How to Use Active Ingredients in the Summer

Chances are you’re already familiar with most of them, but some of the most commonly discussed actives in the world of skincare include — you guessed it — vitamin C, retinol, hyaluronic acid, and both alpha and beta hydroxy acids. Each one serves a different function, from hydration to exfoliation, so when it comes to choosing the best active for you, it’s all about listening to your skin and what it needs.

ICYMI, we recently did an entire deep dive on actives — including how they work, why they’re important in skincare, and the various different benefits of each. (To recap: Actives are hero ingredients that play specific roles in the function of our overall skin health and improvement.) As board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, M.D., put it: “They are important because they refer to the main ingredients that we consider important in a skincare regimen.” 

It’s worth noting the actives you use could change on a daily basis — for instance, you experience dryness one day and be in need of a brightening boost the next. Nonetheless, how you actually use actives is extremely important, and arguably even more so in the summertime when UV exposure is at its peak, as certain ingredients can increase your risk of sun damage. (More on that in a moment.)

With this in mind, we’re breaking down exactly how to use these potent actives in your summer routine for best results. Without further ado, keep scrolling for expert advice on how to properly incorporate actives into your summer skincare lineup. 

The active: Vitamin C

What it does: Brightens and evens skin tone

How to use it: “Vitamin C is a great antioxidant to use all year, but especially in the summer months as it works well to protect the skin from free radical damage that can occur from UV exposure,” says Dr. Garshick, who notes that it works even better when applied in conjunction with sunscreen because it helps to neutralize any free radical damage caused by sun exposure and other environmental stressors — giving it a synergistic effect. “It also helps brighten the skin and improve the appearance of discoloration, which is a common skincare concern in the summer months,” she says.

This is extra important for those who struggle with acne and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, as it can aid in speeding up the healing time of dark marks leftover from breakouts. You’ll find the powerhouse ingredient in our Guava Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum, which contains five forms of vitamin C for superior results. Apply it post-cleanse, but before moisturizing — then slather on your SPF and you’re good to go. 

The active: Salicylic acid

What it does: Evens out skin texture and tone

How to use it: While exfoliating acids are an amazing way to get an instant summer glow, Dr. Garshick says it’s super important to be diligent about your sun protection if you’re going to use them regularly during the summer months. With that caveat out of the way, salicylic acid is a great, gentle beta hydroxy acid that penetrates deep inside the pores to unclog excess oil and bacteria, which helps to prevent breakouts and smooth the skin.

Found in our brand-new Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Serum, it can also aid in brightening, clearing existing breakouts, and calming inflammation to boot. While Strawberry Smooth is safe to use both morning and night, Dr. Garshick advises using your acids in the evening during the summer months — when you’re not using a retinol, that is — to limit the risk of sun damage. 

The active: Hyaluronic acid

What it does: Hydrates and plumps skin

How to use it: Hyaluronic acid is a highly touted humectant famous for its ability to attract up to 1000 times its weight in water. Fantastic for all skin types, Dr. Garshick says that using HA in the summertime can be especially helpful for those who experience dryness due to sun exposure or chlorine and salt water. “Using hyaluronic acid can help to plump the skin and replenish moisture, while also improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” she explains.

It can be used morning or night and pairs well with most other ingredients, so it’s fair game to use along with your vitamin C serum in the A.M., as well as your retinol in the P.M. The famed ingredient is found in myriad Glow Recipe products, including but not limited to: Plump Plump Hyaluronic Cream, Plump Plump Hyaluronic Serum, Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask, and the Watermelon Glow Hyaluronic Clay Pore-Tight Facial.   

The active: Retinol

What it does: Smooths and firms

How to use it: “Retinol can still be used in the summer months to help improve overall skin tone and texture,” says Dr. Garshick. “Although retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, it’s still okay to use provided that you’re being good about wearing proper sun protection.”

As a general rule, retinols should be used at nighttime, because this is when they work best to help repair the skin; plus, says Dr. Garshick, some forms can also be “photo-labile,” meaning they can become unstable when exposed to sunlight. “While this is not the case with all retinoids, it is generally recommended to use your retinoid at night and vitamin C in the morning,” she says. All this to say: add the Avocado Melt Retinol Sleeping Eye Mask to your evening routine to help fade fine lines, wrinkles, and any existing sun damage. It also contains soothing agents like coffeeberry and niacinamide to calm and nourish the delicate eye area. 

Keep reading about active ingredients: