Bakuchiol: The name is ol-, Bakuchi-ol

Chemically speaking Bakuchiol is a meroterpene. Mero- as a prefix means “combining” or “partially”, and terpenes are a group of natural products mainly occurring in plants that are characterized by their chemical structure and by the way they are synthesized. Along with a.o. (poly)phenols and alkaloids, terpenes belong to a huge class of chemicals referred to as “small molecules” which are often the focus for the development of biologically active ingredients.

Bakuchiol is partly terpene and partly phenolic, hence it is a meroterpene combining those two structural elements in one molecule. While this is not unique in nature, there are a lot more chemicals that are either phenols or terpenes than meroterpenes which makes Bakuchiol an interesting substance.

Bakuchiol has been reported to be found in more than one plant, however the main source and traditional use as a medicinal remedy in ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine are linked to its presence in the seeds and leaves of the plant Psoralea Coryfolia L. Having its origin and main habitat in Asia this plant is under regional names also known as “Babchi”, “Habucha” “Bodi-ata” or “Bakuchi”, lending our protagonist chemical its name.

In case the avid ingredient-interested reader has wondered “are there any other “-chiols” to be looking out for? The answer is no, there is only this one. The alcohol (-ol) from the plant named “Bakuchi”. Hence Bakuchiol.

A classic (success) story

The discovery story of Bakuchiol is a classic one, that many substances we know and use for multiple purposes today have experienced. Due to the reported, traditional use and the ethnobotanical knowledge about Psoralea Coryfolia L. researchers set out to find out about the bioactive compounds that can be found in the plant. This is a very traditional approach, which is still followed for the discovery of new molecules and remedies for both medicinal and cosmetic ingredient research and development today.

In the cosmetics and personal care arena already in 2010 an extract from Psoralea Coryfolia L  standardized on Bakuchiol was marketed as a promising substance with benefits in the management of blemishes and oily skin. It was reported to have antibacterial as well as antioxidant efficacy and by 2013 was compared to well-known, other benchmark ingredients with high efficacy in the management of acne-prone skin.

Bakuchiol has antioxidant potential and is able to stabilize other, less stable active ingredients in a formulation. It can scavenge free radicals and thus provides good company to other antioxidants that are commonly used by formulators for both formulation stabilizing- as well as skin-protecting purposes. Bakuchiol has also more recently been reported as a “retinol-alternative” or as an ingredient with “retinol-like function”.

These reports usually refer to a set of study results [1] that describe the effects that Bakuchiol showed in a gene expression-profiling study as well as its effects on protein production and on the skin when formulated in a skin care formulation. The latter was assessed by looking at skin parameters that are usually investigated when anti-aging benefits are evaluated. These include parameters such as lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, firmness and photodamage.

Two of the major undesirable effects of using Retinol (and other Retinoids) in skin care are its potential to cause discomfort and irritation as well as its comparably low stability in formulation. Scientists have been searching for ingredients and formulations that can provide the efficacy of Retinol without its undesirable effects and stability challenges for many years. The available data for Bakuchiol are exciting and promising and as the search for “retinol-alternatives” continues, the reaction of consumers and marketers- seeking more information on and products formulated with the ingredient- as a response to the arrival of this information is understandable.

However, formulators, marketeers and consumers should also review the communication around Bakuchiol and its use in formulation and benefits critically. When communicating the benefits of Bakuchiol in comparison to Retinol it is important to keep in mind that the ingredient should be seen as a “functional analogue” rather than a head-to-head “alternative” in comparison. While there have been many similarities reported in its biological activity respective to Retinol, it is necessary to point out that the results were not a 100% match. As R. Chaudhuri points out in `Bakuchiol: A Retinol-Like Functional Compound, Modulation Multiple Retinol and Non-Retinol Targets´(Raja et al. 2015)…” (First) a similar modulation of many (however, not all) genes coding for retinoid binding and metabolizing proteins was observed.”

Bakuchiol shows efficacy in the functional areas that are usually assessed for anti-aging benefits and in which Retinoids including Retinol, Retinal (as cosmetic ingredients) and Retinoic acid (as a drug) are often used as benchmarks for their performance. The outcome of an FDA conducted study which set out to investigate the head to head clinical comparison of the two substances Bakuchiol and Retinol (first posted on the FDA page in 2017) is yet to be anticipated.

Unique or are there other ingredients that work like this?

Is the above truly unique for Bakuchiol though? Retinol unfolds its efficacy after oxidation to its oxidation product Retinoic acid via Retinal as an intermediate (view our previous article about Retinoids). As such, ingredients that show a similar efficacy profile as Bakuchiol but compared to Retinoid acid should also classify as “Retinol-like” or at least “Retinoid-Like” functional compounds as long as they also provide the clinical benefits in cosmetic products.

This has been reported for an amino acid derivative named Acetyl-Aspartic-Acid which has subsequently been developed into a range of products with cosmetic benefits. A supplement of the International Journal of Cosmetic Science published in 2015 (Mavon, A. 2015) featured seven individual manuscripts dealing with the subject and reporting about the investigation of the ingredient as well as the development and evaluation of cosmetic products and their benefits including prototype formulation, stability and safety data.

It would be fair to assume that there are more ingredients on the market that, when assessed in a similar way, could be classified as “functional analogues” for Retinol. Bakuchiol is seemingly an effective active ingredient for the cosmetic and personal care market It should also be seen in the wider context of other active ingredients and formulations that provide cosmetic benefits in a similar space as products that are formulated with Bakuchiol.

Formulating with Bakuchiol

The raw material Bakuchiol is a pale yellow-to-brown viscous liquid. The inclusion levels for the pure substance are recommended for 0.5% to 1.0%. Due to its chemical structure and nonpolar overall nature, Bakuchiol is miscible with a wide range of lipophilic substances such as emollients despite its phenolic hydroxyl-group. Thus the addition of Bakuchiol during formulation of emulsion systems lends itself to be included in the oil-phase. It is considered stable in respect to hydrolysis as well as in respect to withstanding degradation from UV-exposure. The material is yet advised to be stored in a tight container at room temperature (+10℃to+30) away from UV-exposure. 

Multiple raw materials based on Bakuchiol are available on the market. They mainly differ in the way the materials are processed, refined or combined (preformulated) with other cosmetic ingredients. O&3 offers a cold pressed oil from the fruit of Psoralea Coryfolia L. as well as a cold pressed and further refined version. These materials contain a wider spectrum of co-extracted chemicals alongside Bakuchiol such as lipids. Pure, refined Bakuchiol can be procured from Sytheon under the name Sytenol A. Both Sytheon as well as Evonik further offer ingredients in which Bakuchiol is combined with other ingredients under the names Asyntra® CBD-Alt and  Herbapurifine® respectively.

Products containing Bakuchiol 

The number of formulations on the market containing Bakuchiol are increasing steadily. Here are a few examples of products that are in high demand with consumers and influencers as well as a range of products containing the aforementioned Acetyl-Aspartic-Acid:

  1. Flawless Nightly Serum - Dr. Sam's
  2. Bakuchiol Peptides™ - Medik8
  3. Bio Retinoid™ Anti-Aging Cream - REN Clean Skincare
  4. Ultimate Lift SET - Oriflame


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