When it comes to the hierarchy of powerhouse skincare ingredients, retinol reigns supreme. Everyone from beauty editors to dermatologists swears by its transformational results. You see, unlikely so many other buzzy ingredients that aim to reduce the signs of skin ageing, retinol is one of the few that is actually proven to work in scientific studies.
Working to increase cell turnover and promote collagen and elastin production, retinol does everything from smoothing fine lines and texture to reducing the appearance of blemishes and pigmentation. But the truth is that retinol isn’t an ingredient for the faint-hearted. Any ingredient that works to increase cell turnover in the way that retinol does is sure to come with some caveats.
In short, retinol can prove irritating and isn’t a feasible option for many. “Traditional retinol can potentially cause irritation in the form of dryness, redness and flaking, especially in those with sensitive skin,” says Joyce Park, MD, BareMinerals global dermatology ambassador. Even those who have skin types deemed more tolerant should slowly build up their retinol usage to avoid upset. On top of this, retinol products should be avoided if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
So what’s the answer? Well, the bad news is that those who are pregnant or breastfeeding or who have sensitive skin won’t be able to truly embrace the wonders of retinol. The good news, however, is that there are other options out there in the form of plant-based ingredients that deliver similar results (note that results are only similar, not identical) to retinol without any of the nasty irritation. These are the best retinol alternatives you should have on your radar.
Also known as blackjack, Spanish needle and picão preto, bidens pilosa is a plant that is believed to give retinol-esque results when formulated in skincare products. While treating signs of ageing, it also helps to calm the skin and boost luminosity. “It’s a plant-based alternative that is much kinder to the skin. It can help with both ageing and existing signs of ageing, such as wrinkles and dullness of the skin,” says Park.
Chances are you’ve already heard of this stuff. For the past few years, bakuchiol has been dubbed nature’s retinol by just about every skincare brand around. The truth is, however, that the two ingredients do have some key differences. While bakuchiol is, like retinol, thought to increase collagen production and boost cell turnover, it has a much gentler nature.
“Bakuchiol is a newcomer antioxidant which is a perfect alternative to retinol for anti-ageing purposes because it is easier to tolerate by sensitive and reactive skin types,” says Anahita Mansouri, aesthetic doctor at Kat & Co. It is also deemed safe for use during pregnancy.
You’d be forgiven if you have previously disregarded rosehip oil as just another unnecessary oily “hydrator.” Truthfully, most rosehip oil products don’t market themselves as well as they could. Far from just your average glow-boosting oil, rosehip oil is actually really quite powerful.
Skin expert Jane Scrivner explains, “Rosehip oil is chock-full of vitamin C and is rich in beta carotene, which is an excellent source of trans-retinoic acid, a natural form of vitamin A. It encourages cell turnover and reparation, making it a wonderful and powerful alternative to retinol.”