Let’s not beat about the bush, retinol is a powerhouse when it comes to skin rejuvenation and acne management. It’s a synthetic derivative of Vitamin A that tackles concerns ranging from collagen production to fine lines and skin texture. Though due to its active nature that facilitates rapid cell turnover, frequent use of retinol can cause skin to become highly sensitive. Redness, irritation, burning, itching, peeling of the skin, rosacea flareups and significant sensitivity to sunlight are some of the side effects that have been noted from long-term use or overuse of retinol. 


Bio-retinol is a retinol substitute (also known as a phyto-retinol) and has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines. It’s extracted from plants that contain carotene, like sea buckthorn, carrot seeds or rose hips and other plants like the babchi plant that yields Bakuchiol. There are many varieties available, but the ones mentioned are the ones that are most used and recognised.

Plants that are sources of bio-retinol are rich in carotene (carotenoids), a precursor to vitamin A, and when carotene is applied to the skin, it’s converted into vitamin A.

Bio-retinol has similar properties to traditional retinols, but without the side effects of dryness, irritation, and elevated skin sensitivity.

Speaking of safety, the maximum recommended percentage of a bio-retinol like Bakuchiol in a facial care product is 1%, a standard set by the manufacturer.

However, there are many products trying to outdo each other by raising the stakes and going above the recommended composition.


Traditional retinol is Vitamin A derived, whereas bio-retinol is a plant-based compound that behaves similarly to retinol, but it’s not related to the Vitamin A composition of retinol.

While retinol is versatile and effective for skin complaints such as acne and the softening of fine lines and wrinkles, it’s not the active ingredient of choice for people who have sensitive skin. More delicate skin types can withstand exposure to bio-retinols if used correctly.

Unlike its retinol cousin, bio-retinol is not affected by sun exposure, and can therefore be used both during the day and at night. Retinol, on the other hand, is only to be used at night to avoid possible skin sensitivity due to sun exposure.

When comparing bio-retinol and retinol, it’s mainly the way in which the skin gets vitamin A that marks the difference, but both lead to the same goal: cells renew themselves faster, and the result is a smoother and healthier skin.


When deciding to use a retinol, always do a skin test to gauge how your skin responds to it. Retinol should be used exclusively at night because of its sun sensitivity.

Make sure your skin has been thoroughly cleansed and dried before application and use a pea-sized amount of product. Apply it maximum two times a week to begin with, and over time, usage can be increased as the skin builds up its tolerance – applying retinol three times a week is the golden sweet spot if your skin is up to it.


Although bio-retinols are far gentler than retinol, it’s still recommended to do a patch test to see how your skin reacts, and if all is well, you can start using it twice a day from the get-go, morning, and night, as it’s not sensitive to sun exposure. But whatever you do, do not use retinol and bio-retinol on the same night!

Personally, I’m a much bigger fan of bio-retinols, for two reasons: because I always prefer to go the natural route – nature is an abundant provider of wonderful ingredients. Secondly, as we age, our skin thins, and bio-retinol as a retinol alternative is altogether gentler and can be just as effective if used correctly.