facetheory retinol alternatives

These Plant-Based Retinol Alternatives Deliver Next-Level Glow — & Are Made For Sensitive Skin

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by Claire Epting

All my life, I’ve had sensitive skin. Thanks to regular dermatologist visits — supplemented by my own trial and error — I’ve pretty much figured out what my skin likes... or, rather, what it doesn’t like. Now, there have been a few times when I’ve almost pulled the trigger and added a retinol product to my online shopping cart, but the thought of peeling, irritated skin —which retinol can sometimes cause — makes me change my mind every time. Still, I’m well-aware that the skin-care industry has crowned retinol the gold standard active ingredient when it comes to targeting fine lines, acne, and dark spots, and I sometimes covet the glow it offers. That’s why I was thrilled to hear about Facetheory — a U.K.-based skin-care company that offers a wealth of retinol alternatives that provide the same collagen-boosting, skin-firming benefits — without the potential risks that traditional retinol entails.

What Is Retinol Good For? And Why You Might Want To Consider Other Options

If you’re not familiar with retinol, here’s a rundown: It’s a chemical derivative of vitamin A, and when applied topically, it stimulates skin cell turnover, which, in turn, boosts collagen and elastin production, reduces the appearance of wrinkles, evens out skin tone, and prevents breakouts. While retinol works wonders for many people, it’s infamous for its potential to dry out and irritate skin, even it it’s not sensitive to begin with. Beyond those side effects of retinol, this potent ingredient can make your face more vulnerable to UV rays — if you’ve ever picked up a bottle of retinol, you’ve likely seen the warnings to avoid sun exposure while using the product. All of this adds up to a delicate balancing act — which is why it’s worth considering alternatives.

Wait, Do Facetheory’s Plant-Based Retinol Alternatives Actually Work?

I was genuinely curious: Are there natural active compounds that can actually compare to retinol’s powerhouse effects? It turns out it could be. Facetheory utilizes naturally derived ingredients that provide remarkably similar benefits to retinol, albeit without the annoying side effects — and there’s research to back it up.

Whether you’re looking for a retinol alternative that’s gentle enough for even sensitive skin, or are interested in switching to a plant-based skin-care routine (or both!), Facetheory offers several vegan, cruelty-free products using science-backed active ingredients

Shop Facetheory’s Retinol Alternatives For Sensitive Skin

Facetheory’s website is stocked with a wide range of products to treat a variety of skin-care concerns. Here are three formulas that are specifically formulated to improve texture, reduce breakouts, and promote collagen production — just like retinol:

Balancing Rosehip Oil: To Improve Texture & Regulate Oil Production

What it does:

  • Promotes skin regeneration overnight
  • Improves texture & brightens
  • Hydrates & regulates oil production in acne-prone skin

Ethically sourced from Bulgaria, Facetheory’s cold-pressed rosehip oil is packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and fatty acids. Fortified with hydrating vitamin E, the gentle formula deeply conditions dry skin, while also soothing inflammation and redness. Simply warm two drops of oil between your palms and apply to the face and neck, either on its own or underneath your favorite moisturizer.

The science behind this retinol alternative: Rosehip oil is produced by extracting the oil of the rosehip fruit, and contains two types of fatty acids, which help reinforce your skin’s walls to lock in moisture. Like retinol, it also contains vitamin A, which accelerates skin cell turnover and boosts collagen production for a complexion that’s smooth and firm. In addition, rosehip oil is also rich in antioxidant-packed ingredients like skin-brightening vitamin C and moisturizing vitamin E, both of which can help even out your complexion while protecting skin from the damaging effects of free radicals.

Enthusiastic review: “This oil is simply fantastic…it’s not greasy, it does not clog my pores and it has improved my skin after a bad breakout caused by my hormonal acne. I use it in the evening and I wake up in the morning with a very soft, smooth and gradually cleaner skin. It’s still early to evaluate the effect on my acne scars but I'm very confident!”

