3 Must-Have Characteristics of a Retinol Alternative for Your Next Formula

Retinol has been the go-to ingredient in skincare to fight acne and aging – but it’s also a known skin sensitizer and irritant. That’s why more and more beauty brands are looking for an alternative that is as effective as retinol but without all the negative side effects.
If you’re looking for a retinol alternative to offer to your customers, here’s what you need to know.

Defining Retinol

Retinol is a member of the vitamin A family that reduces acne and signs of aging. By increasing collagen production and promoting cell turnover, retinol aids in the reduction of wrinkles and fine lines and helps to improve the skin’s texture and tone, respectively. 

Beauty brands use retinol in various skincare products, including creams, serums, and oils. But not everyone can use these products. Why? Because retinol can cause skin irritation, redness, sensitization, and peeling, especially for sensitive skin.

As beauty brands work to be more inclusive with their product offerings, the need for a retinol alternative is clear. Here are a few characteristics to look for.

3 Characteristics to Look for in a Retinol Alternative

1. Functional Analog of Retinol

In cosmetics, a functional analog is defined as an ingredient that mimics the biological functions and effects of another ingredient but has a different chemical or structural form and works through a secondary mechanistic pathway. A functional analog of retinol can replicate the positive effects on the skin, such as reducing the appearance of wrinkles and clearing up acne without reproducing the negative ones.

Be sure to choose an ingredient that’s been properly researched and tested, particularly against sensitive skin.

2. Photochemically Stable

For a skincare ingredient to be photochemically stable, it must resist chemical changes and degradation when exposed to light. Since retinol is not photochemically stable, the degradation caused by light exposure results in it losing its effectiveness over time. Storage stability of retinol products is typically one year. Therefore, consumers must be mindful of how and where they store their retinol-based ingredients.

By selecting a photochemically stable retinol alternative, consumers can trust that the product will deliver consistent results without losing its effectiveness over the shelf-life of the product.

3. Easy to Incorporate Into Day & Night Treatments

Not only does retinol degrade due to light exposure, but it can also become reactive on the skin if used in a daytime treatment that directly exposes the skin to UV rays. Because of this, consumers are instructed to only use retinol-based products at night.

Having a retinol alternative that can be used in both day and night treatments opens up opportunities to include other beneficial active ingredients, such as antioxidants, UV protection, or skin-brightening agents in a formula. This can result in multifunctional skincare products that offer a holistic approach to skincare no matter the time of day. Additionally, consumers will not have to worry about potential reactive side effects.

Thankfully, an alternative that meets each of these three criteria already exists: Bakuchiol.

The Natural Alternative to Retinol: Bakuchiol

Bakuchiol is a natural compound extracted from the seeds of the Psoralea corylifolia plant, also known as babchi. Bakuchiol is often referred to as the “natural retinol alternative” and is considered to be a functional analog of retinol. Similarly to retinol, Bakuchiol has anti-aging properties that can help improve the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and skin texture by activating cells to produce more collagen. It also has anti-acne properties.

Unlike retinol, Bakuchiol is photochemically stable and easy to incorporate into day and night treatments which allows beauty brands to have more versatility in their skincare formulations.

Consumers benefit from Bakuchiol because it addresses their needs for effective and convenient skincare products that can deliver retinol-like advantages without the negative side effects. It is also gentler and better tolerated by most skin types, making it more appealing to those with sensitive or reactive skin.


Because of retinol’s limitations, beauty brands are searching for the right alternative that offers the same benefits as retinol while being safe to use during the day and does not include the negative side effects. Bakuchiol is a prime candidate because it targets the same skin issues, is photochemically stable, is easy to incorporate into various skincare formulations, and is suitable for all skin types.

Are you looking for a retinol alternative? Sytenol® A by Sytheon is 99%+ pure Bakuchiol, making it an effective ingredient for your formulation. It’s also the first and only REACH-registered and China-allowed Bakuchiol with a complete toxicology dossier. You can test Sytenol® A Bakuchiol with your formulation when you request a sample.