If You're Scared to Try Retinol, These 15 Products Are Great Gentle Alternatives

When it comes to the hierarchy of powerhouse skincare ingredients, retinol reigns supreme. Everyone from beauty editors to dermatologists swears by its transformational results. You see, unlike so many other buzzy ingredients that aim to reduce the signs of skin ageing, retinol is one of the few that is actually proven to work in scientific studies. 

Working to increase cell turnover and promote collagen and elastin production, retinol does everything from smoothing fine lines and texture to reducing the appearance of blemishes and pigmentation. But the truth is that retinol isn’t an ingredient for the faint-hearted. Any ingredient that works to increase cell turnover in the way that retinol does is sure to come with some caveats.

In short, retinol can prove irritating and isn’t a feasible option for many. “Traditional retinol can potentially cause irritation in the form of dryness, redness and flaking, especially in those with sensitive skin,” says Joyce Park, MD, BareMinerals global dermatology ambassador. Even those who have skin types deemed more tolerant should slowly build up their retinol usage to avoid upset. On top of this, retinol products should be avoided if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

So what’s the answer? Well, the bad news is that those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or have sensitive skin won’t be able to truly embrace the wonders of retinol. The good news, however, is that there are other options out there in the form of plant-based ingredients that deliver similar results (note that results are only similar, not identical) to retinol without any of the nasty irritation. These are the best retinol alternatives you should have on your radar.

Bidens Pilosa

Also known as blackjack, Spanish needle and picão preto, Bidens pilosa is a plant that is believed to give retinol-esque results when formulated in skincare products. While treating signs of ageing, it also helps to calm the skin and boost luminosity. “It’s a plant-based alternative that is much kinder to the skin. It can help with both ageing and existing signs of ageing, such as wrinkles and dullness of the skin,” says Park.

Shop Products Containing Bidens Pilosa

Formulated with hyaluronic acid and protein peptides, this lightweight concentrate promises to reduce the appearance of fine lines and even skin tone in just one week. Plus, it delivers instant plumping hydration.

Skin naturally on the drier side? This deeply nourishing skin paste will help keep skin moisturised while also plumping and smoothing fine lines. Plus, the aluminum tube is fully and infinitely recyclable.

If you like your evening skincare products to come with a bit of spa-like luxury, this oily serum could be just the ticket. Whereas traditional retinol products tend to lack sensorial luxury, this stuff contains a blend of Bidens pilosa extract to plump and smooth as well as a blend of oils rich in omegas and vitamins to strengthen the skin barrier.

With both Bidens pilosa and red algae extract for firmer, soothed, lifted and smoother skin, this moisturiser really does do it all. Besides containing a great formula, the plastic bottle is made from Infinity Recycling technology, which allows the plastic to be recycled infinitely.


Chances are you’ve already heard of this stuff. For the past few years, bakuchiol has been dubbed nature’s retinol by just about every skincare brand around. The truth is, however, that the two ingredients do have some key differences. While bakuchiol, like retinol, is thought to increase collagen production and boost cell turnover, it has a much gentler nature.

“Bakuchiol is a newcomer antioxidant, which is a perfect alternative to retinol for anti-ageing purposes because it is easier to tolerate by sensitive and reactive skin types,” says Anahita Mansouri, aesthetic doctor at Kat & Co. It is also deemed safe for use during pregnancy.

Shop Products Containing Bakuchiol

If it’s a youthful glow you’re after, this rich night cream is worth taking a look at. Not only does it contain bakuchiol to target fine lines, but it is also formulated with AHAs to exfoliate and boost glow while it works.

With bakuchiol to boost collagen production, reduce pigmentation and increase skin elasticity, this little serum really delivers. As well as that, it contains an impressive dose of squalane to keep skin healthy and nourished.

Along with bakuchiol, this super-light but powerful serum contains a whole bunch of other antioxidants and vitamins to leave even the most sensitive of skin types plumped and nourished.

Ideal for those with skin that’s prone to congestion, this cooling gel serum is formulated with PHAs (polyhydroxy acids) to offer super-gentle exfoliation that really works. Expect seriously smooth, glowing skin.

This super-nourishing face oil is formulated with a plethora of natural oils that deliver hydration and moisture, while bakuchiol targets uneven skin texture, pigmentation and fine lines. 

Rose-Hip Oil

You’d be forgiven if you have previously disregarded rose-hip oil as just another unnecessary oily “hydrator.” Truthfully, most rose-hip oil products don’t market themselves as well as they could. Far from just your average glow-boosting oil, rose-hip oil is actually really quite powerful.

Skin expert Jane Scrivner explains, “Rose-hip oil is chock-full of vitamin C and is rich in beta carotene, which is an excellent source of trans-retinoic acid, a natural form of vitamin A. It encourages cell turnover and reparation, making it a wonderful and powerful alternative to retinol.”

Shop Products Containing Rose-Hip Oil

Considered one of the very best rose-hip facial oils around, this stuff combats dryness, pigmentation, dullness and fine lines without feeling claggy.

As with most things The Ordinary touches, this is a great affordable option. It sinks into skin without leaving behind any sticky greasiness.

Another iconic rose-hip oil, this stuff feels rich, nourishing and spa-like, making it the ultimate last step in any evening skincare routine.

Containing a blend of organic oils, this bottle of joy contains uplifting essential oils like geranium, orange, lemon and bergamot to set the senses alight as well as rose-hip oil to treat a whole array of skin concerns.


A new addition to Elemis's renowned pro-collagen range, this cutting-edge serum offers retinol-like results (we're talking a reduction in the appearance of fine lines and a more even, clarified complexion) using an infusion of Padina pavonica, red microalgae and alfalfa and stevia extracts. The best thing about it though is how glowy it leaves skin.

This stuff aims to deliver similar skin-smoothing, line-reducing, glow-boosting results to retinol products, just without any of the potential irritation. With vitamin C to boost radiance and provide antioxidant benefits, hyaluronic acid to plump, microalgae molecules to improve skin density and patchouli to reduce redness, it's an impressive all-rounder.