The next time you have a eureka! moment of your own, take a second to give props to Archimedes, the Greek polymath credited with first making the exclamation. The story goes that the scholar, upon discovering in a public bathhouse that the water level rose directly in proportion to the volume of his own body, was so eager to spread word of his epiphany that he leapt from the bath and ran home nude, a bold and confident statement that hasn't quite carried over into present day the same way the word itself has.
But eureka moments do continue to be had, including in the ever-evolving world of skin care. In 2014, research scientists struck proverbial gold (like the actual gold rush that gave California its state motto) while studying the plant-derived compound bakuchiol — presumably while clothed, because being naked in a lab setting sounds like something that might pose a safety hazard. "Eureka!" they said, probably, upon finding that the ingredient, which bears no structural resemblance to retinol, could actually make a very good naturally-occurring alternative to it.
"Retinol is perhaps the best-studied ingredient we have to fight fine lines and wrinkles," says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. "However, many people cannot tolerate it, because it's known to cause skin irritation and sensitivity to the sun." Bakuchiol is just one of the many potential alternatives being studied, but it's also the only botanical extract thus far that's shown real, clinically-proven results similar to that of retinol — stimulating collagen production, strengthening the skin's foundation, and minimizing the appearance of lines and wrinkles, without the risk of irritation.
The quest for a "magic bullet" is what led Ole Henriksen to bakuchiol, now the star ingredient of his eponymous brand's Transform Plus Retin-ALT duo. Henriksen had his eureka moment not in a lab or the bath but in India, where it's found in the babchi plant commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine. "Bakuchiol is clinically proven to rebuild new collagen, to reduce lines and wrinkles, to even skin tone and fade hyperpigmentation," Henriksen says. "It reduces the look of open pores, resurfaces, smooths skin, firms, and promotes elasticity."
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But what actually makes bakuchiol superior to retinol, Henriksen says, is that it's gentle and even soothing to the skin, rather than sensitizing, and it can be used safely during pregnancy — unlike retinol and other retinoids, which OB/GYNs recommend avoiding. "What's great is that it comes from this medicinal plant with these amazing properties," he says.
One other thing that bakuchiol has over retinol: It is purple. Like the pale-purple flowers of the babchi plant, the Glow Cycle Retin-ALT Power Serum and Goodnight Glow Retin-ALT Sleeping Crème are a pastel lilac shade that is both entirely natural and undeniably pleasing to the eye. "That's just the color of the plant," Henriksen says (though he couldn’t resist adding a touch of pearl to the serum to impart an instant glow).
While the initial clinical study on bakuchiol's benefits was published five years ago in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, it's taken until recently for the ingredient to trickle down to the mainstream. And has it ever: In addition to Henriksen's line, which launched under a year ago, numerous other brands at every price point have since chosen to incorporate the potentially industry-disrupting phytochemical into their newer formulations. With that revelation, adding bakuchiol to your life is about to become a lot easier.
Pronouncing it, however, is a different story. Unlike eureka, the word doesn't quite roll off the tongue. Henriksen says it phonetically: "buh-koo-chee-all." Others say "back-uh-heel." Either way works, but you'd better commit it to memory; before long, you'll be all but ready to run through the streets naked to spread the word.
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