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  /  All Posts   /  Skin Cycling: The Truth Behind the Hype
skin cycling

Skin cycling is a trendy skincare method that recently appeared on social media and has certainly become an active topic of discussion.  It’s a very popular beauty trend and has taken over Tik Tok, with over 3.5 billion views on the hashtag. Is it just another online fad, or is there a real method behind the online madness, and does it get results? Some skincare experts actually support and agree with it. But what is it, and how does it work?

I’ve recently received a lot of questions about it that begin, “Someone was talking about skin cycling on Tik Tok, have you heard of it?  And what’s your opinion about skin cycling?”

I’ll answer that question in this blog.

What is Skin Cycling?

Skin cycling is the name of a process that was originally coined by dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe in 2021, when she first shared her own “skin cycling” routine on social media. Essentially, that program consists of a 4-step, nightly regimen. That method labels those four nights as Exfoliating Night, Retinoid Night, and two successive Recovery Nights. On the fifth night, the cycle repeats.

What does a Skin Cycling regimen look like?

Evening 1, Exfoliation: cleanse, exfoliate, moisturize

Evening 2, Retinoids: cleanse, retinoid/retinol, moisturize

Evening 3 & 4, Recovery: cleanse, moisturize

Cleanser/Moisturizer – KISS approach (keep it super simple).  Use a gentle cleanser and moisturizer.  Should you need additional hydration, you can layer a hyaluronic acid serum in between cleansing and moisturizing, or opt for an occlusive moisturizer or moisturizing oil.

Exfoliation – I personally prefer chemical exfoliants vs physical exfoliants.  I find that when doing their own exfoliation, most people are better off using creams or ointments because they are less likely to overdo it. Chemical exfoliants can vary, the most common being AHA’s and BHA’s.

I am also quite comfortable using our exfoliation pads (my experience is that one pad is all you need). But our serums (Mandelic, Salicylic) are really excellent.  It’s really just a matter of preference.  I always select what I think will work best, based on the client’s specific needs. That’s my golden rule. 

These are our favorites:

Retinoid -To keep it simple, there are mainly 4 categories of retinoids:  retinyl esters, retinol, retinaldehyde, and retinoic acid.  You can choose one for yourself or better yet, directly receive one from our esthetician. These can take some getting used to, but I consider them to be the gold standard. It’s amazing, and trust me when I say: you will learn to love it. 

If you’re wondering what you should do to start your morning, at the very minimum you’ll want to cleanse, moisturize, and protect your skin.  If you want to up your game and add something more than just the basics, I would introduce an antioxidant like our Triple Radiance. For an extra boost of hydration, you can try our Ultimate Hydrating Serum

Why is it so popular?

What makes Skin Cycling so popular? It might be because it’s a catchy name that sounds authoritative, or it may be that people are starting to understand that where skin treatments are involved, we can overdo it. Our skin needs rest. “Particularly during the pandemic, people were adding layer after layer after layer onto their skin-care routines and experimenting with ingredient cocktails that were irritating and damaging their skin,” Dr. Bowe says.

But instead of just stacking more and more skin products atop one another, by spreading them out through the practice of “skin cycling,” we can let our skin recover between treatments, allowing any applied skin products the necessary time to work with one another in a more complementary manner.

How Long Should You Keep Doing It?

According to Dr. Bowe, you can essentially keep right on skin cycling continuously, though modifying your skin-cycle regime over time as needed. It all depends on how your skin responds to whatever “active” ingredients you are using, and the overall results.

In general, though, it’s always a good idea to remember that where skin care is concerned, consistency is always more important than frequency. Products tend to be more effective with regular use, even if you’re not using them on a daily basis.

What is My Opinion?

When I was first asked about skin cycling, I took the time to do some research and see for myself what it was all about.  When I finally learned about it, I was honestly a bit underwhelmed by it. Maybe because I had assumed it must be something revolutionary and exciting that I had somehow missed out on.

But the truth is this: as licensed estheticians, most of us already practice some version of “skin cycling” with our clients. I suppose what differentiates us from online influencers and trendsetters is that we never bothered to give the practice a separate name.  I just consider “skin cycling” to be the progressive introduction of ingredients to a client’s skin, with appropriate intervals allowing the treatment to take full effect. This process and the selection of treatments and products should ALWAYS be determined primarily by the client’s needs and skin care goals, their skin type, and any local effects caused by changes in climate and humidity, etc. 

What You Need to Know

Skin cycling is really just a new name for a rather simple (and well-known) method of rotating one’s nighttime skincare products over a period of days to ensure optimal results while avoiding any undue irritation or unnecessary skin damage.

Skin cycling will work for every type of skin or complexion because it involves adjusting what products are used and how often they occur as part of a pre-planned skin care regimen. 

My Advice

I have always been an advocate of treating clients progressively not aggressively. With so many different skin types and complexions out there, there’s really no such thing as a one-size-fits-all skin care solution, so in general, the idea of skin cycling makes sense as a starting point for skin care planning, or as a means of resetting and regulating one’s use of skin care products. If someone has been using a very extreme exfoliating regimen, it can be beneficial to back off such heavy usage by adopting a four-day regimen to prevent sensitive skin from becoming irritated or inflamed by overuse. 

Is it for everyone?  No, but it can provide a solid starting point. I would eventually customize this so that my clients receive all of the therapeutic benefits of the actives I select for them, which I can then increase/decrease, or switch, depending on what works best. Those decisions are always dependent on the client’s individual needs and goals, though.

But Skin Cycling, as described by Dr. Bowe, can definitely be a useful tool when crafting safe and beneficial long-term skin care regimens.