Should You Use A Retinol Day Cream?

Probably Not The Best Idea.

Last updated on: 03/16/2019 at 9:22 am

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retinol day cream

Photo: Imaxtree


Retinol: the rejuvenating powerhouse that can do wonders for your complexion and also combat many of the visible signs of aging. We’ve done our fair share of coverage on Retinol in the past and we’ve always warned about using this gem of the skincare world during the day. Lately, we’ve noticed some retinol day creams on the market so we’re revisiting retinol to tell you what you need to know about switching this more-often-than-not night cream to a daytime product. With all of the possible items you can be using as part of your skincare routine, we understand the attraction of being able to switch around when you use what. But, we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, it’s best to keep retinol in the dark.



A little refresher course never hurt anybody. So, what exactly is Retinol and what are its potential benefits? Retinol is an over-the-counter derivative of Vitamin A and a member of the retinoid family. A powerful antioxidant, Retinol helps the visible sign of aging by slowing down the process in which collagen is broken down and minimizing glycation from happening (both of which contribute to the formation of fine lines and wrinkles). Further to that, Retinol can help thicken the deepest layers of your skin where wrinkles and lines begin. Retinol boosts cell turnover to even skin tone and texture and also diminishes dark spots and discoloration by managing the production of melanin in a healthy way. Last but not least, retinol use will regulate the production of sebum, leading to less breakouts and blemishes.


If it isn’t already part of your routine, this skincare miracle worker is a fantastic addition to consider to add, but the questions remains is it okay to use a retinol day cream?



The quick and dirty answer? No. There are a number of reasons you don’t want to be applying a retinol day cream and we’ve covered some of the main ones below.


1. Retinol is photosensitive/sensitizing to the sun. Vitamin A degrades when it’s exposed to both air and light. While this isn’t exactly harmful for your skin, it means that the retinol day cream most likely won’t work if you’re using it during the day when the sun is shining (and even when the sun isn’t shining, UV rays seep through cloud cover). Because of this, you wouldn’t be getting the full benefits of retinol in a day cream and, trust us, you want the full benefits.


2. We know for sure that retinol exfoliates your skin by boosting cell turnover. In so doing, retinol reveals fresh layers of skin underneath your top-most layer and this skin is pretty sensitive. Exposing this sensitive skin to the damaging rays of the sun while using Retinol (which can be irritating enough all on its own), leaves your skin prone to sun damage as well as increased inflammation and irritation. Ain’t nobody got time for that.


3. No matter what type of skin you have, it takes your skin some time to get used to retinol. This period of adjustment includes redness, irritation, dryness and peeling. If the above risks or damage aren’t enough to sway you, think about having to deal with those side effects during the light of day. No thank you!



You may have heard that retinol is photocarcinogenic. This isn’t exactly accurate though. The true concern is with Retinyl Palmitate: a milder form of vitamin A that combines Retinol with Palmitic Acid and is often used as an ingredient in sunscreen.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released a report that recommended manufacturers remove Retinyl Palmitate from products that are used on sun-exposed skin and that consumers avoid purchasing products with this ingredient altogether. But why did they do this? It was all thanks to a study conducted by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) which concluded that Retinyl Palmitate enhanced photocarcinogenicity, increased skin lesions, and increased the risk of forming skin cancer. This study found that when Retinyl Palmitate was exposed to UV rays, the skin changed in a way that could lead to sun damage, aging and, worst of all, cancer.


However, both the Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation refuted these claims. These scientists agreed that Retinyl Palmitate reacts differently with UV in the real world than it does in a laboratory setting.


So, what should you believe? We do know that Vitamin A doesn’t react well when exposed to the sun. Any product out there with Vitamin A warns you to avoid the sun or at the very least wear a strong sunscreen. And, when it comes to the big C, we prefer to err on the side of caution.



If you absolutely feel the need to try a retinol day cream you should be wearing a strong broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect your skin. Be extra militant with your sunscreen application and be sure to apply it every two hours and right before you are exposed to the sun. If you’re unsure, learn all about how to pick a good sunscreen with our in-depth guide.


To stop your skin from becoming sensitized (and this is true for using Retinol day or night) you should be incorporating gentle products into your skincare routine. Mild cleansers and moisturizers formulated with antioxidants and other soothing ingredients can help minimize inflammation and irritation. By offsetting the use of Retinol with your other skin care products you maximize its benefits and minimize the possibility of negative side effects.


For more on the before and after effects of Retinol (and the benefits you’ll maximize by using it, properly, at night) check out our overview.



Cosmetic scientists and dermatologists alike will tell you that the best time to use Retinol is at night. Not only does this avoid any exposure to sunlight, but it’s also the best time for Retinol to work with your body’s natural rhythms. That’s right… your skin has two modes: defending itself against environmental free radicals and UV rays during the day and repairing damage at night. By using Retinol at night, you help your body in its efforts to heal itself.


Trish Keatings
Published on: 02/12/2018 Last updated on: 03/16/2019

Trish Keatings is Lead Writer at The Youthist since 2018. Her writing career began after graduating from the University of Saskatchewan with a Master of Arts Degree, where she focused on Political Studies. Trish is currently traveling the world and fills her free hours with yoga, meditation, wellness workshops, and eating her way through new cuisines. With a passion for all things beauty and skin, she is particularly inspired by holistic and ayurvedic approaches to health and personal care. A student of these philosophies herself, she enthusiastically explores her passions through her writing and finds no greater joy than taking her readers along with her.

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