Skin Cycling: Finally, a TikTok Skin-Care Trend That’s Legit
Even when all else fails, at least we still have our beloved skin-care routines at the end of the day. Sometimes, it’s the one thing that remains consistent in life. The skin is the largest organ of our bodies, after all, so as long as we keep it in check with ingredients that nourish and soothe the skin, we’re doing quite alright in life, if you ask me.
TikTok skin-care aficionados seem to be doing quite well, too. A new trend called “skin cycling” has the platform raving with good reviews. Whitney Bowe, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, invented the four-day regimen and has been educating TikTok and Instagram about it since April of 2021.
What is skin cycling?
Years ago, within the walls of Dr. Bowe’s dermatology practice, the skin cycling method started evolving into what now is a four-night regimen that alternates between using active ingredients and letting the skin rest. “It’s a four-night cycling schedule: exfoliation night, retinoid night, recovery night, recovery night, repeat. You will get the most out of the active ingredients in your skin-care products while minimizing irritation by building in those needed recovery nights,” Dr. Bowe explains.
Dr. Bowe set out to create a strategic routine that implemented all the benefits that come from using exfoliants and retinol, all while preventing inflammation and irritation of the skin with two complimented nights dedicated to “recovery.” That, and she wanted to simplify the oversaturated world of the skin-care market for her patients. “The world of skin care was becoming overly complicated, and upon listening to my patients and examining how their skin was reacting to different skin-care routines, I saw the need to streamline the skin-care routine of my patients to optimize their skin health.”
On the first night of the regimen, Dr. Bowe recommends exfoliating the skin with a chemical exfoliant. In a previous video shared on her Instagram, she mentions that an at-home peel is gentle on the skin and provides an even degree of exfoliation. Exfoliants should always come into play after cleansing the skin – which should remain the first step — and should be followed by moisturizer, as Dr. Bowe recommends.
Not only does exfoliation rid the skin of dead cells, but it can improve skin texture and help other skin-care ingredients absorb effectively into the skin barrier. As New York City board-certified dermatologist Shari Marchbein, MD, once told Allure, “exfoliation, whether chemical or physical, is an important part of a skin-care routine because it helps maintain a dewy, hydrated glow, can even skin tone and texture, and can unclog pores.”
Night two of Dr. Bowe’s skin-cycling routine begins with cleansing, then a pea-sized amount of retinol, coated with a layer of moisturizer as the final step of your nighttime routine. “Retinol is one of the main forms of vitamin A,” cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson previously told Allure. “It can help stimulate cell turnover as well as help stimulate collagen production.” That means the reduced appearance of fine lines, dark spots, dark circles, and acne.
But remember: retinol requires tolerance on your skin’s part. For those who are just beginning to incorporate this active ingredient, apply with caution. Caroline Chang, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, once explained to Allure that “applying more [retinol] at one time to your skin won’t give you faster results, it will just cause more irritation.”
How does skin cycling work?
The concept of skin cycling allows for a balance between these two effective-yet-potentially-irritating ingredients. Alternating the use of exfoliant and retinol — and following them up with two nights of recovery — allows the skin time to build tolerances and reduces the potential of overdoing it.
Other dermatologists generally agree. As Connecticut-based board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, says “Focusing on one active or process at a time allows for maximal results and minimal irritation. Although as time goes on, many can multitask by combining some of these steps. It often depends on comfort level and level of skin sensitivity.”
But, as it goes for all skin care, you’ve got to consider your own specific skin type. “Starting low and going slow is great. It all depends on who you are, your skin type, and what the goal is your wanting to get out,” Marchbein tells Allure. “This is a technique that allows you to build up.” When it comes to her patients, she says every skin-care routine is (and should be) different. She ultimately stresses the importance of having a conversation with your dermatologist before incorporating certain products into your regimen.
If you’re not ready to jump right into skin cycling, here’s what Dr. Marchbein suggests: “I love the idea of alternating things, but a good skin-care routine comes with gentle cleansing twice a day, plus sunscreen and vitamin C in the morning. Once a week, Sunday night, I have patients do a chemical exfoliant.” If a patient’s skin can’t tolerate once a week, she says she’ll have them exfoliate once every two weeks.
Should I try skin cycling?
The million-dollar question: Which skin types could best benefit from skin cycling? “Oily or combination skin could benefit from retinol and exfoliants,” says Dr. Gohara. But for those who have more of a sensitive skin type, “ingredients such as retinol and chemical exfoliants can stoke the fire,” she adds.
The hashtag #skincycling boasts 14.2 million views and counting for a reason — it allows skin-care newbies and veterans alike to have a schedule that’s easy to maintain, all the while keeping things in control for those who tend to get too excited with active ingredients. But as Dr. Marchbein concludes, “Using good skin care is what is going to make the difference.”
Knowing what ingredients will best suit you all depends on your specific skin type. Bring up the conversation with your dermatologist because every person’s skin is uniquely different. Oh, and remember: If you do decide to incorporate an exfoliant and/or retinol into your routine, slow and steady wins the race. As Dr. Bowe likes to say, “when you try to push the workhorses (the exfoliating acids, the retinoids) by using them every single day, you might not even realize it but you’re damaging your skin barrier.”
You just have to listen to your skin, protect it with SPF, and always keep it hydrated — skin cycling or not.
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