Skin cycling is the latest beauty trend to take over TikTok. Posts that mention skin cycling have garnered 3.5B views on the social media platform, with #skincycling being associated with 122.3M views. It is clearly popular, but what is this practice, and is it the skincare routine you are missing?

The term “skin cycling” is new, and it was coined by Whitney Bowe, MD, a NYC-based board-certified dermatologist, as a term used to describe the way products are applied to the skin. You don’t apply the same products every day. When skin cycling, products are applied with rest days. Skin cycling apples to a nighttime skincare routine, which involves using active ingredients only on certain days, and following with rest days. A four-day cycle is the most popular, comprised of using active ingredients for two nights of the week, followed by two nights of rest and repeating. The idea is that adopting a skin cycling routine can help prevent the skin barrier from being compromised due to overuse of active ingredients. This makes it a great way to create a consistent and effective routine, helping the skin work optimally.


What you will need for skin cycling:
  • An exfoliator (like glycolic acid or salicylic acid)
  • A retinoid (like retinol or retinaldehyde)
  • A moisturizer (fragrance-free ointment or cream)


Night #1: Exfoliation

Prepare to clear your pores and slough away dead dull skin. First cleanse with a gentle face wash and pat skin dry. Then use a leave-on chemical exfoliant, such as a serum that includes alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids.


Night #2: Retinoid

This is the retinoid night. You will want to cleanse your face and then make sure your skin is thoroughly dry and not damp before applying the retinoid. A pea-size amount of product for your entire face is plenty. If you have not used a retinoid before, apply a thin layer of a simple moisturizer to sensitive areas (under the eyes, around the corners of the mouth, at the base of your nostrils and on the neck) first. Then apply your retinoid and finish with another layer of moisturizer on top – sandwich technique. Note that you should not use retinoid-based product if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.


Nights #3 & 4: Repair and Recovery

Your skin has been hard at work, and now you should ease into recovery nights. Simply cleanse your face and apply any hydrating serums or moisturizers that don’t include active ingredients like AHA, BHA or retinoids. Use fragrance-free product that contains skin-repairing add-ins like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides. Apply moisturizer on damp skin to lock that water in.


Once you finish the cycle, you repeat the process. Skin cycling can be really effective because it gives your face a chance to heal in between treatments. This is an easy routine to use, and it is particularly useful in people who are sensitive and cannot tolerate harsh ingredients on a daily basis. The regimen encourages people to cleanse and moisturize their face every night and space out harsher treatments that can irritate the skin.


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