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The Retinol Controversy

The Retinol Controversy

There's a debate in the beauty world over 'botanical retinol', 'plant-based retinol' and 'phyto-retinol' vs man-made retinol, how are you supposed to know the difference? 

While using the term plant-based retinol infers that it will deliver the same results as synthetic retinol - it is not exactly the same.

It’s a little known fact that vitamin A (which converts to retinoic acid) is something that naturally exists in plants, whereas synthetic retinol is modeled after the vitamin A that already exists in said plants.
Plant derived retinol is not the same molecule as man-made retinol, but the function is definitely similar.

Even better, plant based ‘retinol’ is known to be gentler while still efficacious!

Gentle, but powerful.

While a benefit of synthetic retinol may be that it gives you a higher concentration, that may not be what you and your skin want! 
Some people are known to experience sensitivity (redness and irritation) with the synthetic version, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad for everyone! It’s also important to keep in mind that anyone can react to anything, and that includes plant-based ingredients too*.

*That's why we always recommend patch testing first.

Which is best for YOU?

In terms of personal preference - some prefer their skin care ingredients to come from a plant and some will prefer that they come from a test tube. No judgement here. There’s room for both of these options in the retinol playground. 

Both items are known to be ‘clean’, and while it is possible to have a reaction or experience sensitivity to both plant-based and synthetic ingredients, making a choice between the 2 becomes a personal preference.

Clearly, we have a personal liking for ingredients that come from plants and superfoods at Graydon but we also want to give you the information you need to make an educated unbiased opinion yourself!

So, Bakuchiol...

The current darling of the botanical ‘retinol’ world is a buzzy plant derived extract called bakuchiol which is an Ayurvedic plant which has been used for centuries to effectively treat skin ailments such as vitiligo, leprosy and psoriasis. 

Well documented research shows very promising results in its ability to boost collagen, elasticity, firmness and reduce the appearance of wrinkles. 

Bakuchiol may be trending for its incredible ability to mimic the gene expression achieved by high concentration vitamin A available through synthetic retinol but it’s important to remember that this extraordinary medicinal plant has been used for over a thousand years throughout Asia. 

The list of ailments that have been treated and cured by this plant is extensive. The motivation and excitement for formulators and brands to use bakuchiol is that it produces the results so many people have desired but are not able to obtain from retinol because of the sensitivity. 

The fact that it’s extracted from a plant is a bonus but the overriding factor is that it’s an effective alternative to synthetic retinol.  

Over the years there have been numerous (1,2) studies on bakuchiol to further understand its ability to treat a variety of skin conditions and other ailments.  

There are a lot more studies on synthetic retinol, of course, given that cosmeceutical companies have a lot to gain from the studies, as there is an infinite supply and a lot of financial motivation.


When it comes to sourcing Bakuchiol sustainably, that is of paramount importance. 

Bakuchiol is grown in India is well regulated and grown in full compliance with regulatory bodies. Bakuchiol seeds from the babchi plant are collected in such a way that does not disrupt or endanger the plant while biodiversity authorities work closely with the economically vulnerable rural farmers who rely heavily on this source of income. 

Through fair trade and educational initiatives, the sustainable and ethical harvesting of this plant ensures both the preservation of the farmer’s livelihood and the plant itself. The plant is not harvested or damaged.

A final word

At the end of the day the choice is up to you and there is role for both ingredients in the competitive world of green and clean beauty. 

If you’re looking for a cream or a serum that offers you all the benefits of botanical retinol (we're talking increased collagen production, reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, reducing acne, and more) look no further than our Green Cream and Fullmoon Serum (made with another retinol-alternative).

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