Should I use Retinol or Bakuchiol if I have Melasma? A Dermatologist Weighs In
Now that the warm summer months are becoming a distant memory for many of us, one major focus in my office is on hyperpigmentation that’s still lingering on my patients’ skin into the winter months. Specifically, melasma, also called the “pregnancy mask”, is common and can be incredibly frustrating.
Melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation which is characterized by dark brown or gray-brown patches of skin on your cheeks, forehead, upper lip, or along the lower cheeks and jawline. My patients often describe it as having the appearance of “paint splatter” on their skin. The excess pigment can be in the upper layers of your skin, or the deeper layers, or both. If you have excess pigment in the deeper layers, that can be much more challenging to treat.
A question I’ve been getting all the time on this subject is: Should I use retinol or bakuchiol if I have melasma?
Whereas retinol can be a bit of a diva in that it can be an irritant. Anyone who has tried a retinol has been there: you use it liberally for a few nights in a row and think: “No big deal! What’s all the fuss? My skin is doing fine.” Then, about 4-5 days in, you find your regular moisturizer that you use all the time is making you red, blotchy and stings like crazy when you apply it. Then, you start to see the flakes, and you officially have a full blown case of “retinoid dermatitis!”
The new kid on the block, bakuchiol, is not irritating in the same way, and has been found to actually help soothe irritated skin! When compared to retinol, bakuchiol is also very effective at reducing hyperpigmentation. This is so important because we know that irritation can actually exacerbate your melasma, making it worse. So although retinoids are so great at lightning the skin, it was always a delicate balance between getting the benefits without creating inflammation which we know could set melasma patients back.
Now, we don’t have the same mountain of evidence for bakuchiol as we do for retinol because bakuchiol is so new on the scene, but the studies I’ve seen have been very, very promising and exciting on this front.
Also, bakuchiol is a great option for hyperpigmentation/melasma patients because it is not photosensitizing, meaning it won’t make your skin more susceptible to sun damage. Many retinol products, in contrast, are best used at night because they can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.
Third, bakuchiol acts as an antioxidant, which is very beneficial for melasma patients given that oxidative stress and free radicals contribute to melasma.
Finally, pregnancy and nursing often coincide with melasma (also known as the “pregnancy mask”), but we do not recommend use of retinol if you are pregnant or nursing. So, bakuchiol is a great option to help dial down melasma while you are pregnant or nursing.
Here are some of my favorite bakuchiol products:
Herbivore Botanicals Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Serum –-very lightweight, easily layers under your moisturizer.
You guys have asked so many great questions about melasma, so keep ‘em coming!