The Right Way to Use Acids in Your Summer Skincare Routine, According to Experts

acids skincare

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We all know and love using acids in our skincare routines. Their skin-brightening, exfoliating properties brings us that much closer to our gleam-y, dewy complexion goals. Now that summer's in full swing and we're out in the sun more, our skin is much more exposed to damaging UVA and UVB rays. And since acids make our skin more sensitive to sunlight, the question is: can our skin can tolerate the same strength of exfoliation and hard work that these acids put in during summer as it can during winter? To put the debate to bed, we reached out to leading skincare experts to find out the facts. Keep scrolling to find out what you need to know before applying acids to your skin during the warmer months.

Are skincare acids safe to use in the summer?

There is so much back and forth around whether using acids in the warmer months benefits or hinders your skin. But, according to Dr. Anita Sturnham, it’s all about how and when you apply them.

Meet the Expert

Dr. Anita Sturnham is a board-certified GP specializing in dermatology and founder of Decree Skincare and Skincare/wellbeing, Nuriss Clinic.

“You can use fruit acids all year around—the key is all in the timing," says Sturnham. "You should avoid using acids in the day. Fruit acids are known for their exfoliating skin benefits. In the process of taking away the old dead skin, oil, and debris, the skin barriers can be weakened. During the day, you want to have healthy skin barriers to block UV rays, pollution, and blue light from damaging your skin."

How should you incorporate acids into your summer skincare routine? 

Sturnham stresses that you should always reserve your acids for your evening skincare routine, and recommends any daily acid use in the form of a gentle cleanser to decongest your skin and keep your pores clear. "Look for cream or gel formulations with alpha hydroxy acids, such as hydrating lactic acid and deep pore-cleansing beta hydroxy acid and salicylic acid, which delves into your pores and unblocks them," says Sturnham.

Meet the Expert

Natalie Aguilar is a celebrity aesthetician and dermatological nurse and founder of N4 Skincare.

She recommends saving your stronger acid exfoliation with a once-weekly mask treatment. "A combination of lactic acid and/or glycolic acid for brightening the skin and an alpha keto acid, pyruvic acid, for optimizing pore health and oil control works well," she says. "Do this in the evening and follow with a barrier repairing product that will help to put all the goodness back into the skin that is typically lost in the exfoliation process." She notes that ingredients such as squalene, ceramides, and fatty acids work well to replenish the barrier function. (Team Byrdie loves Lord Jones' Acid Mantle Repair and Kate Somerville's DeliKate Recovery Cream as an indulgent follow-up to any intense acid treatment.)

While skincare acids are safe to use in the summer, it is important that we don’t overuse and overexpose our skin to them. “Your skin can become a lot more sensitive during summer, and layering on too many acids can be far too much exfoliation for your skin," says dermatology nurse and celebrity esthetician Natalie Aguilar. "If you don’t want to eliminate these from your skincare routine, switch these steps to nighttime during the warmer months," adds Foreo's skincare therapist Abigail James. Another important note: if you are using acids during summer (or even the cooler months—remember, UVA/UVB rays are present even on a cloudy day), it's vital you finish off your skincare routine with an SPF to protect freshly-exfoliated skin from sun damage.

man in sun

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Are there other skincare ingredients to prioritize during the summer months?

According to Aguilar, there are some ingredients everyone should use all summer long without fear of over-exfoliation. “The safest skincare ingredients to use during summer are ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and hyaluronic acid," she says. "Ascorbic acid is the ideal acid to use during the summertime because that is when our skin is exposed to the most UV light, as it helps protect your skin from sun damage by neutralizing oxidative stress, lightening facial pigmentation, stimulating collagen production, and helping dry out blemishes and aiding in skin repair," says Aguilar. Foreo's skincare expert Abigail James agrees, noting, "Vitamin C is a mega antioxidant and is great for brightening, lightening, energizing and protecting the skin from sun damage."

Meet the Expert

Abigail James is a skincare therapist for skincare device brand Foreo.

Hyaluronic acid is another ingredient that will save anyone's skin during the summer. “Hyaluronic acid is perfect for holding moisture within the skin and is suitable for all skin types, as it’s water-based not oil," says James. Another benefit? "Hyaluronic acid [helps your skin release] antioxidants and can help sunburned skin heal faster," says Aguilar.

Retinol during the summer: yes or no?

Retinol is one of skincare’s most powerful ingredients. With results that include stimulating collagen production, encouraging cell renewal, improving tone and texture as well as diminishing the appearance of age spots, fine lines, and wrinkles, it’s no wonder we want to continue using it well into the summer months.

“Retinol and bakuchiol are two of my favorite ingredients and can absolutely be used over the summer months," says Dr. Sturnham. "Again, the key is the timing of where they slot into your daily routine. Both should be used at night and my preference is to use them in serum form." However, she does note that traditional retinoids can cause sensitivity in the sun so shouldn't be used in the daytime in summer, but there's a next-generation retinoid, called "granactive retinoid" that "bypasses the usual metabolic steps needed to activate Retinol and Retinaldehyde and doesn’t give you the redness and downtime either."

Are acid concentrations something we need to be mindful of?

Aguilar explains that concentrations depend on your skin’s sensitivity and starting small and building up is the best way to test your skin’s resilience.

“It’s advisable is to look out for concentrations and start with the lowest percentage depending on your skin's sensitivity," she notes. "Usually, the most concentrated products are not available over the counter."

Dr. Sturnham expressed similar thoughts, saying, “Over the years of studying skin behavior in response to ingredients, less is definitely more when it comes to skin health." She says the ideal regimen is to use an exfoliating cleanser at night that contains 1-2% salicylic acid and/or 2% lactic acid, then a once-weekly mask that contains 10% active acids maximum.

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