This ‘Skin Hero’ Serum Has a Derm-Beloved Ingredient That Gives You All the Benefits of Retinol Without the Bad Stuff

Photo: Getty Images/LAW Ho Ming
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I’ve got a confession. I’m in my forties and don’t use retinol. Shocking, I know, but I’ve always been hesitant about officially adding it to my skin-care routine and having to deal with the so-called “retinol uglies” (aka, "skin purging," which is basically when your skin breaks out before it gets better).

It’s not like I haven’t been curious about the ingredient, especially when some of the most renowned dermatologists and beauty brand founders I’ve interviewed have told me that retinol would “change my life.” Still, I wasn’t convinced enough to fully commit. But there is a similar ingredient that piqued my interest, since it came out on the market a few years ago. It’s bakuchiol, a natural retinol alternative that’s also the star ingredient of the new Three Ships Beauty Bakuchiol + Bio-Retinol Serum ($30), which launched November 4.

How it works

The serum promises to reduce wrinkles and breakouts while evening out skin tone, thanks to a plant-powered combo featuring bakuchiol, which is derived from the Babchi plant. Over the past few years, bakuchiol has been popping up in many beauty products due to the parallel benefits it has with retinol, which, for many skin-care aficionados, is a superhero. "“Bakuchiol works as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, so it’s also ideal for those who suffer from dry, sensitive skin and can’t tolerate a retinol," New York City dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, previously told us. Engelman added, " Plus, the antibacterial properties of bakuchiol mean that it’s great for those with acne and oily skin."

For the uninformed, retinol can reduce and prevent skin conditions such as fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and dull complexion while also regulating oily skin, fighting acne, and improving texture. Though it’s frequently incorporated into products that target aging signs, retinol has proven to be beneficial to a wide variety of skin types. (No wonder it’s a big deal in the beauty community.)

But, as evidenced by the aforementioned “retinol uglies,” it’s not without its cons. Because it’s so powerful, retinol can cause irritation, dryness, flaky skin, and acne when you first begin to use it. It can also make your skin more sensitive to UV rays, so staying out of the sun and being consistent with SPF use (as you should always be) is imperative. That’s why bakuchiol makes for a great alternative.

According to a clinical study from 2014, bakuchiol showed “significant improvement in lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, firmness and overall reduction in photo-damage.” Even better? You don’t get all the annoying side effects that you might have with traditional retinol, and it doesn’t increase sensitivity to UV rays (though, again, you should always use daily sun protection).

My honest thoughts

Aside from bakuchiol, the Three Ships Beauty Bakuchiol + Bio-Retinol Serum contains the antioxidant-rich calendula, which soothes and firms the skin, as well as rosehip extract, which can also help lighten dark spots. When I tested the serum, I did what the brand suggests, and used it every other day at first. I was already impressed with the formula. I’m not a big fan of oils, so I really liked that the consistency felt more like a lightweight moisturizer or eye cream. The scent was also super light, but nice and slightly citrusy.

marie lodi three ships

As far as what it did to my skin: I immediately noticed that my texture was smoother. I had been dealing with a little bit of roughness around my mouth due to the weather getting colder, and it was gone after a couple of days. I also saw less redness around my nose and mouth, but not so much of a difference with fine lines or wrinkles (then again, disclaimer: I have Botox) and improvement in dark spots, but I know that with any product that targets hyperpigmentation, it can take a while to see any changes and I tested the product for a little over a week.

Still, I love how smooth my skin feels, and am excited to see how it works over the next few weeks. Bottom line: Whether you’re like me and are not ready to try a traditional retinol, or you have sensitive skin but want the benefits of retinol, bakuchiol is the way to go, and Three Ships Beauty Bakuchiol + Bio-Retinol Serum is the ideal product to get you there.

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Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

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