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What is Skin Cycling and Should You Do It?
If you’ve been on social media apps such as TikTok or Instagram, chances are you’ve seen the hashtag or numerous clips about the “skin cycling” trend. Despite the name, skin cycling doesn’t mean making your skin undergo a spin class. Not at all. Instead, skin cycling is a viral skincare trend that was created by a board-certified dermatologist and approved by other dermatologists as well.
Let us tell you all about skin cycling and if it’s something that you should incorporate into your beauty routine!
What is Skin Cycling?
Skin cycling is described as “a thoughtful approach to the nighttime skincare routine that encourages individuals to use products in a specific way to set the skin up for success while dialing down unnecessary irritation.” The term was coined by Dr. Whitney Bowe, a New York-based dermatologist.
“The principal aim of skin cycling is to simultaneously maximize the efficacy of retinol and minimize irritation,” says Dr. Bowe. The viral skin cycling trend spans four nights, with different activities done each night. The first two nights focus on exfoliation and using retinol respectively, while the third and fourth nights are recovery nights.
During the pandemic, Dr. Bowe noticed that numerous people were adding layer after layer after layer onto their skincare routines, experimenting with product and ingredient cocktails that were damaging and irritating the skin.
How Does Skin Cycling Work?
A skin cycling routine is a less-is-more approach to skin care. “Instead of piling products on top of each other, skin cycling encourages people to use skincare products strategically so that they complement one another,” says Dr. Bowe.
Skin cycling works on a four-day cycle. It limits the use of active ingredients and exfoliants to two nights a week to give your skin a break. After using active ingredients, the following nights are essentially recovery nights to help improve and reestablish the skin barrier. This entire process is then cycled, hence the term “skin cycling.”
Dr. Bowe emphasizes that the order is important because it staggers how often an individual is using powerful, potentially irritating ingredients like exfoliating acids and retinoids. This helps in protecting and maintaining the health of the skin barrier. Here’s a more in-depth look at each night:
Night One: Exfoliation
Skin cycling routines kick off with exfoliation as Dr. Bowe says doing so ensures dead skin cells on the surface of the skin are sloughed away. This also allows your other skincare products to perform more effectively as they are able to penetrate more deeply into the skin in a controlled, predictable way.
Additionally, having a day dedicated to exfoliation prevents you from overdoing it. “Over-exfoliation can compromise the skin barrier,” says Dr. Bowe.
Dr. Bowe recommends first cleansing your face with your regular facial cleanser and then using a chemical exfoliant after to unclog pores. Chemical exfoliants are preferred as they are more gentle than physical scrubs. Look for ones that contain ingredients such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid.
Night Two: Retinoids
The second night of the routine is focused on using retinoids. Available as prescription medication like tretinoin or as over-the-counter products like retinol, retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that can boost collagen production, stimulate the skin’s turnover, and help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. They can be very irritating when first introduced, or if you’re someone who has sensitive, reactive skin.
Before applying retinol or tretinoin, make sure you cleanse your face and pat it dry. If you have sensitive skin, you can moisturize around the sensitive areas of your face first to avoid irritation. You can add another layer of moisturizer or use a product with hyaluronic acid on top of your retinoid if your skin still feels dry.
Nights Three and Four: Recovery Night
The next two nights of the routine focus on letting the skin recover. Instead of exfoliating or using retinoids, it’s time to focus on nourishing the skin’s microbiome and repairing the skin barrier. Dr. Bowe says that it’s important to choose products with formulas that can keep the skin adequately hydrated.
For the recovery period of the cycle, first, cleanse your face as usual and then apply a serum that contains ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or niacinamide. Follow it up with a gentle moisturizer. If your skin still feels really dry, you can apply rosehip oil or squalene oil as well.
How Long Does a Skin Cycling Routine Take?
As mentioned, the classic skin cycling routine spans four nights. Each night focuses on one key type of product. Dr. Bowe’s specific skin cycling routine begins with an exfoliation night, followed by a retinoid night, and then nights three and four are reserved for recovery.
According to Dr. Bowe, the results from skin cycling can happen soon after starting. Blotchy patches or sensitivity should improve after two cycles. But of course, how long you do this skincare routine ultimately depends on you.
You can do it for four to six weeks, or even longer than that especially if you don’t see signs of a compromised skin barrier. You can even bump up to an advanced routine once your skin adjusts to the regular routine.
Dr. Bowe acknowledges that if people can get their skin adjusted to a stable and powerful retinoid, skin cycling won’t offer many additional benefits.
It’s worth noting that just like other skincare routines, skin cycling routines can also be customized or switched up based on skin type or other concerns. There is no one-size-fits-all routine, and that includes skin cycling. Dr. Bowe notes that you can customize the skin cycle regimen to treat your specific needs.
Does Skin Cycling Help Acne?
If you have acne-prone skin, this skincare routine can be beneficial for you. Regular exfoliation can help with keeping pores clear and using acne treatments with retinol can help reduce spots and scarring, and can even out skin tone.
If you have a sensitive skin type, this routine can also benefit you as the rotation of products can make them more tolerable.
A skin cycling routine is a simple, planned approach that maximizes the benefits of retinoids and exfoliating products while minimizing skin irritation. This trendy skincare routine allows for rest days during the week so that the skin can repair itself after using certain products to prevent irritation and inflammation. Your skin’s tolerance will improve over time as well.
Do note that the skin cycle routine is not for all skin types. Just like many skincare routines, your mileage may vary. If you experience any discomfort, it’s best to stop using the products that irritate your skin and seek skincare advice from a dermatologist.
Ira Arellano graduated with a degree in Multimedia Arts from the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. When she’s not busy writing, Ira uses her remaining free time fawning over groups with too many members, reading three books simultaneously, crying over animated shows and fictional people, and being salty over her lack of gacha luck.