Bakuloronic Moisturizer: To Promote Collagen Production & Add Deep Hydration

What it does:

  • Binds water to the skin to improve moisture barrier
  • Stimulates collagen production
  • Reduces dark spots & evens out tone
  • Absorbs oil & controls shine

Reap the skin-strengthening benefits of one of the best bakuchiol products with this moisturizer that stimulates collagen production and evens out your skin tone. It’s formulated with hyaluronic acid — which binds moisture to the skin — as well as nourishing argan oil and shea butter. Vitamin C acts as a skin-brightening agent, working to reduce hyperpigmentation and provide an all-over glow. The addition of rice starch works to absorb oil and control shine, making this moisturizer a great pick for those with oily or combination skin. A little of this highly concentrated product goes a long way, absorbing quickly into your skin.

The science behind this retinol alternative: Utilized for centuries in Chinese medicine, bakuchiol is a biologically active ingredient found in plants derived from the babchi plant. Bakuchiol is rich in antioxidants, fighting free radical damage and helping skin maintain a smooth texture over time. It also boosts collagen production, which helps restore firmness. Bakuchiol has been proven to reduce wrinkle surface area and hyperpigmentation just as well as retinol — and bakuchiol users reported less skin scaling and tingling than retinol users. Another benefit of bakuchiol? Unlike retinol, it doesn’t increase your skin’s sensitivity to UV rays

Enthusiastic review: “I love this cream. I had a damaged skin barrier from previous overuse of retinol and other actives, so I simplified my routine and added this in the evenings in place of an exfoliating serum/active. I applied it after cleansing my face and using a hydrating serum, and after a week or so my skin looked brighter and felt healthier.”

Relaxing Night Cream: To Soften Lines & Boost Elasticity

What it does:

  • Soothes & hydrates dry, irritated skin
  • Promotes collagen production and cellular regeneration overnight
  • Strengthens your skin’s moisture barrier

This night cream is formulated to soothe and repair your skin while you sleep. Infused with botanically sourced melatonin, hydrating vitamin E, and the lipopeptide known as ChroNOline, the cream reinforces your skin’s structure and promotes cellular regeneration while stimulating the production of collagen. Shea butter extract works to strengthen the skin’s barrier, while rice bran oil keeps your face hydrated overnight. There are two options available — one with a soothing lavender scent, and an unscented version for particularly sensitive skin.

The science behind this retinol alternative: ChroNOline is a lipopeptide that helps stimulate production of collagen, which promotes skin plumpness and firmness. A clinical trial showed that ChroNOline has the power to reduce fine lines and wrinkles after just 28 days of use, so you don’t have to wait too long to see results. It also encourages the skin’s natural repair process, which can reduce acne scars over time. ChroNOline is gentle on mature and sensitive skin, making it a great retinol alternative.

Enthusiastic review: “I've got combination, acne prone skin, sometimes super dry and irritated and sometimes extremely oily. I am shocked that this cream is so good for my skin and hasn't clogged my pores at all. I only use it before bed and it feels very very rich so I only use a little bit but I wake up with extremely moisturized skin and to my surprise way less spots and irritation.”

Commitment To Sustainability

Facetheory is dedicated to reducing their environmental impact on the planet. Most of their products are available in amber glass jars or recyclable aluminum tubes. Each order is packed with biodegradable materials inside a recycled cardboard box, and Facetheory avoids splitting your deliveries into multiple packages to reduce their carbon footprint.

Shop More Facetheory Products

Studies Referenced:

Dhaliwal, S., Rybak, I., Ellis, S.R., Notay, M., Trivedi, M., Burney, W., Vaughn, A.R., Nguyen, M., Reiter, P., Bosanac, S., Yan, H., Foolad, N., Sivamani, R.K., (2019, February). Prospective, randomized, double-blind assessment of topical bakuchiol and retinol for facial photoageing. Retrieved from