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There are so many products on the market proclaiming to give you the exfoliating results of your favourite glycolic acid without the irritation or the effects of skin-smoothing and acne-fighting retinol whilst being pregnancy-safe, and today I wanted to do a roundup post on whether these things actually work in a similar way, or if it's all just marketing. Let's dive in...
Bakuchiol is a plant-derived ingredient that has been touted by many as the 'natural retinol' as there is some early evidence that it could trick our cells into thinking it's a retinoid. If you don't know; retinoids are the only ingredient that has been shown in study after study to reverse the signs of ageing. It can also improve the look of acne scarring. However, not everyone can use retinoids. They aren't recommended for those already on accutane or for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Also, some people find them too strong or irritating for their skin. Bakuchiol can really support the work of retinoids, but are they a viable alternative in their own right? I personally think not...
The main products I tried for this post are the Medik8 Bakuchiol Peptides | £45 | and the Indeed Labs Bakuchiol Reface Pads | £19.99. I have to say; I did really enjoy using the Medik8 product; it's a lightweight oil-serum that leaves my skin softer and smoother after use. The Indeed Labs pads are kind of like a toner to me, which is interesting for a bakuchiol product. They're moisturising, and I notice a slight smoothing effect after use. Contrasting this with retinoids; they're not even in the same league. When I use retinoids, I honestly feel like my skin is the best version of itself; it's considerably smoother with fine lines less visible and texture less noticeable. It also really helps with scarring and pigmentation issues. Obviously, if you're pregnant, then this isn't an option, in which case I recommend the Medik8 product just to maintain smooth and moisturised skin until you're off breastfeeding (if you don't compare it to something like the retinal available from the same brand, it's still a lovely product). Who else this could be for are people who don't always want a really strong active in their routine and like a gentle option that works well with other ingredients. Personally; if you can use retinoids, I would because the results are vastly more transformative.
- RETINOL PRECURSORS -
Retinoids are best thought of as a family of skincare ingredients. Without getting too technical and complex; the final goal of all retinoid products is to deliver retinoic acid to the skin's cells. Retinol has to be converted by the skin to retinal and then to retinoic acid (only available by prescription as something like tretinoin), which is why I tend to go for retinal products when it comes to cosmetic products, because they deliver incredible results fast. Think of it like a scale; retinoic acid is the end goal, retinal is the next best thing, retinol is the standard cosmetic ingredient and retinyl palmitate is one step further removed. The more your skin has to convert the ingredient, the less potent it is but also the less potentially irritating it can be.
Something like the Pixi Overnight Retinol Oil* | £26 | is is one such product. Despite the slightly-misleading name, this is actually formulated with retinyl palmitate, which kind of makes sense for this brand. To me, Pixi is a brand that's aimed at a slightly younger audience and I know their Glow Tonic was my first chemical exfoliator, so I'm sure their 'retinol' range will be the first retinoids many people in their earlier 20s try. This is totally appropriate for that; it's a lovely oil that's very moisturising with jojoba, sunflower and sweet almond (to counteract any potential dryness the ingredient might cause), it feels luxurious (though contains some fragrant essential oils that might not be for everyone) and it does have a mild smoothing effect. If you find retinol causes you excessive peeling or you want to very gently ease yourself into the world of retinoids; it's not a bad choice, though it obviously won't give you the same results.
I personally saw surprisingly good results with the Wow You! Glow to Sleep Rosehip & Retinol Night Moisturiser | £18 (15% off with code JASMINE15). It contains argan, avocado, coconut, olive and rosehip oils, alongside nourishing shea butter (some of these ingredients can be comedogenic, so I don't recommend this product for oily skin types) which buffer the retinol. There's also Vitamins C and E, oat and green tea to act as antioxidants. I do see a noticeable smoothing of my skin when using this product with no dryness or irritation. Likewise, BeautyBio's the Plump Volumising Repair Cream* | £85, is pricey but does deliver some pretty great results. It's formulated with a high-powered form of hyaluronic acid and retinyl palmitate, which really do give me plumper, softer skin. Again, I can't say the results are as dramatic as with a bonafide retinol or retinal product, but for an everyday gentle option, I can still see a noticeable difference.
- PROBIOTICS -
I hadn't really heard of probiotics being an acid alternative before trying the product I'm about to talk about, but let's explore how that might be a thing, because they work in very different ways. A chemical exfoliator like glycolic acid works by breaking down the 'glue' sticking together dead skin cells so they loosen up and can be wiped away. There are different acids that work on different levels of the skin (salicylic acid, for example, is oil-soluble so can get deep into the pores) but that's generally how they exfoliate the skin to make it smoother, clearer and more radiant. Probiotics are live bacteria, often used in yoghurts to promote gut health. Within the context of skincare, they promote a healthy barrier, allowing the skin to function properly so it's less sensitive, oil production is regulated and water can be retained more effectively. The goal is to keep everything in balance for overall healthy skin.
A little while back, I tried out the Indeed Labs No Acid Pads | £19.99 | which are formulated with probiotics, and some plant extracts (none of which I really consider to be 'active'). I did feel my skin was softer, smoother and looked healthy and glowing overall, so if these subtle ways of improving the look and feel of things fulfil your skin goals, this could be a viable alternative. However, in terms of treating hyperpigmentation and removing dead skin cells, I just don't think these are going to do it. Probiotics can be great for the skin, but I think they're very different to acids.
- MANDELIC ACID -
Mandelic acid wasn't really on my radar before this year, however as I've upped my Vitamin C and retinoid game in recent months, finding gentler acids became important to me. Mandelic acid is in the AHA category (alongside lactic and glycolic acids) but is derived from bitter almond. It has a large molecular size so is absorbed more slowly into the skin than glycolic (which many people find a little irritating) and therefore offers a gentler alternative. It's often flagged up as being great for sensitive, oily skin because it specifically works well to treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
I'm actually a huge fan of mandelic acid, and far prefer it to something like glycolic these days. My go-to products include the Ordinary's Mandelic Acid 10% + HA | £5.75 | and the PSA Skin Heroine Mandelic Acid and Licorice Glow Toner | £28. The Ordinary's treatment serum is pretty simple: the acid plus some humectants. I tend to use acids in the evening anyway, so I just pop on this hydrating serum 2-3 times a week before my night cream and it gives me softer, smoother, more even skin with no irritation. If you prefer a toner form, the PSA formula is one of the few acids I can genuinely tolerate daily, if I so wish. This gentle but effective formula combines mandelic acid with brightening licorice, to make a fantastic product to combat uneven pigmentation.
- PHA -
PHAs are the lesser-known class of acids. Polyhydroxy acids have a large molecular size, so don't disturb the more delicate layers of your skin, primarily offering a surface exfoliation. Whilst this might not do it for oily / spot-prone skin types, that's really what dry and sensitive skinned people need; something to gently pull apart the dry, dead skin cells sat on the surface of the skin. I can personally use PHAs every day if I choose to and they actually work really well in tandem with other acids, such as combining a PHA with a touch of BHA, so you get that multi-level exfoliation.
The product that really introduced me to this category of exfoliators and one I still reach for regularly is the Inkey List's PHA Toner* | £9.99. This is so gentle but really does leave my skin softer, smoother and more glowing, by softly removing dry patches of skin and areas of flakiness.
Have you tried any of these gentler alternatives? What was your experience?