Can You Wear Retinol During the Day?

Use Retinol During the Day

Updated 3/26/21. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you already know that I’m 100% team retinol. When it comes to slowing down (and even reversing) the visible signs of aging, retinol is truly unparalleled. What makes it such a unique ingredient is the fact that it has been studied meticulously for decades, and its dramatic anti-aging effects have been scientifically proven time and time again. Brown spots, fine lines and wrinkles, inflammation, rough texture, and enlarged pores (yes, your pores get bigger as you age) can all be improved by incorporating a retinol into your regular routine. No other ingredient out there can make all these claims, so you can see why I’m a believer.

Even though retinol is now widely accepted as a staple skincare ingredient, I still see a lot of confusion about how to use it properly. This is key, because using retinol incorrectly means your skin might not be getting all the benefits. And worse, it can put you at greater risk of experiencing some of the unwanted side effects associated with retinol (think dryness, redness, peeling, and stinging—no fun). There’s one question in particular that seems to generate a lot of confusion, and that is, “can I wear retinol during the day?” In this post, I will give you my answer to this question, once and for all.

Background: How Circadian Rhythms Affect Your Skin

Before I answer whether or not you should be using retinol during the day, I need to provide some background. First, let’s talk about the different functions that occur within your skin during the day versus at night. These functions are dictated by your circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. Your body is constantly making adjustments based on the time of day. These adjustments are triggered by both your biological or “internal” clock and by environmental factors, like daylight.

What Your Skin is Doing During the Day:

On its face, it’s pretty simple: during the day, your skin is constantly exposed to aggressors that can cause it harm, so it’s in defense mode. These aggressors include UV rays, pollution, free radicals, and even stress. These are a few of the physiological changes that take place in your skin during the day:

Best Skincare Ingredients for Daytime:

With these functions in mind, here are the best skincare products to use in the morning. All of these boost your skin’s natural defense mechanisms.

  • Sunscreen: No surprise here! The most important step is protecting your skin against harmful UV rays that can lead to free radical damage.
  • Antioxidants: Speaking of free radical damage, antioxidants address this concern head-on by preventing unstable molecules from causing cellular damage.
  • Makeup: Yes, you read that right! Makeup protects your skin, here’s how.

This simple combination of ingredients is a really effective way of preventing damage to your skin during the day.

Read: This is the Best Morning Skincare Routine

What Your Skin is Doing at Night:

If daytime is all about defense, nighttime is all about offense. This is when your skin gets to work repairing any damage that was incurred throughout the day. Even though your skin is constantly working to repair itself, these processes definitely peak in the evening (they don’t call it “beauty sleep” for nothing!). These are a few of the physiological changes taking place in your skin at night:

Note: We used to think that repair processes only occurred at night while we slept; we now know that these processes actually kick in as soon as the sun goes down, even if your body isn’t in rest mode yet. Because your body’s repair process is synced with its circadian rhythms, the loss of daylight signals to your body that it’s time to start winding down, even if you haven’t gone to bed yet. This may mean that it’s beneficial to do your nighttime skincare routine earlier in the evening rather than waiting until right before you go to bed.

Best Skincare Ingredients for Nighttime:

With these functions in mind, here are the best skincare products to use at night. All of these boost your skin’s natural reparative processes.

  • Antioxidants: During the day, your skin uses up its antioxidant supply to defend against free radicals. At night, your skin is able to use antioxidants you give it for reparative functions.
  • Retinol: Retinol boosts skin cell turnover, which allows the skin to regenerate itself from within.
  • Exfoliating Acids: Acids dissolve dead skin cells that have built up on the surface of your skin. These dead cells can make your skin look dull and may make it difficult for other active ingredients to penetrate effectively. Acids also help reduce unwanted pigment and encourage a more even-toned complexion.

Read: This is the Best Nighttime Skincare Routine

Should You Use Retinol During the Day?

Are you finally ready to hear my answer to this question? Here it comes…My official answer is no, you should not use retinol during the day. This is because retinol is a reparative ingredient, so it’s best to use it at night when your skin’s natural reparative processes are at their peak. This will allow you to reap all the benefits retinol has to offer. The best strategy is to work with your skin’s natural cycles: use protective ingredients like sunscreen, antioxidants and vitamin C in the morning, and use reparative ingredients like retinol or exfoliating acids at night. Another benefit of using active ingredients at night is that your skin is more permeable, which allows your nighttime products to penetrate deeper and work better than they would during the day.

You’ve probably heard that using retinol during the day is a huge no-no because it makes your skin more sensitive to the sun. This photosensitivity is actually a cumulative effect that occurs due to the fact that retinol increases cell turnover. This means that fresh, new skin cells are constantly being brought to the surface. These cells are more vulnerable to sun damage than dry, dead skin cells. This is why it’s so important to wear sunscreen every day when you’re using a retinol product—even if you’re only using that retinol product at night.

As I said before, it’s best to work in harmony with your body’s natural cycles. Using retinol in your evening routine is a good way to do this.

Read: The Beginner’s Guide to Retinol and Retinoids—How to Use Them in Your Routine

Comments:

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  1. Avatar

    If it is better to use retinol at night, why does your sunscreen contains retinyl palmitate?

    Posted By: Christine  | 

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    • Avatar

      This minimal amount of vitamin A acts as an antioxidant preservative. This is not formulated to be regenerating.

      Posted By: Ella Stevenson  | 

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  2. Avatar

    Bunch of informative content I have ever seen, thanks for sharing it

    Posted By: Joveen  | 

    Reply
  3. Avatar

    I really love your articles, you have helped me to understand what is going on with my skin and how to tackle most of my issues. I really wish I could put my appreciation into more words. My skin is the best it has ever been. Nowadays even when I have breakout or dryness or stinging, I immediately know why and deal with it. So thank you for this Blog.

    Posted By: Motunrayo  | 

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    • Renée Rouleau

      Thank you so much for your kind words! Really happy my posts have been helping you 🙂

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

      Reply
  4. Avatar

    I love Renee’s articles and learn a lot from them! I’m curious what her take is on the newer phyto retinols – are they really the same and/or better for more sensitive skin? I have skin that is irritated easily by harsh products (including retinol) so I’ve been trying one and seem to tolerate it well, but I’m curious if I’m wasting my time by not using actual “real” retinol. Thanks!

    Posted By: Erin  | 

    Reply
    • Renée Rouleau

      Hi! So glad to hear it’s been working for you. If you can’t use retinol, there is no harm in trying this alternative. But know that there aren’t enough studies yet to prove that phyto retinols are as effective as retinol. Good luck!

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

      Reply

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