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Aguaje Oil versus Bakuchiol

Aguaje Oil or Bakuchiol as a “natural retinol alternative”? 

If you are looking for a natural retinol alternative, finding the right product for you can be challenging. In this blog post, I'm going to review some of the similarities and differences between aguaje oil and bakuchiol.

Aguaje oil comes from the fruit of the aguaje tree that grows in the Amazon rainforest. Amazonians have used Aguaje oil on their skin for centuries. Bakuchiol is a plant chemical that comes from the seeds of Psoralea corylifolia, commonly called babchi. Bakuchiol was first extracted from babchi in the 1960s, and only recently has become an ingredient in cosmetics. Babchi grows primarily in Asia and all parts of this plant have been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for centuries. 

Aguaje oil is 100% pure and natural. The fruit is simply hand-pressed to make the oil – nothing is added or taken away. Bakuchiol is “natural” in that it comes from a plant, but to produce it may require the use of chemical solvents. Depending on the method used, the concentrated extract may need to be purified to make sure no other plant chemicals, such as psoralen, remain in the extract. Psoralen is a phototoxic substance that is found in babchi seeds. 

Both Aguaje oil and bakuchiol are natural retinol alternatives that do not irritate the skin. Aguaje oil contains betacarotene that is converted to retinol in the skin. Bakuchiol, while not structurally related to the retinoids, behaves like a retinol. Aguaje oil has not been amenable to clinical study in the way that bakuchiol has. Because aguaje oil is natural, the concentration of its bioactive constituents will vary depending on climactic conditions and other factors. Bakuchiol, on the other hand, is laboratory-made into a pure extract that can be added in precise concentrations to other compounds. One study comparing 0.5% bakuchiol cream and 0.5% retinol cream showed that bakuchiol was as effective as retinol at improving photoaging of the skin [i]. 

Aguaje oil is used directly on the skin. As a concentrated extract, Bakuchiol is not used directly on the skin. Instead it is used diluted, as an ingredient in a variety of cosmetic products. It is the consumer’s responsibility to check what other ingredients are in the product containing bakuchiol. Bakuchiol may not be irritating, but something else in the product may be.

Then there is the question of sustainability. Aguaje trees face similar problems to the babchi plants – they are being destructively over harvested [ii].  Aguaje trees have the additional threat in Peru from industrial and land development. Babchi plants in India are being threatened because the entire plants are being harvested to make herbal medicines commonly used in Asia. With all of this competition for babchi, it may be difficult to sustainably source babchi seeds to make bakuchiol. As with the aguaje tree, cultivation of babchi is now underway, but this is the subject of another story. 

As I have mentioned in other blog posts, Imaya Beauty is concerned about the future of the Amazon Rainforest and its people. Imaya Beauty sources its Aguaje oil from ethically and sustainably wild harvested aguaje fruit, and goes a step further by actively contributing to conservation and reforestation of aguaje trees.


[i] Dhaliwal S (2019) Prospective, randomized, double-blind assessment of topical bakuchiol and retinol for facial photoageing. Br J Dermatol 180(2):289-296.

[ii] Sehrawat N et al (2014) Psoralea corylifolia l. an endangered medicinal plant with broad spectrum properties. International Journal of Phytomedicines and Related Industries 6(1):13-20.

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