The Retinoid Rule Dermatologists Are Urging Everyone to Follow

We caught up with top dermatologists to get to the bottom of how to use retinol cream safely and what all the buzz about retinoids and reinoic acid is, anyway.

Retinoids can be a miracle worker for those dealing with acne, anti-aging, or hyperpigmentation. But if you use them year-round, you need to be extra careful with your sunscreen.

That’s because retinoic acid, retinol, and other popular chemical exfoliants gently scrub away dead skin cells, which leaves skin more open to potential sun damage, and the biggest culprits may actually be all those AHA and BHA cleansers, toners, and moisturizers you have in your bathroom vanity.


“AHAs and BHAs, such as glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids, can cause skin to be more susceptible to sun damage from being regularly exfoliated, and these are commonly used in anti-aging, skin-brightening, and acne-fighting products,” shares Julie Russak, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist. “But when used consistently, retinoids help keep your skin clear, even out skin tone, reverse sun damage, and prevent premature aging. Some products, like Skinbetter Science, actually combine a retinoid with Alpha Hydroxy Acid (lactic acid), resulting in less irritation.”

The most important part of using retinol cream in the summer may actually be the time of day you use it, though, and some studies even suggest that proper usage of tretinoin, a popular retinoid, may be the most effective treatment in the battle against photo-aging, or aging caused by the sun.


“Retin products are typically used at night because the sun breaks them down, making them ineffective,” suggests Ryan Neinstein, MD, a plastic surgeon at NYC Surgical Associates. “And the overall effect of the retin is to thin the skin, which makes it more sensitive to the rays of the sun. I suggest patients use their retinol cream and retinoid products at night, but they should really avoid using them during the day when sun exposure is expected. Most importantly, always use a minimum of SPF 30 over the retin-treated areas.”

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