Bidens Pilosa Is the Retinol Alternative You're About to See Everywhere

And for good reason, too. Here, everything you need to know about the plant-based retinol, according to skin-care experts.

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While the list of skin-care MVPs can often feel as long as a CVS receipt, odds are you'll always find retinol at the top. After all, the ingredient — which is a derivative of vitamin A — is often considered by dermatologists and skin-care aficionados alike to be the gold standard for cell turnover and collagen production. However, the powerful anti-ager has some drawbacks: irritation, redness, flaky skin, and sun sensitivity. So over the last few years, retinol-mimicking ingredients, aka bio-retinols, have become increasingly more popular (think: bakuchiol).

And now, it seems that one plant-based, retinol-esque ingredient, in particular, is stealing the spotlight one skin-care product at a time: bidens pilosa.

Despite its science-y sounding name, though, the appeal of bidens pilosa is quite simple: It boasts an ability to plump skin for a more youthful appearance without the potential side-effects of the real stuff (aka traditional retinol). So do the effects really rival those of retinol? Ahead, everything you need to know about bidens pilosa.

What Is Bidens Pilosa?

Bidens pilosa (aka black-jack) is actually a weed that's believed to have originated in South America but now grows across the globe in tropical and temperate regions, according to a 2013 research article. While it was traditionally used in teas and herbal medicines, the plant's recently found its way into skin-care products thanks to its purported anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties, says Connecticut-based dermatologist Mona Gohara, M.D.

Many brands are adding the plant to their formulas to help with skin texture, firmness, as well as the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, says David Delport, global brand ambassador for REN Clean Skincare. Since bio-retinols come from a plant source, when harvested ethically, they can be a sustainable choice, says Delport. There are many factors that go into ethically sourced ingredients: the distance the crop needs to travel to be manufactured, the method of extracting the needed components, and the location of the crop site, to name a few. It's also important to note that bidens pilosa is a weed that grows freely across the globe, "it is not under any threat of over-harvesting," explains Delport.

And these efficacious botanicals may just be the future of actives in skin care. "It is likely that a multitude of botanicals have medicinal or therapeutic benefits. It's just a matter of discovering them and gathering the science to prove it," adds Dr. Gohara. (See also: New Botanical Skin-Care Products with Bakuchiol, CBD and Gotu Kola)

What Are the Benefits of Bidens Pilosa?

An exciting feature of bidens pilosa is that it contains something called phytanic acid, which is said to activate retinoid receptors in the skin, explains Dr. Gohara. "This, in turn, increases collagen and elastin production in the skin." Quick refresher: Both types of proteins provide structure and firmness to your skin and, in turn, play a major role in your skin's youthful appearance. More specifically, elastin is what gives your skin elasticity and collagen is what holds it all together.

What's so great about bidens pilosa, in particular, is that it can help keep these two structural proteins strong and supple (and, in turn, your skin firm) without irritation. This can be especially major for those with sensitive skin, as retinol is somewhat notorious for causing redness, peeling, burning, or itching if not used carefully (read: jumping to prescription-strength versions) or on sensitive skin, Debra Jaliman, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, previously told Shape.

Also unlike retinol, bidens pilosa is not thought to cause photosensitivity. Meaning, it won't cause your skin to react more strongly to the sun if exposed while the ingredient is applied and, as such, can be used in both a.m. and p.m. routines, says Delport. Retinol, on the other hand, is typically relegated to nighttime applications. That being said, using twice a day doesn't necessarily mean twice the benefits, and if you use it in the morning, you should still slather on SPF (as you should do every day even if indoors, for that matter).

Another pro of bidens pilosa? It can be used during pregnancy (vs. retinol, which is on the no-no list), says Dr. Gohara. But it's always a good idea to check with your doctor before adding anything to your skin-care routine if you're expecting. (

Besides collagen and elastin production, bidens pilosa is believed to be able to intercept the production of free radicals (aka harmful molecules that, in excess, can cause cell damage), provide a soothing effect, control skin oiliness, and reduce hyperpigmentation, explains Delport. "But keep in mind a product formula and its benefits are much more complex than the action of a single ingredient."

It's important to note, though, that research on bidens pilosa and its potential benefits is, err, lacking. While a 2015 study found that the ingredient did find the ingredient to control human skin aging with retinoid-like activity, more research is needed to determine the significance of these results and how they compare to those of other bio-retinods (e.g. bakuchiol) and traditional retinoids.

Bidens Pilosa Skin-Care Products to Try

If sensitivity is an issue for you, then bidens pilosa might be worth a try. You might also want to consider giving the plant-based ingredient a go if you're using multiple products and want to play it safe (read: reduce risk of skin reactions) when introducing an anti-aging product, adds Delport.

Intrigued? Then know this: Applying bidens pilosa at night can mimic the natural reparative processes of the skin and "the right molecules at the right time will have the biggest impact," he says. (Rather stick with the traditional stuff? Here are the best retinol products for every skin type, according to derms.)

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REN Clean Skincare Bio-Retinoid Youth Serum

REN Clean Skincare Bio RetinoidYouth Serum

Known for being ahead of the curve when it comes to bio-retinols, clean beauty brand REN started using bidens pilosa in its serums back in 2011, says Delport.

This plant-based product in particular combines bidens pilosa with ceramides (aka naturally-occuring lipids or fats found in the outermost layer of your skin) to strengthen the skin barrier and niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3) to brighten and even tone — all while firming skin and reducing fine lines and wrinkles. It's an especially great choice for sensitive skin types looking for a pro-aging product, says Delport (who, again, is a global brand ambassador for REN).

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Goop Genes All-in-One Nourishing Eye Cream

goop GOOPGENES All-In-One Nourishing Eye Cream

The skin around your eyes is especially thin and delicate and may be more reactive to harsh ingredients, such as retinol. But you can still conquer fine lines and plump up your skin without running the risk of irritation thanks to this plant-based retinol(ish) eye cream.

Keep your heavy duty actives to the rest of your face, then use your ring finger to lightly tap a layer of this cream across your eyelid and under your eyes. Bidens pilosa teams up with squalane and ceramides to hydrate and strengthen the skin barrier while you minimize fine lines, says Dr. Gohara.

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Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Anti-Wrinkle Retinol Overnight Serum

Juice Beauty STEM CELLULAR Anti-Wrinkle Retinol Overnight Serum

With vitamin A (aka traditional retinol) and bio-retinol (e.g. bidens pilosa), this serum offers the best of both words when it comes to keeping skin supple. That is, of course, as long as your skin can tolerate retinol. "Having both retinol and bidens pilosa means more collagen building, and in this case, the more the merrier," says Dr. Gohara. The formula also helps to address dry, flaky skin by blending jojoba oil as well as coconut and shea butters ito the serum. Keep this product to evening-use only and remember to slather on sunscreen in the morning.

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Bare Minerals Ageless Phyto-Retinol Face Cream

bareMinerals Ageless Phyto-Retinol Face Cream

A top pick from Dr. Gohara, the Bare Minerals Ageless collection features a moisturizer (shown here) that draws on the powers of bidens pilosa to reduce fine lines and smooth uneven tone and texture. Each container of the rich cream is chock-full of the plant-based retinol as well as protein peptides to support the skin's natural collagen product and hyaluronic acid to hydrate even the dryest of skin.

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