How to Use Retinoids In the Summer Without Irritating Your Skin

It is possible.

How to Use Retinol in the Summer
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Retinoids are the solution for many common skincare concerns like signs of aging, hyperpigmentation, and acne. However, using the revered skincare ingredient isn't so simple. If you do a Google search, you'll get served a ton of myth-busting articles filled with tips on how to incorporate retinoids into your skincare routine.

One of the biggest misconceptions about retinoids is that you shouldn't use them during the summer because they have a reputation for being harsh on the skin – especially when you're spending more time in the sun.

It turns out, avoiding retinoids during the summer is just a myth. Ahead, two dermatologists offer up expert advice on how to use the ingredient during the warmer months.

First, What Are Retinoids?

Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A that are converted to retinoic acid to be used in skincare products. Often, you'll see retinoids and retinol used interchangeably. This is because retinoid is the umbrella term for both prescription retinoids and over-the-counter retinol.

Retinoids improve the skin's texture by promoting cell turnover and minimize wrinkles by stimulating collagen under the skin. While there are retinoids available over the counter, the most potent ones are prescription-only (like tretinoin).

On the other hand, retinol refers to the retinoids found in over-the-counter products. While still effective, retinol is less potent than prescription options because there is a lower concentration of retinoic acid in the formula.

How Often Should You Use Retinoids During the Summer?

The good news: Retinoids can absolutely be used daily during the summertime. "The frequency of applying retinol or retinoid in the summer does not necessarily need to be altered unless there is a significant sensitivity to retinoids used," says Dr. Erum Ilyas, board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in King of Prussia, PA.

If you experience dryness, peeling, or exfoliation, Dr. Ilyas recommends decreasing the frequency of use to prevent photosensitivity. On the flip side, some retinoid fans may find it easier to use the ingredient in the summer. "In practice, many people find retinoids a bit more tolerable to use with increased humidity, the dermatologist says. "The dry air of the winter tends to be less tolerated."

Dr. Sheila Farhang, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Avant Dermatology in Tucson, Az. says it also important to take your skin type and concerns (like melasma) and the other ingredients you're using into consideration when using retinol during in the summer.

"Skin types that do need be careful when retinol application in the summer are those with melasma and who may be using other ingredients that exfoliate the skin such as AHAs, hydroquinone, and kojic acid because red, irritated skin, if not properly sun protected, can worsen existing melasma," she says. The same goes for darker skin tones who may be more prone to hyperpigmentation.

How Can You Prevent Retinoid Side Effects in the Summer?

One word: sunscreen. While it's important to apply SPF everyday year-round, it's even more essential during the summertime when you're typically spending more time outdoors.

Dr. Farhang suggests upping your SPF level. "I would suggest leveling up on the SPF though — that means using at least SPF 30 on the face and reapplying every few hours," she says. "If you are out and about sweating or doing activities, opt for a water-resistant sunscreen."

Additionally, Dr. Ilyas stresses that you should be applying sunscreen even if you aren't going outside. "A daily skincare routine should include at baseline a sunscreen every morning, even when not planning to be outdoors, to avoid running a risk of even unplanned excess sun exposure," the dermatologist says. And if you do go outside, she recommends wearing a hat for additional protection.

To prevent irritation, Dr. Farhang says to use your retinoid product at night, and points out that higher concentrations of vitamin A, which are found in prescription formulas, are most likely to cause irritation.

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How to Relieve Summer Retinoid Irritation

If you do experience any irritation like redness or peeling, take a break from using retinoids immediately. "Take a break from retinoids for about a week. If excess redness or peeling is noted, the use of a low potency steroid topically, such as hydrocortisone 0.5% cream, for a few days can help reduce the inflammatory response," Dr. Ilyas says. "Use aloe vera gel at night to give the skin an opportunity to restore and repair itself overnight."

Once you're ready to hop back on the retinoid train, start slow. "With prescription strength I usually recommend using one pea-size amount once and week then working up from there," Dr. Farhang shares. "With retinol, there are a few tricks such as starting off once every few nights, waiting 30 minutes after washing your face before applying it, mixing it with your moisturizer, and applying moisturizer right afterwards."

While the goal is to work your way up to using the retinoid every night, if your skin still doesn't tolerate it after a few months, Dr. Farhang suggests trying another product.

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