When it comes to skincare, “retinol” has as much name recognition as Miley Cyrus. But while the rock star of skincare is famous for its ability to smooth over fine lines and reduce acne, retinol can also cause some redness, flaking, and irritation—otherwise known as the “retinol scaries”—if a harsher formula is used. That’s why we’re all about natural retinol, which is totally plant-based, and formulated to work with your skin for maximum results for your beauty routine, and minimal impact on the planet.
Wait, What Is Retinol, Again?
Retinol is such a buzzy skincare ingredient for one key reason: When it comes to fine lines and wrinkles, it really works. A concentrated type of Vitamin A, Retinol is a doctor-recommended compound for smoother skin, fewer blemishes, and a more even skin tone. Recently, skincare expert Dr. Whitney Bowe called it “one of the most researched and effective skincare ingredients that you can use without getting a prescription.”
Retinol is an over-the-counter version of retinoids, which are a prescription-only version of the Vitamin A compound with a much higher concentration of the active ingredient. (That would be Retinoic Acid, which encourages rapid skin cell turnover—but can also cause major irritation if used directly on your complexion.)
Is Retinol Vegan?
Retinol is synthesized in a lab, and almost always vegan. But that doesn’t mean it’s always natural (see: “synthesized in a lab”) and many retinol formulas might irritate or even harm sensitive skin. They’re also often placed in formulas with palm oil or shea butter—great ingredients on their own, but hard on both people and the planet if they’re not harvested with regenerative agriculture and fair trade practices. That means when it’s time to look for a retinol or retinol alternative that’s gentle on the skin and on the environment, natural alternatives are the way to go. Here are some that you might have heard about…
Bakuchiol is a compound that comes from the leaves and seeds of babchi, an herb used in India and China for medicinal healing. Dermatologists like Dr. Rachel Nazarian say it has the same smoothing properties as regular retinol, but because it also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial compounds, it won’t irritate skin quite as much. The catch? Bakuchiol can be harvested illegally, and because it’s suddenly a popular ingredient in Western skincare, its supply chain risks being colonized. That leaves less of the herb available for native harvesters who practice ayurvedic healing. And that is deeply uncool.
Besides a big dose of Vitamin A, Sea Fennel is packed with antioxidants, Vitamin C, and amino acids that help strengthen the skin, making aging less visible. Also known as “rock sapphire,” sea fennel is a flower that grows along the rocky coastlines of Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa. Sea Fennel is lauded by dermatologists because all of its nutrients are bioavailable, which means the body easily recognizes them and absorbs them into its own healing systems.
Rosehip Seed Oil
The Egyptians, the Indigenous North Americans, and the Mayans all used Rosehip Seed Oil as part of their healing rituals. Intensely hydrating and easy to harvest, rosehip oil is also known to naturally reduce inflammation and redness because of its high Vitamin E content. Rosehip oil is also dense in fatty acids to plump and nourish skin, which can help reduce the sudden dryness or flakiness of other anti-aging compounds and vitamin-rich formulas.
Primarily found in red and orange fruits and vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers…), Beta Carotene can be converted into a retinoid by the body. It increases the skin’s antioxidant protection, which can help with reducing or even repairing sun damage. It also boosts cell turnover, a key factor in anti-aging. But beta carotene is even better in your body, where it can help maintain ocular health and strong immunity.
EGF (Epidermal Growth Factor)
An EFT is a natural chain of amino acids—aka proteins—in your skin that mimics the healing your body does when it’s been wounded. But in the immortal words of Into the Gloss, “wounds do not equal wrinkles,” and whether EGF is an effective skin-smoothing ingredient really remains to be seen. (There have not been enough EGF studies to warrant any proof of its effectiveness, though some anecdotal evidence does point to increased sensitivity after use.) Plus, because EGF is based on animal protein, there’s only one purely plant-based formula—Bioeffect’s EGF serum, which is synthesized with barley enzymes.
Plant-Based Retinol Is a Proven Anti-Aging Ingredient
Retinol is indeed an effective ingredient for anti-aging, reduced blemishes, and firmer, “bouncier” skin. When manufactured responsibly, it’s also a low-harm product on the planet. But if you’d rather your skincare active ingredients come from a regenerative farm than a laboratory—or if you’re looking for similar results with less occasional irritation from retinoic acid—plant-based and natural retinol alternatives are certainly a proven way to get glowing, healthy skin while supporting a growing, healthy planet.