The Dos and Don’ts of Using Retinol Safely in the Summertime


Retinol. One of skincare’s greatest superstars. This is vitamin A derivative powerhouse is known to unclog pores, stimulate collagen production, speed up cell turnover and improve the skin’s overall appearance1. There’s a common belief that retinol and sunlight just don’t mix (because skin becomes hyper-sensitive), which begs the question, is it okay to use retinol in the summertime?

In short, the answer is yes, it is safe to use retinol in the summertime, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to use it. Read on to find out best practices, things to watch out for and the most helpful products to use with it.

DO be mindful of the sun

Retinols themselves are sensitive to light so if you expose your skin to the sun immediately after applying, the retinol does degrade to some extent2. That’s why it’s suggested that you use it in your evening routine (more on that later). If you’ve just started using retinol, it’s also true that your skin may also be a bit more sensitive as it adapts, but your increased risk of burning is slim to none. Just make sure you follow the next DO (it’s the most important one!).

DO pair retinol with sunscreen

And lots of it. Reach for a broad spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with 30 SPF or higher, and apply it generously (we’re talking an ounce for your whole body). Then reapply every 2 hours as needed.

DON’T use retinol if you have a sunburn

Because skin is red, inflamed, and a bit pained after overexposure to UV rays, you want to keep skin as calm as possible. While retinol is safe on the skin, it can also cause some mild irritation itself, so it’s not recommended for use on skin that’s already irritated3. Give the retinol a break for a couple of days while your skin heals and be sure to practice safe sun care when get back out there.

DO practice increased sun safety

To take your protection to the next level, avoid the direct sun as much as possible. Seek shade, cover up when you can (with hats, sunglasses and long sleeves) and try to avoid the peak sunlight hours between 10am and 4pm.

DO use gentle cleansers

Because the combination of the sun’s UV rays and retinol can be super tough on skin4, it’s recommended that you use a gentle cleanser and deeply hydrating moisturizers, both in the morning and at night. This helps keep skin calm and clear while letting the retinol work its magic.

DON’T use peels or exfoliants

Harsh exfoliating products strip your skin of its natural lipids6, leaving it extremely dry and flaky. Not an ideal summertime look. Stick to the gentler products to avoid inflammation and irritation. Remember, if you want to enjoy the sun a little, you need to do whatever you can to make it easier on your skin the rest of the time.

DO apply retinol at night

Not only is retinol broken down by ultraviolet light5, it can cause increased sensitivity when applied. That makes it ideal for your nighttime routine so your skin isn’t as sensitive when you head out for the day. Just make sure that you don’t forget the sunscreen in your morning routine.

At the end of the day, retinols are definitely safe to use in the summertime, just be to keep that sunscreen bottle attached to your hip at all times. If you find yourself in a situation where it’s impossible to diligently follow a safe sun care routine, it’s recommended that you temporarily discontinue using retinol until you can.


  1. Kong, R., Cui, Y., Fisher, G.J., Wang, X., Chen, Y., Schneider, L.M. and Majmudar, G. (2016), A comparative study of the effects of Retinol and retinoic acid on histological, molecular, and clinical properties of human skin. J Cosmet Dermatol, 15: 49-57. Retrieved from:
  2. Gerd Ries & Robert Hess (1999) Retinol: Safety Considerations for its Use in Cosmetic Products, Journal of Toxicology: Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology, 18:3, 169-185, DOI: 10.3109/15569529909044238 Retrieved from:
  3. Bae-Hwan Kim, Yong-Soon Lee, Kyung-Sun Kang, The mechanism of retinol-induced irritation and its application to anti-irritant development, Toxicology Letters, Volume 146, Issue 1, 2003, Pages 65-73, ISSN 0378-4274. Retrieved from:
  4. Mukherjee S, Date A, Patravale V, Korting HC, Roeder A, Weindl G. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clin Interv Aging. 2006;1(4):327-348. doi:10.2147/ciia.2006.1.4.327. Retrieved from:
  5. Tolleson WH, Cherng SH, Xia Q, et al. Photodecomposition and phototoxicity of natural retinoids. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2005;2(1):147-155. doi:10.3390/ijerph2005010147. Retrieved from:
  6. Robin E. Callard, John I. Harper. The skin barrier, atopic dermatitis and allergy: a role for Langerhans cells?, Trends in Immunology, Volume 28, Issue 7, 2007, Pages 294-298, ISSN 1471-4906. Retrieved from: