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Natural retinol alternatives

  • 4 min read

While hailed as a wonder skincare ingredient by many, some people find that retinol is too harsh on their skin. The benefits of retinol are undeniable, but if it causes irritation, those benefits don’t matter much. Because of this, more people are turning to natural retinol alternatives to reap the benefits without the irritation. 

We’ve previously covered the differences between the similar-sounding, retin-A, retinol and retinal – all falling under the umbrella term of retinoids. 

Is retinol natural?

Retinol is a natural form of vitamin A that can be both found in nature or created synthetically in a laboratory. Retinol can also be found in animal products such as liver or dairy products. Retinol found in skincare products can be derived from nature or produced synthetically, but is rarely derived from animal products. 

As retinol is a natural form of the vitamin A, strictly speaking, all forms of retinol are natural. However, some retinol products will then have non-natural components added to the formula. The term natural retinol often refers to retinol that is not produced synthetically or derived from animal products, rather being derived from plant sources. 

What is the best natural alternative to retinol?

When considering natural or vegan retinol alternatives, there are several different options to try. It’s important to take care to ensure that the other ingredients in products containing vegan retinol alternatives are also plant-based and match your ethics. 

1. Bakuchiol

Probably the most well known retinol alternative is bakuchiol, often referred to as the natural alternative to retinol. This ingredient is derived from the seeds of the babchi plant which grows throughout many regions in India and some regions in China and Southern Africa.

Bakuchiol is the ingredient of choice for many people because of its anti-inflammatory properties and also its ability to reduce redness. It is known to reduce hyperpigmentation and is a strong antioxidant, meaning the ingredient helps to protect your skin against the damage of free radicals. 

Find out more about the skincare benefits of bakuchiol, mixing skincare ingredients with bakuchiol and the ethical considerations around the ingredient with our ingredient spotlight on bakuchiol.

2. Rosehip oil

Rosehip oil, sometimes known as Rosa Canina oil, is derived from the pressed seeds and fruit of the rose plant. The ingredient is naturally rich in antioxidants, helping to support healthy skin. A common active ingredient in skincare, rosehip oil works to reduce hyperpigmentation and scarring of the skin, as well as soothe irritation and inflammation. 

Another reason why rosehip oil is included in various skincare products is because the ingredient contains linoleic acid, a fatty acid. Fatty acids make up the base of ceramides, which help to improve the skin’s complexion and deeply hydrate the skin by preventing water from escaping. 

Our ingredient spotlight on rosehip oil discusses all you need to know about this natural retinol alternative, including the benefits of the ingredient and how to use it. 

Product picks: rosehip oil can be found in all of our vegan coffee face scrubs – Floral Blend for Sensitive Skin, Citrus Blend for Dry Skin and Herbal Blend for Acne – as well as in our Organic Face Serum and Night Cream.

3. Carrot seed oil

Derived from the Daucus Carota plant, carrot seed oil is a rich natural source of vitamin A. An effective antioxidant – many colourful vegetables are rich in antioxidants – carrot seed oil has an abundance of the powerful antioxidant carotenoids

Helping to fight off free radicals and damage from environmental stressors, as well as an added hit of vitamin C, carrot seed oil is a great vegan alternative to retinol that can be incorporated into your skincare routine. 

4. Rosemary extract

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) extract is also used as a natural alternative to retinol, largely due to its strong antioxidant properties and ability to nourish the skin. The ingredient has been found to be a strong anti-inflammatory agent as well as being antibacterial, helping to soothe inflamed and acne-prone skin. 

Product picks: rosemary extract or rosemary leaf oil can be found in many of our products, including: Eye Cream with Hyaluronic Acid, Cleansing Balm, Charcoal Face Mask, our NEW Shampoo Crème  and in two of our facial scrubs – Floral Blend for Sensitive Skin and Herbal Blend for Acne.

5. Sea buckthorn oil

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae Rhamnoides) oil is another plant-based retinol alternative to consider. It is rich in vitamins A, C and E and carotenoids – surprisingly containing 15 times more vitamin C than in orange fruits. 

This ingredient is rich in antioxidants which helps to protect against free radical damage and harmful UVA and UVB damage. The skin benefits you can expect with sea buckthorn oil include: a more even skin tone and deeply moisturised skin due to the linoleic acid in the ingredient. 

Product pick: you can reap the benefits of sea buckthorn oil in our Cleansing Face Balm with Oat Oil & Vitamin E.

Retinol alternative for acne

Some people using retinol products find that they are too irritating on their skin, especially if they have active breakouts or a facial skin condition. While some people simply cannot tolerate retinol, many find that using retinol less frequently helps to mitigate these effects. However, if you struggle with acne, this likely isn’t going to be effective. 

Our award-winning Herbal Blend Coffee Face Scrub is formulated especially for acne-prone skin and packed full of skin-loving ingredients. Containing the plant-based retinol alternatives rosehip oil and rosemary extract, this facial exfoliator helps to gently buff away dead skin cells to reveal smoother, newer skin. 

Alternative to retinol for sensitive skin

Most people with sensitive skin will steer well clear of retinol in fear that the ingredient will be too harsh on their skin. Using a natural retinol alternative rather than retinol in your skincare can help to give your skin the boost it needs without damaging your sensitive skin. 

Opt for our Gentle Facial Cleansing Balm which contains the antioxidant-rich sea buckthorn oil and rosemary extract, as well as our fan-favourite Organic Face Serum with Coffee Oil which is rich in rosehip oil for a vegan retinol alternative.


At UpCircle, we take pride in upcycling ingredients that would otherwise go to waste and are certified vegan, cruelty-free, plastic negative and B-corp. Discover our full range of organic and cruelty-free skincare products at UpCircle.