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Is it safe to use retinol in the summer?

Retinol has long been the gold standard youth-booster, but it has a bad rap when it comes to sun sensitivity. Read on to discover why this is so undeserved… 

Skincare experts the world over rave about the restorative benefits of retinol, recommending the active to anyone looking to lessen lines, wrinkles, pigmentation and even acne breakouts. In fact, retinoids – the umbrella name for derivatives of vitamin A, of which retinol is one – are one of the most researched skincare ingredients, according to cosmetic doctor Emmaline Ashley.  

“With more than 40 years of clinical data behind them, we know retinoids can effectively increase cell turnover, stimulate collagen production, reduce sebum production, and aid skin healing,” shares Ashley.  

But there are many misconceptions that surround retinoids and when it comes to retinol especially, the most prevalent myth is that it’s best not to use it during the summer months. But is there any truth to this?  

 

The truth about retinol 

Available without a prescription, retinol is the most commonly used retinoid in over-the-counter skincare, and although it works in the same way as prescription retinoids, it is far milder. And while sensitivity, dryness and redness can be an issue when you first begin, or if you don’t gradually work your way up the strength ladder – “there is no evidence that it makes your skin photosensitive. Meaning it’s a total myth that it will cause your skin to burn in UV light,” reveals Ashley. 

This is a misconception that was likely born out of the advice to avoid the sun when using retinoids, “but that has more to do with UV light inactivating the chemical formula than anything else,” says Ashley.  

Studies have proven this, showing that retinoids don’t impact the minimal erythemal dose of human skin, which is the amount of UV light the skin can tolerate before burning. So, in actual fact the skin doesn’t become any more sensitive to the sun after retinoid exposure, it’s retinoids themselves that are sensitive to the sun. They break down making them less effective, which is why most experts recommend using retinol at night. 

However, even though retinol doesn’t exacerbate your skins’ sensitivity to the sun, “you should be wearing a high broad-spectrum sunscreen all year round,” advises Ashley. Why? Because even retinol has its limits, and repeated sun exposure causes the breakdown of collagen and elastin, and an increase in melanin production, leading to lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and a leathery look to the skin that will be hard to reverse once the damage is done.