Retinol and acids are staple skincare products. And as a duo, they go from staple skincare to holy grail. But as the seasons shift and we enter summer, is it safe to use the sometimes-harsh ingredients in the season we also find ourselves constantly in the sun?
Acids, Retinol, and Sun Exposure Myths
According to Gary Goldenberg, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, “there are many misconceptions about this.”
So, dermatologists break it down for us — from misconceptions to must-dos — when it comes to using retinol and skincare acids in the summer. And as it turns out, the recommendations are the same for both. And, thanks to the moisture in the air, summer is actually the best time to try out the duo.
“Skin is usually less dry in the summer, so in general, the products are better tolerated in summer than in winter, but only if used properly,” says Charisse Dolitsky, M.D., a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group on Long Island.
What Does Retinol Do?
But what does each product do, exactly? How much of a difference can it make in youthening skin? “Retinol is a topically applied product that is derived from vitamin A. When it penetrates the skin, it is converted to retinoic acid, which has anti-aging effects,” says Dolitsky. “It can gradually reduce fine lines and uneven skin pigmentation.”
It’s common for individuals in their mid-twenties to early thirties to incorporate a retinol product into their routine to keep that youthful glow. Retinol is also extremely useful in cleaning up dead skin cells and clogged pores, turning dull skin to glowing.
What Do Acids Do?
On the other side of the spectrum are the skincare acids. “Skincare acid is a product that has acidic pH. These products are usually used to help improve skin tone and texture and work by normalizing the outer layer of the skin called [the] epidermis,” says Goldenberg. But there are different types — alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids. “The [acids] commonly encountered in cosmetic products are glycolic acid, lactic acid and citric acid … They can reduce clogged pores and acne, help improve skin texture, radiance and fine lines,” adds Dolitsky. Acids can be used in the morning to slough off dead skin cells that overturn during the night, leaving glowing skin behind by chemically exfoliating your face.
How Acids, Retinol, and the Sun Interact
So, how do these products react with your summer skin? The simple answer: the same as the rest of the year. And it is safe to use them year-round — although, you should consult with your dermatologist before adding a new product into your routine. It’s also important to keep an eye on your skin as the weather starts to warm; different people can have different reactions, so it’s possible you might have a sensitivity. If you do notice anything strange, it’s best to consult your doctor.
Retinol and Acid Summertime Skincare Tips
But there are a few aspects that should call for heightened awareness during the summer (or anytime you will face prolonged sun exposure).
1. Can you use retinol in the summer?
“Ultraviolet light can inactivate retinols and diminish their effectiveness,” says Dolitsky. For this reason, both dermatologists recommend applying retinol at night, followed by a moisturizer. And while it is perfectly fine to start retinol use in the summer, common side effects can be redness, flaking and peeling — but know that this is not seasonal dependent. “Patients have to know that in many cases the skin can become red and scaly as it’s getting used to retinol,” says Goldenberg. “This is sometimes confused for a sunburn.”
2. Does retinol cause sun sensitivity?
It’s commonly said that you shouldn’t wear retinol outside during the day due to risking a severe sunburn. While sun exposure can reduce the effectiveness of retinol, there’s no big danger when it comes to retinol and sun exposure. Retinol does not dramatically enhance sun sensitivity (it can make skin a tiny bit more sensitive to the sun, but it’s normally only for a week or two when first using retinol) and the chance of increased sunburn risk is slim.
The sun is something to be cognizant of, even though both products are entirely safe to use. In fact, it is the biggest sticking point for both Goldenberg and Dolitsky. “The products thin the outer skin barrier and they cause increased sensitivity to ultraviolet light,” says Dolitsky. And this is cause for concern as it does leave your skin more prone to sunburn (not to be confused with the side effects). Dolitsky says to invest in a mineral sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and if you are going to be in the sun, use UPF clothing along with a wide-brimmed hat.
3. Can you put retinol on a sunburn?
And if you do happen to sunburn your face? It is best to take a step back from your routine. “If you get a sunburn, you should not apply anything potentially irritating to your skin. Instead, use plenty of moisturizer and restart your routine once skin improves,” says Goldenberg. If you choose to apply retinol over a sunburn, it could cause irritation and sting, according to Dolitsky. She recommends holding off on applying retinol and acids for about one week or until the sunburn has healed.
4. Can I apply retinol around the eyes?
Common myths when it comes to using retinol often include not being able to apply retinol around the eyes, that you can’t pair it with chemical exfoliants, and that it makes skin thinner. These popular myths are easy to debunk, however. It’s completely safe to apply retinol around the eyes. You do want to be more delicate when applying any product to this area, though, and it’s a good idea to build up usage, starting with just two or three days a week.
5. Can I use retinol together with chemical exfoliants?
You can use retinol and chemical exfoliant products in your skincare routine at the same time. Most derms do recommend letting your skin get used to retinol for a few weeks before combining them, however. Introducing them both at the same time could lead to some redness and irritation.
6. Does retinol thin the skin?
It is true that retinol thins the skin, but what this myth leaves out is that it only thins the top layer of skin, which consists of dead skin cells you don’t want. Retinol actually thickens skin layers below the surface.
The bottom line? Acids and retinol are approved for summer use, as long as you have a strong sun-protection plan in place.
“If someone feels that they will be in a situation in which it will be impossible for them to diligently follow a sun protection routine,” says Dolitsky, “I recommend temporarily discontinuing [use].”
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