Article by: Perry Romanowski

How do you know what will be the next hot ingredient in the cosmetic industry? If anyone could answer that question with certainty they could surely make millions. While there is no exact formula for figuring this out, it is helpful to look at a recent ingredient like Argan Oil that went from obscurity to popularity and compare it to a newcomer, Bakuchiol to see if it may become the next big thing. 

Bakuchiol is a plant derived meroterpene that has antioxidant properties. It’s recently grabbed the attention of some brand marketers and is used in a hot new retinol serum at Sephora.

Must have a good origin story – Ingredients become popular for a wide variety of reasons, but one thing they all have in common is that they are supported by a good story. For example, Argan Oil which is one of the most recent “hot ingredients” in hair care, had a story of being obtained from the Argan Tree that involved the help of wild goats who climbed the trees and ate the fruit.  Bakuchiol is an ingredient derived from the plant Psoralea corylifolia which is an ancient cultivated plant of India and China. In fact, it is still being used for medicinal applications in China.

Is this a good enough story to make it catch on? That’s hard to say since there are lots of ingredients with a similar pedigree.

Must have some benefit – Of course, having a good story will only get an ingredient so far. There has to be some evidence of a functional benefit. Argan oil had the benefits of slip and shine like most other oils for hair.  It turns out that Bakuchiol has antioxidant activity and in a recent study in the British Journal of Dermatology worked comparable to retinol in reducing wrinkles. Since it is less irritating than retinol this has even led some to declare that it is the natural, safer alternative to retinol. Based on the quality of studies I’ve seen I remain skeptical, but other chemists and dermatologists are impressed.

Must make it online – Perhaps the most critical characteristic of a hot new ingredient is that it attracts the attention of the online community. In the days before Social Media and the Internet became ubiquitous, beauty editors at women’s magazines like Glamour, Allure, Cosmopolitan, and Elle were responsible for educating consumers about trendy new ingredients. Now, beauty vloggers, bloggers, and Instagram celebrities tell people about the latest and greatest ingredients. Influencing them are PR agencies and big beauty brands through advertising and special arrangements. If an ingredient is featured by a popular influencer and gets shared by their audience, it could go viral and become the next go to ingredient.

You can actually track the moment when this happened with Argan oil by looking at the data provided by Google Trends. Prior to 2009, there was very little interest and the search traffic for Argan oil was almost non-existent. Interest steadily built over 2009-10 by really took off in 2011 and it remains a popular ingredient today.

At the moment, online interest in Bakuchiol remains low compared to other ingredients like retinol or allantoin. But interest has recently edged out another anti-aging ingredient, flavonoids and according to Google trends, it’s growing.

Will Bakuchiol keep growing and become a breakout hit like Argan oil, or will it fizzle like Flavanoids?  That is the million dollar question.


About the Author

Perry Romanowski

Perry has been formulating cosmetic products and inventing solutions to solve consumer problems since the early 1990’s. Additionally, he has written and edited numerous articles and books, taught continuing education classes for industry scientists, and developed successful websites. His latest book is Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry 3rd Edition published by Allured.


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    what is the percentage of bakuchiol contained in babchi oil ?

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      I don’t know. That depends on the supplier and the way the oil is obtained.

  2. Avatar

    Hi Perry,

    Thank you for the information shared.
    According to your point of view, you mentioned that you remain skeptical on its efficacy. May I know what is your concern? Is it because the sample size is too small to conclude?

    Thank you.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Yes, the study was small (44 people) and they didn’t have proper controls. They did a comparison study with retinol but didn’t do a positive and negative control. When making extraordinary claims you should at least do a significant amount of research.

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    Perry, I was just researching the claim I found about a Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum, “A lightweight, effective serum featuring bakuchiol, a plant-derived retinol alternative that offers retinol-like results—without the skin irritation or sensitivity.” It caught my interest! So, I say yes, it may just be the next hot new skin care ingredient. I agree that consumers do want retinol type results that are considered “safer”. But this consumer asks, does it really work? At the beginning of my research I learned that Psoralea Corylifolia is used by some for vitiligo. I also found that Bakuchiol is not sold by companies selling cosmetics ingredients to the general consumer. However, Babchi oil is easy to purchased. Bachi oil would have the flavonoids, coumarin, and meroterpenes (bakuchiol). I then looked at the chemical formulas of Retinol and Bakuchiol, and just got confused. This is where my research brought me back to the Chemists Corner to find out what you are saying! I’m a consumer, not a chemist. The chemical formula for Bakuchiol is C18 H24 O and Retinol is C20 H30 O. Is this even close enough to say that Bakuchiol may work? This confused consumer has found your website and will be sticking with Retinol. However, I still hold out hope for Bakuchiol to be a proven Retinol substitute, and for someone to come up with a product with a great price. Thank you for the Chemist Corner.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Thanks for the question. You can’t really get any information about how an ingredient works by knowing the chemical formula. The way an ingredient works depends on the chemical structure just as much as the actual atoms that make it up. I know that Retinol has been proven and Bakuchiol has not. However, there is some small studies that show it may work as well as retinol. I remain skeptical since the study was pretty small but if you want to try it, you might be happy with the results.

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