Where to Find Real Bakuchiol in Commercial Cosmetic Products?

Brands Capitalizing on Bakuchiol’s Buzz

Bakuchiol has seen its popularity spiked after a publication from Dhaliwal et al in the British Journal of Dermatology in 2018. Sytenol® A, the commercial name of Bakuchiol was described as a gentler alternative to retinol for the skin, with better photostability and similar performances for photoaging.

The searches on Google have exploded since articles in women’s press such as Vogue, Glamour or Elle multiplied, and Bakuchiol has become the buzzword. Numbers on the Chinese platform TikTok skyrocketed with over 3.8 million views with the hashtag Bakuchiol.

Several brands capitalized on this buzz and have launched their line with so-called Bakuchiol, sometimes using the word Bakuchiol as the product name, for instance: The Inkey List Bakuchiol, Bybi Bakuchiol Booster, or Medik8 Bakuchiol Boosters. According to Mintel, a market-research firm that notably provides analyses of finished cosmetic products, more than 290 brands launched commercial products containing Bakuchiol since 2016.

Source: Mintel

New Study Evaluating the Level of Bakuchiol in Commercial Cosmetic Products

As a retinol-like, Bakuchiol multiple claims are associated with the use of this ingredient such as reducing key signs of aging or improving acne-prone skin. Like any cosmetic active agents, the benefits are directly related to the presence of an appropriate level of the active ingredient in the product as well as its stability over time.

Retinol and its derivatives have been the gold standards for their efficacy against skin aging and acne, but their instability and, in particular, photo-instability have been described at length in the literature.

A recent publication in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology2 assessed the level of retinoids in 12 market products for a period of 6 months.

The results of this study are unequivocal: among the 12 tested commercial products, two-thirds of the tested products contained less than 80% of the initial retinoid content at their shelf lives, while half of them contained about half of the retinoid contents.

Following this trend, Sytheon has commissioned an external lab to evaluate the content and stability of Bakuchiol in finished formulations. Nine Bakuchiol-labeled commercial products, both oils and serums promoted in the United States and Europe, were obtained from the open market, and the level of Bakuchiol was measured by HPLC. The results are illustrated in the graph below.

Of the nine evaluated products, the report showed that eight were found to have Bakuchiol content ranging from 0.5 to 2.14%: levels consistent with Sytheon’s recommendations for ultimate performance and safety.

The one remaining product, the Bakuchiol Serum from Herbivore, however, was found to only contain about 2.27 ppm (0.000227%) of Bakuchiol. As a formulator, it doesn’t come as a surprise: as a highly lipophilic and yellow compound like Bakuchiol is, it would be difficult to solubilize 1% Bakuchiol in a 100% water-based purple serum without the addition of high quantities of alcohol or solubilizers. Having a closer look at the label, unlike the other eight brands, the list of ingredients did not specifically highlight Bakuchiol as an ingredient; rather, it specified Psoralea corylifolia seed extract as the relevant ingredient.

Bogus Claim or Solid Science?

We already covered the differences between Bakuchiol and Psoralea Corylifolia plant or seed extract in this article. While Sytenol®A, a highly defined compound with over 99% of Bakuchiol has been proposed as a safe alternative to retinol for the cosmetics industry since 2007 by Sytheon, Bakuchi oils or Psoralea Corylifolia plant extracts are undefined materials with high levels of photosensitizers unsuitable for cosmetic purpose. Psoralea corylifolia plant and seed extracts have been reported in Ayurvedic medicine for treating notably vitiligo, but the use of which is highly restricted in cosmetics because of the high levels of furocoumarins, known photosensitizers highly regulated in Europe. Beyond the safety aspect, the analogies to retinol are not transferable to crude extracts, whether they are obtained from organic solvent extraction or cold-pressed.

Responsibility of the Cosmetic Industry Toward the Consumers

The defiance from the public towards the cosmetic industry is rising along with the appetite of the ‘organic bohosphere’ for natural, unrefined products; yet, it’s one of the highest regulated industries in the world.

A lot of brands have entered the game of transparency and developed platforms on their website to provide visibility to their end-users. Two examples that illustrate this process are the cosmetic leading company l’Oréal and the French dermo-cosmetic company Naos. Those are excellent illustrations of how the cosmetic industry can educate the consumers about cosmetic ingredients and address their fears toward anything that sounds chemical, or at least not natural enough.

In the past few years, many applications such as Yuka, INCI Beauty or Clean Beauty flourished to inform the end-users about ingredients contained in food or cosmetics. The idea to popularize technical words that can be found on packaging is praiseworthy, but one of the downsides is those Apps are only based on declarations from manufacturers, there is no analysis to assess the consistency between the declared ingredients and what is really in the jar. To improve the transparency and the quality of those Apps, one idea could be to work closely with the brands : if they shared their product information file, Apps would have access to the concentrations of each ingredient, which of course can impact the toxicity and safety of the finished product. The product analysis on their platform would be more accurate and could represent a reliable source of information for the consumers.

1 S Dhaliwal et al, Prospective, randomized, double-blind assessment of topical Bakuchiol and retinol for facial photoaging, British J Dermatology, 180:289-296, 2019 Epub 2018 Sep 21

2 Žane Temova et al, Retinoid stability and degradation kinetics in commercial cosmetic products, J Cosmet Dermatol. 2020;00:1–9