Can You Use Retinol in Summer? We Asked the Experts

It’s no lie that our skin’s needs change with the seasons. In winter, internal heating and icy winds can leave our skin feeling tight, dry, and uncomfortable, whereas summer can trigger excess shine and breakouts – not to mention increased exposure to UV rays. 

One thing we can do is tweak our skincare routine, adding and subtracting formulas that bring things back into balance. In summer, this can look like a pore-purifying gel cleanser or lighter hydrating gel serum. Obviously, sun protection is another big one, but do we need to be reviewing the role of active ingredients like retinol as well? We know it works, but it can also trigger sensitivity to UV rays – and who wants to end up making our skin more vulnerable? Not us. 

To set the record straight, POPSUGAR Australia spoke to dermatologist Dr Michelle Rodrigues to break down retinol as an ingredient, and how we can use it year-round without any issues. 

What Exactly Is Retinol?

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A and falls into the ‘retinoid’ ingredient category. 

Retinoids come in varying strengths, the strongest being prescription formulas that contain pure retinoic acid (this is the form of vitamin A that has an immediate effect on the skin). Retinol products with a lower percentage concentration are available without a prescription and are required to undergo one ‘conversion’ to become retinoic acid. 

What Are the Benefits?

Dr Michelle Rodrigues explains that all retinoids, including retinol, work by stimulating cellular turnover. “What we know about retinoids as a family of molecules is that they’re very good at penetrating the skin at different levels, and this comes with various benefits.”

“The ingredient gently exfoliates, causing the cells in the epidermis to shed more rapidly,” adds Dr Rodrigues. “This helps with pigmentation and overall skin tone, regulating oil production, acne, and the stimulation of collagen and elastin – so it also can also have a powerful anti-aging effect.” 

Can It Increase My Sensitivity to the Sun?

The short answer to this question is yes, but Dr Rodrigues explains that it’s possible (and beneficial) to use retinol year-round, you just need to take a few precautions. 

“I always recommend my patients wear sunscreen every day, but the reason it’s important for those using retinol is twofold,” says Dr Rodrigues. “If you’re peeling the skin, it is more likely to experience sunburn as those fresh cells are still adapting to sunlight. It can also make the skin more sensitive, so sun protection is crucial.” 

So, the main takeaway? Wear broad spectrum, SPF 50+ daily, always reapply every two hours and don’t forget your hat, sunglasses, and shade whenever possible. That way, you can reap the benefits of retinol year-round, without accidentally exposing your skin to more damage. 

When Should I Use My Retinol?

Dr Rodrigues explains that while you can technically use retinol during the day, her advice is to apply it at night for best results. “Retinoid molecules are sensitive towards sunlight, but active ingredients also tend to absorb and work better overnight” she explains. Dr Rodrigues even recommends pairing it with niacinamide or vitamin B3, as it’s a skin-soothing ingredient that will help mitigate any sensitivity. 

Our pick? The La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Anti-Ageing Serum is genius in that it combines both ingredients in one delightful formula: you’ve got your pure retinol to brighten, firm and clarify, while vitamin B3 soothes, comforts and enables the skin to retain moisture. The retinol itself is also encapsulated for slow release (meaning it won’t overwhelm the skin) plus there’s added glycerin and sodium hyaluronate for hydration. Basically, if you want a formula for visible results but without unwanted side effects, the Retinol B3 Anti-Ageing Serum is it.

So, ready for your complexion to have its “hot girl summer”? Here’s what to do: Apply a few drops to clean dry skin of La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Anti-Ageing Serum in the evening and top it off with a simple moisturiser. Because it’s been expertly formulated for sensitive skin, you should be able to use it multiple times a week. But if it is your first-time trying retinol, opt for twice weekly, gradually building up tolerance and frequency. 

A note on experts: 

Dr Michelle Rodrigues is the founder and director at Chroma Dermatology, a senior consultant at The Royal Children’s Hospital and an Honorary Senior Lecturer at The University of Melbourne. Dr Rodrigues specialises in pigmentary disorders and pigmentary disorders, dermatology in skin of colour (pigmented, brown, or ethnic skin) and laser surgery. 

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