If you follow skincare TikTok trends, you may have seen the words “skin cycling” buzzing around recently. Videos explaining the regimen have racked up more than 90 million views.
But as we all know, not every popular skincare trend is worth pursuing. (Remember snail facials?) So, what actually is skin cycling, what are the benefits, and is it worth incorporating into your skincare routine?
What is skin cycling?
There are some simple rules of achieving clear skin that are practically a given at this point — we all know how important it is to cleanse regularly, moisturize, and always apply SPF. But when you start adding more products, like anti-aging serums or exfoliants, it gets a little more complicated. What products should you use, in what order, and when? Figuring how to layer active ingredients can be confusing — and getting it wrong can create ingredient cocktails that are irritating to your skin.
That’s where the concept of skin cycling comes in. Rather than layering the same products on top of each other every day, skin cycling is a way of being strategic with how and when you apply certain products so that they complement one another (literally “cycling” through skin products). It involves using active ingredients only on certain days and following them with “rest days” to align with the growth and repair cycle of the skin.
Skin Cycling Benefits
So, why has this particular skincare trend taken the internet by storm? It turns out there are several benefits of cycling for skin:
Reduce Negative Product Side Effects
While the #skincycling trend may be new, the technique is not: Dermatologists have been recommending intermittent or alternating use of active ingredients for a long time. That’s because certain products can be harsher on the skin than others, so this practice allows you to reap the benefits of your exfoliants and retinoids without overdoing it and causing irritation.
Repair Your Skin Barrier
A healthy skin barrier protects you from infection, harsh chemicals, and allergens. On the other hand, a compromised skin barrier can contribute to a wide range of skin conditions — including acne, eczema, and atopic dermatitis. Over-exfoliating and using powerful retinoids may harm this barrier (leading to redness and irritation), which is where rest days come in handy. That’s probably why when TikTok stars post about skin cycling, acne (or their lack thereof) is referenced often.
Protect Skin Against Seasonal Irritants
Recovery nights also become especially beneficial in fall and winter, since cold, windy, and dry climates can cause dry skin and worsen certain skin conditions. Skin cycling may help prevent your skin from getting dry in the first place, so that your face can handle the elements better.
Skin Cycling Products
One of the best things about this technique is that it doesn’t require a massive investment — since skin cycling uses routine products that are probably already on your shelf at home. To get started, the only skin cycling products you’ll need are:
Skin Cycling Routine
With skin cycling, your morning routine won’t be affected — because the regimen specifically pertains to what you do before bed. Fortunately, these skin cycling steps are super straightforward.
The skin cycling calendar is four days long: The first is the exfoliation night, the second is a retinoid night, and the third and fourth are recovery nights, then you repeat the cycle. (Your esthetician might suggest variations on the method, depending on how your skin responds.)
Each night begins with cleansing and ends with moisturizing, but the skin cycling steps pertain to what varies in between. That skin cycling routine includes:
Night #1: Exfoliation
On this night, after cleansing you’ll use an exfoliant to clear your pores and remove dead skin cells. This step comes first because it allows other products to penetrate more deeply — making them perform more effectively and in a controlled, predictable way.
Night #2: Retinoids
This night is focused on retinoids, which can help speed up skin cell turnover, treat mild acne, fade hyperpigmentation and scarring, and reduce signs of aging. Retinoids are vitamin A -based skin products, and one of the powerful ingredients to include in your skin cycling routine. However, they can also be very irritating when you first introduce them, or if you have sensitive, reactive skin. Which brings us to...
Night #3-4: Recovery
On recovery nights, your goals are hydration and moisture to support the natural growth and repair cycle of the skin. So, cleanse your skin and apply a moisturizer… and that’s it. By holding off on the exfoliating acids and retinoids, you avoid any irritating ingredients and give your skin a chance to recover — nourishing your skin microbiome and repairing your skin barrier.
The Bottom Line of Skin Cycling
At the end of the day, skin cycling is just another trend that has emerged largely because skincare is hard. Even aside from all the various products and active ingredients, everyone’s skin type is different — so what works well for one TikTok influencer may wreak havoc on your face. So while these tips may be useful, before making any changes to your skincare routine, we strongly recommend that you consult with an esthetician to determine what’s right for you.
Are you thinking of trying skin cycling? Have questions about how to optimize your skincare routine? I’d love to hear about it. Schedule your free consultation, and let’s chat.