In the summer, although dermatologists would argue year-round, SPF plays an integral role in protecting your skin against damage done by extended sun exposure. But it's also important to be mindful of other products you're using, too.
Yes, ingredients in your moisturizers, cleansers and correctors can cause sun sensitivity, necessitating the application of sunscreen as a part of your morning skincare routine to establish a protective layer. It can be easy to gravitate toward jargon-bejeweled products that promise speedy results, but plenty come with their own inherent, oft unmentioned, risks — removing a layer of skin, for example, dead or not, naturally heightens the chance of sun damage.
"Certain ingredients in products you use to make your skin look better, such as retinols, glycolic acid or benzoyl peroxide, remove the outermost layer of skin to fight fine lines or acne," non-profit The Skin Cancer Foundation explains in its guide to photosensitivity. "These may cause photosensitivity and increase your chances of damage from UV exposure. Being diligent about sun protection is crucial while using these products." Here's our guide to these ingredients and where they're most commonly found.
Retinol (Anti-Aging, Anti-Wrinkle, Brightening Creams)
Retinol's applications abound. Also known as vitamin A, the ingredient targets fine lines and wrinkles, other signs of aging as well as splotchy complexions. It's an all-encompassing fix to a few of our most-cited issues. That being said, it isn't always clear that retinol can cause sun sensitivity. While the Skin Cancer Foundation says most products with retinol added should advise consumers to use them only at night, there's an increased risk with any use. "Retinol stimulates cell renewal to produce new skin cells; the new skin that develops is more delicate and thinner and therefore should not be exposed directly to sunlight," the foundation's resource guide to sun sensitivity reads.
Benzoyl Peroxide (Acne Treatments)
Benzoyl Peroxide is an antiseptic ingredient most commonly found in acne and blemish treatments. Capable of killing the bacteria on the surface of the skin, it can also be added to face cleansers and foaming washes, gel spot treatments and body washes that boast bacteria clearing capabilities. That being said, acne scars can also worsen with sun exposure so not only should you protect the fresh layer of skin benzoyl peroxide reveals but also any remnants of past breakouts.
Lactic Acid (Toners, Exfoliants)
Lactic acid — yes, the byproduct of sour milk — aids the skin in natural moisture retention. It can also encourage collagen formation and skin firming, but using it too often also heightens the likelihood you'll burn (or cause longer-term damage) from usual sun exposure. Lactic acid — categorized as an Alpha Hydroxy Acid — also exfoliates the skin, removing layers of dead skin, buildup from other products or dirt and other debris.
It can also brighten skin and reduce pore size, if used properly, but those with other skin sensitivities — eczema or rosacea — should consult a professional first. Milky lotions and cleansers aren't always packed with lactic acid, but cleansing formulas that include it are certainly out there; other applications include lotions, creams, serums and shampoos.
Glycolic Acid (Peels, Exfoliants, Toners)
Extracted from sugarcane, Glycolic acid is a water-soluble AHA most often found in exfoliants (it is one by nature), toners and chemical peels — sometimes masks, too. Individuals with dry, oft irritated skin should avoid glycolic acid and its peel iterations altogether, but those with normal to oily skin types should steer clear when they know they'll be facing sun afterward.
New, sensitive skin is revealed in the peel process, and pores are unclogged, rendering the top layer more susceptible to sunburn and damage caused by UVs. Individuals with darker skin tones should seek out a professional's opinion before using glycolic acid anyways as overuse can cause pigmentation issues. The Black Skin Directory offers assistance connecting individuals to doctors with pertinent training.