Study shows that bakuchiol has comparable efficacy to retinol

A botanical ingredient found in the seeds of an Indian plant is an effective treatment for skin ageing, according to new research published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

Bakuchiol (pronounced “back-ooh-chee-all”) is found mainly in the seeds of the Indian plant Psoralea corylifolia (babchi) and has recently been shown to have a number of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

The goal of this study, by researchers from universities in California, Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania, was to compare the efficacy and side effects of bakuchiol with the commonly-used anti-ageing ingredient retinol.

44 volunteers were asked to apply either bakuchiol 0.5% cream twice daily, or retinol 0.5% cream daily, to facial skin for 12 weeks.

Retinol 0.5% has previously been shown to be effective at preventing and addressing signs of skin ageing but can have side effects including stinging, scaling and redness. As the market for over-the-counter anti-ageing products expands, the desire for retinoid-like products, but with limited side-effects, is therefore growing.

A facial photograph and analytical system was used to take and analyse high-resolution photographs of patients at 0, 4, 8 and 12 weeks of the study. Patients also answered questions about side-effects. During study visits, a dermatologist graded pigmentation (skin colouring) and redness. To avoid bias, this dermatologist was not made aware of which treatment each participant was using.

As the skin ages, and following sun exposure over many years, the skin becomes thinner, loses elasticity and develops wrinkles. Additionally, pigmentation (colour) and texture can become uneven, with darker ‘age spots’ (hyperpigmentation) and dry patches appearing.

The study found that bakuchiol and retinol both significantly decreased wrinkle surface area and hyperpigmentation, with no statistical difference between the two compounds. However, the retinol users reported more skin scaling and stinging.

The results were most marked after the full 12 weeks, with a 20 percent reduction in wrinkle severity.59 percent of the participants in the bakuchiol group showed improvement in their hyperpigmentation at week 12, compared to 44 percent of those in the retinol group. The improvements related both to the intensity of the colour and to the size of the area affected.

Dr Raja Sivamani, an Adjunct Associate Clinical Professor at the University of California, Davis and the lead study investigator, said: “For consumers who value natural products, bakuchiol provides appeal due to its origin in several plant species. Although retinol may also be derived from various natural sources, it can cause unwanted side-effects that make it less comfortable to use.”

Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists said: “The findings of this study are promising for bakuchiol as an effective anti-ageing treatment with minimal side effects, however we would need to see these results confirmed in larger studies. It is also worth noting that we are talking about subtle changes to the skin – sadly no cream can significantly turn back the clock when it comes to skin ageing. For this reason, prevention is always better than a cure, and as UV from the sun is a major cause of skin ageing, sun protection can help keep us looking youthful for longer.”

For centuries, botanicals were the fundamental basis of treatment for various ailments. Even now, many well-known medications are derived from plants. Patients are still turning to botanicals and natural compounds as alternative treatment options, providing an impetus to advance and progress the scientific knowledge regarding botanically derived phytochemicals (compounds that occur naturally in plants). One sector of growing interest and research has been in cosmeceuticals, where natural products are being evaluated for their use as cosmetic agents.

Bakuchiol is present in other plant sources in addition to babchi, including Psoralea glandulosa, Pimelea drupaceae (cherry riceflower), Ulmus davidiana (Father David elm), Otholobium pubescens and Piper longum (long pepper).