And exactly why they can be game-changing anti-agers for your skin.

By Victoria Kirby and Erin Reimel
August 08, 2019
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woman wearing flower and leaf crown and using botanical skincare products with CBD, bakuchiol, and gotu kola
Credit: PeopleImages/Getty Images

Long before terms like vegan beauty and clean beauty were part of our vernacular, plant-based skin care was trending. Moroccan women in 12 BCE slathered their faces in argan oil to get a glow, and rose water was the secret to radiance in Turkey 2,000 years ago. Back then, the only proof of plants’ complexion-boosting powers was someone complimenting you on your skin.

Today, scientific data shows us that certain botanical ingredients can smooth wrinkles, fade spots, and repair damage. “Now that people want naturally sourced products, skin-care brands are more inclined to use these plant ingredients,” says New York City dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, M.D. And doctors are all for it.

“There’s a perception that dermatologists don’t like natural anti-agers, but we’re fans of any ingredient with proven results,” says Shape Brain Trust member Mona Gohara, M.D., a dermatologist in Connecticut.

Here are the latest botanical anti-agers to earn our experts’ enthusiastic green thumbs-up.

Bakuchiol for Fine Lines and Spots

Probably the most repeated quote by dermatologists: “Retinol is the gold standard anti-aging ingredient.” (Here, the retinol basics you need to know.)

But doctors also acknowledge that skin often can’t tolerate the notoriously irritating collagen booster. When a recent study published in the British Journal of Dermatology showed that a gentle, vegan, plant-derived ingredient called bakuchiol works as well as retinol at reducing lines, dark spots, and other signs of skin aging—without causing irritation—the skin-care industry noticed.

“It’s the breakout star of naturals,” says Dr. Gohara. “Before bakuchiol, there weren’t a lot of natural ingredients with scientifically backed antiaging claims. This is a game-changer.” Derived from the Indian babchi plant, “bakuchiol is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, and it’s an antioxidant,” says Dr. Gohara. “It’s actually a fundamental part of Ayurvedic medicine.” The ingredient has been used in cosmetic skin care for decades, but it was catapulted into the spotlight only recently, with research highlighting its antiaging powers. (Related: Meet Bakuchiol, the New "It" Anti-Aging Skin-Care Ingredient)

“We now know that bakuchiol triggers the same response from skin cells as retinol,” says Dr. Nazarian. “It increases cell turnover and boosts collagen and proteins, which helps smooth and prevent wrinkles, fade spots, and even out skin tone.” On top of being nonirritating, this natural wonder has some other prime advantages over retinol: “Bakuchiol is vegan and safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding,” says Dr. Nazarian, who still recommends checking with your doctor before starting a new product during pregnancy. “Plus, unlike retinol, the ingredient doesn’t make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, so you can apply it during the day.” (Related: The Best Retinol Products for Every Skin Type)

It seems the only area in which retinol outperforms bakuchiol is at treating acne. “But the ingredient is showing evidence of possibly improving breakouts,” says Dr. Nazarian. “It just hasn’t been studied fully enough.”

Left: Credit: Inkey List
Center: Credit: Herbivore
Right: Credit: Beauty Counter

Want to give it a try? Grab one of these editor-favorite bakuchiol skin-care products.

  • Beautycounter Countertime Mineral Boost Hydrating Essence: An essence is a key step in your routine (use it after cleansing and before your serum) because it helps deliver active ingredients deep into the skin for optimal results. This one has bakuchiol, which acts like retinol to fade dark spots and wrinkles without the irritating side effects. (Buy It, $59,
  • Herbivore Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Serum: The serum’s purple color comes from the babchi plant (a staple in Ayurvedic medicine) which produces bakuchiol. Pat it into skin to smooth fine lines while brightening with gently exfoliating Polyhydroxy Acids. (Buy It, $54,
  • The INKEY List Bakuchiol: This cream uses the power of naturally-derived bakuchiol to fight signs of aging while hydrating and protecting skin with moisturizing squalene. (Buy It, $10,

CBD Oil for Inflammation

If the number of CBD-infused beauty and wellness products out there has you feeling dazed and confused, we get it. The ingredient has made its way into everything from moisturizer to manicure oils, claiming to work all sorts of magic.

