How The Sun Damages Your Beauty Products And Treatments

That sweet, sweet vitamin D can have somewhat of a sinister side when it comes to your beauty treatments and products. You’ve spent a lot of time and money looking and feeling your best — here’s how to ensure your manicure will last, your chemical peel won’t burn your face off, and your nail polish remover won’t explode on you.

Nair, Electrolysis, and Laser Hair Removal

Regardless of your method of hair removal, if you’re ripping, burning, melting, or creaming follicles, it’s best to avoid the sun before and after treatment.

Since lasers are specially calibrated to target skin pigment and hair color, tanned skin can confuse the laser, at best rendering your treatment ineffective, and at worst, leading to severe burns and scars. New York City dermatologist Patricia Wexler advises hiding from the sun at least 72 hours before a laser treatment to minimize risk of burns, blisters, scars, and hypo- or hyperpigmentation. “After sun exposure, the laser will recognize the tan as the same pigmentation as the pigment in the hair follicle. This puts the patient at risk for damaging the skin,” says Wexler.

While permanent scarring is rarer after a treatment, Wexler still says: “Post laser, the laser has sensitized the melanocytes to the sun. This will mean that unprotected sun exposure, post hair removal, can lead to the same excessive treatment reaction, with pigmentation irregularities.”

The same goes for electrolysis. The follicles are raw and exposed and need time to heal without fear of burning. Be nice to your dermis and stay out of the sun for at least 24 hours; make sure all uncovered areas are covered with sunscreen once you venture out.

Cream depilatories like Nair and Veet can also make the bare skin vulnerable to burning. Cover up — and don’t forget to store that bottle in a cool, dark place.

Hair Dye and Sprays

Left untouched, the melanin pigmentation in hair naturally protects itself against UV rays. Add in dyes and sprays and sun exposure, however, and suddenly you’ve got free radicals (aka bad guys) roaming all over your hair and scalp. Vitamin E is classified as a scavenger and may help counteract the negative effect of free radicals. But keep in mind that any extraneous hair products paired with the sun can lead to splitting and eventually, breakage.

Benzoyl Peroxide, and Other Acne Meds

According to Wexler, certain acne meds require refrigeration, more for preventing potency loss than for creating opportunities for phototoxicity (essentially a chemically induced burn). “Acne compounds, such as benzoyl peroxide and clindamycin gel, require refrigeration to remain stable. Any oxidative compounds with Vitamins A or C would be more stable being refrigerated, and are effective for a longer period of time.”

Chemical Peels

Whether by a dermatologist or at-home with something like Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel, Murad Environmental Shield Intensive C Radiance Peel or Olehenriksen’s Power Peel, chemical peels rely on strong acids like sodium hydroxide and calcium hydroxide to strip and rejuvenate your skin. More commonly known as lye and lime, these acids increase your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight and can lead to phytophotodermatitis. Imagine a severe burn meets an even worse rash and turns bright red in the spots the chemical has touched: that’s phytophotodermatitis.

It is also quite important to store your peel properly — or risk melting your face. “An acid peel that has been stored in a hot area will become dehydrated and actually more concentrated,” Wexler says. “Contrary to expired logic, this can actually result in a burn.”

Post-peel, make like a vampire and avoid the sun altogether while you heal. But if you absolutely must step out into the world, generously apply a high SPF sunscreen on the hour, every hour. According to Mayo Clinic, your skin will readjust to its normal settings in roughly two weeks, after which point you can hit the beach — with a big, floppy hat on.


Though meant to protect your skin from harmful UV rays, sunscreen cannot protect itself from the heat of the sun. Whether made of physical blockers like zinc oxide or with UV filters like oxybenzone and avobenzone, sunscreen features stabilizers to keep the ingredients properly photoactive. Introduction of heat above 77 degrees Fahrenheit degrades the quality and the effectiveness of your SPF, leaving your skin vulnerable to burns, rash, and melanoma.“It is well-known that SPF, when exposed to the sun for over two hours, will lose potency due to oxidation,” Wexler says.

Plus, the hot, hot sun beating down on the bottle may melt the plastic and introduce toxic particles into the sunscreen mixture. So if that bottle’s been on a windowsill, in your car, or out on the sand for too long: toss it.

All your beauty products, from pressed foundations to liquid liners to rouge à lèvres and parfums, are susceptible to harmful UV rays. Regardless of the formula type (cream, powder, whatever), the introduction of heat to any substance with a delicate chemical composition can cause particle destabilization or degradation.

Color Cosmetics

Says Randy Schueller, cosmetic chemist and co-founder of the Beauty Brains: “The same UV radiation that causes sunburn, wrinkles, and skin cancer also affects the quality of cosmetic ingredients in several ways.” Like color loss. “Pigments — particularly red shades — can be bleached by the sun’s rays.” Also funky feels and/or smells. “Too much sun can cause a cream or lotion to literally fall apart. That’s because UV radiation can break down the emulsifiers that help oil and water mix together. When this happens the product can separate into two layers. Fragrance ingredients are also vulnerable to sunlight. Overexposure may cause your cream or lotion to smell funny.” That’s twice as many trips to Sephora. “It’s also important to note that too much sun means too much heat as well. This is a problem because the speed of chemical reactions doubles with every ten-degree-celsius increase in temperature. That means your product can go bad twice as fast.”

Nail Products

If you’ve ever opened a bottle of polish only to find the texture has dramatically changed to something that is decidedly not nail polish, the sun may be the culprit. Direct sunlight triggers the solvents and chemicals in the polish, changing the formula from silky to hard and sticky. While most polishes feature a low level of benzophenone-1 as a protective layer against UV rays, prolonged exposure to the sun will definitely dull your mani. If you slather on sunscreen, be careful to go around your nails: the heavy, strong lotion can cause your polish to fade as well. For an extra layer of protection and to keep your color bright like you want it, use a topcoat that absorbs harmful UV rays like Orly Sunscreen for Nails, or Deborah Lippmann Umbrella Oxygen Raincoat.

Also, regarding acrylics: Acrylic is a plastic polymer and by now we all know plastics + sun = no good. UV rays can ruin your fancy nails by either yellowing them or altering the bond they have with your actual nails.

And as for nail polish remover: Acetone is the highly volatile main active ingredient in most drugstore polish removers and it can, quite literally, spontaneously combust in the hot, hot sun. It’s best to just leave this one in a cool, dark place at home to minimize risk of fire or explosion.