Tretanoin, Retinol, and Bakuchiol: What You Need to Know


In the world of skincare, three ingredients have gained significant attention for their ability to treat fine wrinkles, dark spots, or undesired skin texture: tretinoin, retinol, and, more recently, a natural option, Bakuchiol.

Both tretinoin and retinol are derived from vitamin A, while bakuchiol is derived from plants.


Tretinoin, often known by its brand name Retin-A, is a potent retinoid available by prescription.  Tretinoin works by increasing cell turnover, promoting the production of new skin cells while simultaneously stimulating the production of collagen.

Tretinoin is renowned for its ability to fade hyperpigmentation, smooth fine lines, and improve overall skin texture. Additionally, one of the key benefits of tretinoin is its effectiveness in treating acne,  helping to unclog pores, preventing new blemishes, and reducing the appearance of existing ones. 

Because use of tretinoin may cause redness, peeling, and irritation, (these side effects often diminish with continued use as the skin adjusts), it’s essential to use tretinoin cautiously, especially for those with sensitive skin. (Please see who should not use tretanoin below.)


Retinol is a milder, over-the-counter form of vitamin A. While not as potent as tretinoin, retinol offers a gentler introduction to the world of retinoids. It works by converting into retinoic acid once applied to the skin, encouraging cell turnover and collagen production.

Retinol, also celebrated for its “anti-aging: properties, can diminish fine lines and wrinkles, improve skin elasticity, and even out skin tone with consistent use. The gradual release of retinoic acid in the skin makes retinol a suitable option for those who want the benefits of vitamin A without the potential irritation associated with stronger prescription formulations.


Bakuchiol is a natural alternative to retinoids, extracted from the seeds of the Psoralea corylifolia plant. It has gained popularity as a gentler option for those seeking the benefits of retinoids without potential side effects. Bakuchiol also promotes collagen production and cell turnover, making it suitable for addressing signs of aging. Unlike tretinoin and retinol, bakuchiol tends to be less irritating and is considered a good option for sensitive skin. (Note: Beautycounter’s Countertime skincare line is formulated with bakuchiol.)

Comparisons: Tretinoin, Retinol, and Bakuchiol

  1. Potency: Tretinoin is the most potent, followed by retinol, and then bakuchiol. Tretinoin delivers quicker and more intense results, but it can also lead to more pronounced side effects. Retinol strikes a balance between efficacy and gentleness, while bakuchiol, being the mildest, is often preferred by those with sensitive skin.

  2. Source and Natural Appeal: Tretinoin and retinol are synthetic derivatives of vitamin A, while bakuchiol is a natural compound. Bakuchiol’s natural origin can be appealing to those who prefer plant-based skincare options.

  3. Side Effects: Tretinoin tends to have more immediate and intense side effects, including redness and peeling. Retinol can cause mild irritation but is generally better tolerated. Bakuchiol is known for its low potential for irritation, making it suitable for individuals with sensitive skin.

  4. Availability: Tretinoin requires a prescription, while retinol and bakuchiol are available over the counter. This accessibility makes retinol and bakuchiol more convenient choices for individuals who want to incorporate these ingredients without a doctor’s visit.

Conclusion: Tailoring Your Skincare

The choice between tretinoin, retinol, and bakuchiol depends on individual skin needs, tolerance, and preferences. Tretinoin offers unparalleled potency under dermatological guidance. Retinol strikes a balance between efficacy and accessibility, while bakuchiol is the natural, gentle alternative. 

It’s advisable to start with a lower concentration of any of these products and gradually increase, and, as always, consult with a skincare professional for personalized advice. The perfect fit for your skincare routine is the one that aligns with your skin’s unique requirements and your comfort level.

Who Should Not Use Tretanoin or Retinol

While tretinoin and retinol can be highly effective for many individuals in addressing various skin concerns, there are certain situations where caution should be exercised, and use may not be recommended. It’s essential to consult with a dermatologist or healthcare professional before incorporating these ingredients into your skincare routine. Here are some general guidelines on who should be cautious or avoid using tretinoin or retinol (most of these concerns are not issues with bakuchiol):

  • Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women
    • Tretinoin, especially in high doses, has been associated with potential risks during pregnancy. Pregnant or breastfeeding women are generally advised to avoid its use.
    • Retinol should also be used with caution during pregnancy, as there is limited information about its safety.
  • Individuals with Sensitive Skin

    • Tretinoin can cause skin irritation, including redness, peeling, and dryness. Those with sensitive skin may find it challenging to tolerate the side effects.
    • Retinol, while milder than tretinoin, can still cause irritation in some individuals. It’s advisable to start with a lower concentration and gradually increase.
  • History of Allergic Reactions

    • Individuals with a history of allergic reactions to vitamin A derivatives, including tretinoin or retinol, should avoid these ingredients.
  • Skin Conditions or Infections

    • Individuals with certain skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea, may find tretinoin or retinol exacerbating their conditions. It’s crucial to consult with a dermatologist who can provide personalized advice based on your specific skin condition.
  • Sunburned or Irritated Skin

    • Applying tretinoin or retinol to sunburned, windburned, or otherwise irritated skin can intensify irritation and should be avoided.
  • Recent Cosmetic Procedures

    • Individuals who have recently undergone cosmetic procedures, such as chemical peels, laser treatments, or microdermabrasion, may need to wait until their skin has fully healed before introducing tretinoin or retinol.
  • Children

    • Tretinoin and retinol are generally not recommended for use in children unless prescribed by a healthcare professional for specific medical reasons.

Remember, these guidelines are general, and individual responses can vary. It’s very important to have a discussion with a healthcare professional who can assess your skin type, existing conditions, and any potential contraindications. Always follow their advice on how to incorporate these ingredients into your skincare routine safely.