But experts say the buzz surrounding the ingredient’s skin benefits is legit. “Studies indicate that topically applied CBD oil can reduce inflammation,” says Ron Robinson, a cosmetic chemist in New York City and the founder of BeautyStat.

What exactly is it? CBD stands for cannabidiol, an active compound found in the two cannabis plants, hemp, and marijuana. CBD oil is derived from hemp. It’s not an illegal substance under federal law, and it will not get you high (that’s THC, a different cannabis compound). The oil has been used topically for ages as a natural pain reliever, and recently CBD has been examined for its role as an anti-inflammatory. Two anecdotal studies (not performed on people)—one published in 2014 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation and the other in 2016 in Experimental Dermatology—found that applying CBD oil to the skin helps reduce inflammation. These studies examined how this relates to controlling acne and eczema, not skin aging, but “an ingredient that helps control inflammation can potentially help with skin aging,” says Dr. Gohara.

Left: Credit: Vertly
Center: Credit: CBDMedic
Right: Credit: Lord Jones

Try one of these picks, or get more options with these other CBD Oil Beauty Products.

  • Lord Jones Royal Oil 1000mg Pure CBD Oil: CBD oil (an oil derived from cannabis, also known as cannabidiol) is proven to help combat inflammation which can lead to aging. This oil is made with only two ingredients, CBD and grape seed oil to hydrate skin and fight damage-causing free radicals. (Buy It, $100,
  • Vertly CBD Infused Lip Balm: Hydrate chapped lips with moisturizing shea, cacao, and kokum butters while soothing with CBD. Don’t worry about getting high—there is zero THC (the cannabinoid found in marijuana) in this formula. (Buy It, $22,
  • CBD Medic Active Sport Deep Muscle Rub Ointment: Relieve sore muscles with a powerful combination of inflammation-fighting CBD oil and pain-relieving menthol. Massage this cream anywhere on your body that needs extra attention after a hard day at the gym. (Buy It, $40,

Gotu Kola for Sun Damage

A member of the parsley family, this medicinal herb has been revered for thousands of years in Asia as a wound healer and a treatment for skin conditions like psoriasis. It may also help ward off skin aging.

In a 2013 animal study that examined gotu kola’s wound-healing capabilities, the ingredient was shown to increase skin’s collagen production. “When you have a cut, fibroblasts create the scar tissue that heals the wound, but they also make collagen and the proteins that rebuild skin,” says Dr. Nazarian. “Gotu kola triggers a skin response that can ultimately lead to fewer wrinkles. It’s also an anti-inflammatory, so it can decrease the inflammation caused by pollutants and UV exposure that contributes to skin aging. All in all, gotu kola is helping combat, repair, and maybe even protect against skin damage.”

While doctors note that human trials are needed to determine whether these indirect repair benefits can lead to visibly better skin, “I for one am very excited about the ingredient,” says Dr. Nazarian.

Left: Credit: Naturopathica
Center: Credit: Erborian
Right: Credit: Dr. Jart+

Try a gotu kola in a facial mist, repair balm, or CC creme.

  • Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Calming Mist: Gotu kola, or centella asistica, is an herb found in Asia that is said to help tigers heal their wounds. On human skin, the botanical can calm inflammation which causes skin to age. Spritz this mist throughout the day to protect and refresh stressed skin. (Buy It, $23,
  • Naturopathica Gotu Kola Intense Repair Balm: Apply this balm to tired, irritated skin to hydrate and heal. Antioxidant-rich raspberry seed oil strengthens the skin’s barrier while gotu kola repairs and soothes. (Buy It, $58,
  • Erborian CC Red Correct: Massage this face cream into sensitive skin to calm irritation with gotu kola and counteract post-workout redness with the formula’s green tint. (Buy It, $44,