Bidens Pilosa: The Next Big Retinol Alternative

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It’s not hard to consider skin care one our favorite sports, with our extensive product ranges and well-practiced techniques. In this game, for the longest time, retinol has been the clear MVP, touted for the way it tackles everything from pimples to hyperpigmentation. The research that has supported its hall-of-fame status is extensive. “It goes back before my time – before I was even born,” says Vancouver-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Monica Li.

Recent trends have seen skincare brands appoint new stars to compete with retinol. Following in the steps of 2020 ‘it’ ingredient bakuchiol, bidens pilosa is the latest plant-based retinol alternative promising to deliver all of retinol’s big benefits – without the familiar drawbacks like peeling and redness.

Alternative is the key word. These naturally-derived ingredients aren’t actually retinol, nor do they have a similar chemical composition. Bidens pilosa, unlike most retinol that is synthesized in a laboratory, is extracted from plants. This makes it an attractive option for natural skin-care enthusiasts. It’s safe to use during pregnancy, and while breastfeeding, unlike real retinol. Talk to your doctor before you use it. However, can bidens pilosa still deliver the same stellar results despite all the hype?

clear glass bottle on white wooden round table

What is bidens pilosa, you ask?

The plant itself is actually a weed that grows in tropical and subtropical regions, and is sometimes referred to as black-jack or, in Portuguese, picao preto. You can find its extract across bareMinerals’ new Ageless Phyto-Retinol collection, as well as Goop Beauty’s GoopGenes All-In-One Nourishing Face Cream and Eye Cream, and Juice Beauty’s Stem Cellular Anti-Wrinkle Retinol Overnight Serum, the latter which aims to deliver dual benefits by pairing traditional retinol with bidens pilosa extract – a way to potentially ramp up results without increasing irritation.

In a way, the newest bidens polosa potion is also one of its oldest. REN Clean Skincare has added Youth serum to its Bio Retinoid product line in September. This line has been a star for bidens pilosa ever since it was launched back in 2011. The brand sources the ingredient sustainably from a supplier in Brazil, where it is hand-harvested and extracted.

What are the advantages of bidens pilosa

Dr. Li says that although people are now trying to determine if bidens pilosa could be used in a skin-care product and it is, historically, in many non-Western countries, it has been eaten for its expected health advantages.” It may be antimicrobial, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory.

Camille Poggi is REN’s scientific educator manager. She explains that bidens – pilosa extract has something called phytanic, which activates the same receptor as retinol. It activates the receptor and increases collagen and elastin production, which makes skin firmer. Also, it reduces inflammation and helps to control pigmentation. It does this without irritation, unlike retinol. Poggi says, “It’s like opening the lock with a new key.”

These benefits are important for people with sensitive skin, particularly those who have eczema and rosacea. Dr. Li suggests a patch test to ensure that there are no irritations from plant-based ingredients. You don’t need to use retinol for long periods of time if your skin is comfortable with it. The other advantage is that you can use it day or night – and even with traditional retinol if necessary. Poggi says that there is no contraindication to the ingredient because it targets the exact same pathway, but not with the identical molecule. Therefore it will not overwhelm the skin.

What are the findings of studies on bidens pilosa

Dr. Li says that studies have been limited so far. Researchers in a 2015 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine applied bidens pilosa directly to cells taken from excess eyelid skin removed during plastic surgery. Dr. Li says that although it is early and lab-based, the research suggests that bidens may improve the skin environment that supports collagen and elastin. These are skin-plumping proteins, which can become less effective as we age. Keeping them in check could have serious benefits for our skin. We know that collagen and elastin quality decreases as we age.

Although it’s a positive step forward, Dr. Li says that petri-dish experiments are not always the best way to find out the truth. Even the study’s authors acknowledge this, and call for more research. It’s difficult to know if preliminary laboratory results can be applied to real-world settings. Because if an ingredient is in a skin-care product it will be very different from if you study it on skin cells and cultures.

Brands are now doing their research. The brand conducted a four-week clinical trial for its new Bio serum. It reported that the brand saw an 18.2% drop in wrinkle depth at the end of the study. It’s a small difference considering we’re talking millimeters. However, 86% of participants felt their skin looked younger.

Dr. Li believes that bidens pilosa is a new ingredient and needs more research to recommend it to her patients.

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