Skin Cycling: An Old Idea is Reborn

by Blake Herzog

Many dermatologists over the years have endorsed the concept of not piling tons of products with active ingredients onto your skin every night and risk the irritation and redness they can create, especially those with retinol.

It’s finally come into its own after one of them came up with a catchy name and got onto TikTok.

Skin cycling became almost inescapable across the social media platform in 2022 with its easy-to-quick-cut steps and adaptability as users decide to move into more advanced routines.

Not all experts support this approach, but many followers rave about the soft, non-irritated skin that begins to emerge in as soon as a few weeks.

Dr. Whitney Bowe, who coined the term, compares it to giving muscle groups a rest day from working out or using the weekend to decompress and get ready for the next work week.

The basic four-night skin cycling routine Bowe has outlined is simple at first glance: exfoliating the first night, applying retinoids or retinol on the second, and “recovering” on the third and fourth through liberal moisturizing to repair the skin barrier, while maintaining a consistent morning regimen.

Bowe recommends chemical exfoliant serums over gritty lotions and emphasizes moisturizing is an essential step every night. She says skin cycling is especially effective for those with sensitive skin but also has tips for “gentle” skin cycling as well as an “advanced” skin cycling strategy with fewer recovery nights and stronger products for those who’ve fared well with the classic combo.

Its True Beauty  

The real beauty of skin cycling is its adaptability for any skin type, issue or budget, not just the ones Bowe sells on her website. That’s probably also why it’s gotten billions of views on TikTok, as everyone puts their own spin on it with the products they use and the success they have with them.

Most everyone cleanses (or double-cleanses) and moisturizes nightly, and some add gentle serums as well.

Acne is one skin condition that many say respond well to skin cycling because exfoliation and applying retinol are key steps in the fight against this scourge, along with using benzoyl peroxide in the morning on your exfoliation and retinol days (only in the morning, as it can block the effects of other products, in particular retinol).

If you don’t have trouble tolerating retinol, you can delete one of the recovery days so you can receive more of its benefits.

Skin cycling also can help those with milder eczema or rosacea, but those with more severe conditions that need prescription-based treatment aren’t going to have as much success with its reliance on over-the-counter products, though prescription retinoids can be used on retinol nights by those who can tolerate their strength.

Overall, skin cycling is a safe practice that can improve your skin health, especially if using multiple products seems to be taking a toll on your skin.