stunning!
$15 (Shop Now)