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Uh, Should You Stop Using Retinol While Traveling? The Answer May Surprise You

Jamie Schneider
mbg Associate Editor By Jamie Schneider
mbg Associate Editor
Jamie Schneider is the Associate Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and wellness. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Uh, Should You Stop Using Retinol While Traveling? The Answer May Surprise You
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Using a retinol during the winter is already a delicate dance, as cold, dry air can exacerbate some of the ingredient's bemoaned side effects. But for those traveling during the holidays, it involves even more guesswork: A new destination, after all, can add so many new variables, like humidity, type of water, and perhaps dry, airplane air—all of which can affect how your skin reacts to the beloved ingredient. Is it best to just, gasp, leave it at home? 

We consulted a derm to help you wade through the dilemma. 

Should you stop using a retinol while traveling?

According to board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., FAAD, the answer (like many popular skin care questions) is a resounding it depends. "If you're taking a short trip to an area that may expose your skin to climate variation, I recommend stopping the retinol since your skin may take days to adjust to the new climate conditions," she says.

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Let's say you live in a chilly climate and are spending the holidays somewhere tropical—your skin may take a hot minute to get used to the humidity, pollution levels (or lack thereof), and overall traveling woes, like the dry air on planes. Same goes for those who live at sea level jetting off to a mountain climate—your skin may need to adjust to the drier air. "I don't believe it's worth the downtime that may come with the climate adjustment," Ciraldo continues. 

The tap may even play a role, especially if you're traveling to an area of hard water. "Hard water tends to make skin drier and more sensitive, and it can leave your skin reddened," Ciraldo once shared with mbg, especially if your skin barrier is already compromised.

And speaking of tropical vacations: "If you are planning a winter beach getaway, I'd leave the retinol home since you can develop sun sensitivity from it," she adds. Remember: Retinol can increase photosensitivity, causing a rash or sunburn-like reaction when you're exposed to sunlight. "This is why it's recommended to use retinoids in the evening and protect your skin with a moisturizer with sunscreen during the day, so you get all the benefits and minimize the side effects," board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D., tells mbg about the vitamin A derivative

The bottom line? If you're headed to the beach, forget the retinol no matter how long the getaway is. If you're traveling somewhere new for just a few days, still leave the tube at home—it's not worth aggravating your skin while it adjusts to the new climate, and you'll be back home soon, anyway. But if you're spending more than a week in a new place (aside from the beach), Ciraldo says you can pack the retinol in your suitcase. Just keep an eye on your skin to see if you need to reduce the frequency. 

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The takeaway. 

Finding your perfect retinol routine is tricky, and it's likely an evolving project (i.e., you may need to edit your frequency or choose a lower-strength product at times). Traveling is one of those instances—depending on the type and length of your trip, it may be best to leave the retinol at home. Don't worry; you'll be back for it in a few days.

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