Should I Stop Using Retinol or Prescription Retinoids in the Summer?

use retinol in summer

Updated 06/23/21. I have 30 years of experience using retinol and seeing its effects on my skin and that of my clients, so it’s safe to say that I’m a proponent of it. Whether it’s a retinol serum or a prescription retinoid, the active ingredient, which is a derivative of vitamin A, can offer multiple benefits. It can help reduce the appearance of bumps and large pores, help fade discoloration, and even help smooth lines and wrinkles.

One thing you should know is that retinol products can make the skin more sensitive to the sun, due to the potential peeling effect they have on the skin. When the skin is being peeled (even through what is known as “micro peeling,” which is not always visible to the naked eye), fresh, vulnerable cells are being exposed to the harsh effects of the environment. This is especially true if you’re using a prescription-strength retinoid that increases cellular turnover. That begs the question: can you use retinol in the summer? Or should you stop using it and pick it back up again after the sunnier months are over? Keep reading to find out.

Can I Use Retinol in the Summer?

The simple answer is yes, you can use retinol in the summer as long as you’re being diligent about sun protection. Because retinol and retinoids are only effective when used consistently (such as two to five nights per week), stopping and starting will slow results. It’s important to use it consistently to get the full benefits, and that means using it throughout the summer months, too.

What If I Spend a Lot of Time Outside in the Summer?

As I already mentioned, proper sun protection is critical. If you’re not someone who will be diligent about applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen every single day, then you may want to lay off retinol during the summer. While using retinol consistently is important, it’s counterproductive if you end up incurring sun damage.

Similarly, if you’re someone who enjoys getting a little tan in the summer, I suggest discontinuing retinol at least a week before you head out to the beach, lake, or pool. Then, wait at least two days before starting up again. If your skin still seems out of whack from sun exposure (here’s how to tell), wait up to five days. Basically, it’s important to listen to your skin. While pausing retinol use will slow results, it’s more important that you avoid inflaming your skin with sun and heat. Even though you discontinue retinol use for a few days, continue to wear sunscreen and sun-protective clothing, because your skin could still be vulnerable.

Note: if you use a prescription retinoid, and you spend enough time outdoors to the point where the sun sneaks onto your skin no matter how good you are about applying sunscreen, then you might want to make a change for summer. This would mean switching from a prescription retinoid to a gentler retinol product. Consult your dermatologist.

I’m New to Retinol. What’s a Good Product to Use?

I always suggest my clients use a non-prescription retinol product when they’re first starting out. Take it slow and get your skin accustomed to this ingredient before upgrading to a stronger formula. If you’re under 35, and you don’t have a lot of visible sun damage, you can probably use a single retinol product, such as the Advanced Resurfacing Serum. If you’re 35 or older, with signs of sun damage, you might consider upgrading to a prescription retinoid after six months. Either way, the sooner you start using it, the sooner you can see visible results. Make sure you read my beginner’s guide to retinol for the best experience.

What Should I Look for in a Retinol Product?

As an esthetician and product formulator, trust me when I say a well-formulated product is everything. Retinol is pretty tricky to work with because it’s notorious for being unstable. Look for a product in which the retinol is kept stable (you can read more about that, here). It can degrade due to heat, light, and air, so it’s also important to look for a retinol product that comes contained in opaque, airless packaging. And as always, I always recommend buying from a brand you trust.

Remember, as long as you stay smart about your sun protection, you can stick to your retinol routine in the summer.  That means applying sunscreen diligently and generously, seeking shade when possible, and wearing sun-protective clothing. Doing these things can help you avoid sun damage while reaping the benefits of retinol.

Next, learn whether retinol and prescription retinoids can really thin the skin.

Disclaimer: Content found on www.ReneeRouleau.com and Blog.ReneeRouleau.com, including text, images, audio, or other formats were created for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website or blog.

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  1. What is good for dark spots on your face

    Posted By: Stacey Fini  | 

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  2. I have been researching the use of over the counter Retinol in moisturizers etc. If you google “does retinol make you sun sensitive” there is a post that a derm. states that the biggest misconception of Retinol is that it causes sun sensitivity. It goes on to say that clinical studies have shown that it does not cause sun sensitivity and that it was thought that it did by the peeling and redness but that was not from exfoliation but due to irritation. Also, people would say that they turned red when outside but that was most likely due from the heat exposure. So, what do you think?

    Posted By: Bre  | 

    Reply
    • When Retin-A is used, through the increase of cell turnover from within the skin, it causes dryness which causes invisible cracks in the skin where moisture escapes and irritants get in more easily. Ultimately, it makes the skin more sensitive. When out in the sun, you have increased heat on the skin from UV light and heat continues to damage the skins moisture barrier causing more sensitivity. Plus add in a swim in a chlorine pool or saltwater in the ocean, and that can also cause irritation because of the damaged moisture barrier. So all in all, being in the sun combined with retinol just adds to the sensitivity. Of course, wearing sunscreen is crucial.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

      Reply
  3. Dear Renee, the advanced resurfacing serum contains 0.4% TR retinol. How many times a week can you use it in the summer? I currently have an 0.1% TR that is specifically recommended around the eye area… would it be wise to use this retinol of mine all over my face 3 times a week in the summer? I still have got more than half a bottle as I only use a little bit each night…As I said, I do not wish to stop completely from some sort of retinol… Thank you Renee !

    Posted By: Stella  | 

    Reply
    • I wouldn’t use an eye product all over the face, just use it where it’s suggested. As for our retinol serum, continue to use it 5 x week in the summer, just be super faithful about wearing sunscreen.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

      Reply
  4. Thank you, very informative. I use physical sunscreens all the time.
    I wonder whether I can find this product in Europe? Also, can you lightly pat around eye area, or you need a separate retinol product? thanks 🙂

    Posted By: stella  | 

    Reply
    • You can use one a retinol product both on the face and around the eyes.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

      Reply
  5. Re Tretinoin. If I decide to stop using tretinoin during the summer… yet I still want to use some sort of retinol…would you advise switching from tretinoin to an over the counter mild retinol? I feel that it is too risky using prescription tretinoin even just by walking outside…. and I feel it gets too stressful wearing a hat everywhere I go.. Thanks 🙂

    Posted By: Stella  | 

    Reply
    • Of course you want to really protect your skin not only with a hat but sunscreen reapplied regularly but it’s always best to be a bit gentler to the skin in the summer. The heat, salt water, chlorine, sweat, increased oil and such can all aggravate the skin so switching to a non-rx form would be great. I, of course, recommend this one https://www.reneerouleau.com/products/advanced-resurfacing-serum 🙂

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

      Reply
  6. I AM TURNING 71 AND UP UNTIL ABOUT A YEAR AGO I HAD BEAUTIFUL SKIN. I HAVE DEVELOPED MILIA AND HAVE NO IDEA WHY. I DO NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO TO GET RID THEM AND KEEP FROM GETTING THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE? IS THERE AN ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION

    Posted By: JUDI SELSET  | 

    Reply
    • It’s hard to say why you’re getting milia now but the best remedy is to get a deep pore cleansing facial with an esthetician who is skilled in removing milia (be sure to ask before you schedule the appointment) and then follow up with a good exfoliating serum like my AHA Smoothing Serum 17% here > https://www.reneerouleau.com/exfoliants.aspx

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

      Reply

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