With so many new viral skincare routines trending on TikTok, it's natural to be cynical about yet another trend. But skin cycling, with more than 4 Billion views on TikTok and counting, sees dermatologists and aestheticians supporting the logic behind the trend.
So, what is it? Put simply, skin cycling is essentially a four day skincare 'cycle' where an acid is introduced on the first night, retinol on the second and gentle ingredients that allow your skin to rest on the third and fourth days - and then repeating. TikTokers claim to notice clearer, more radiant skin due to regular exfoliation without the irritation or redness that often comes with overuse of actives.
But does it work?
The New York-based dermatologist behind the concept is Dr Whitney Bowe, who shared her vision for the ultimate skin cycling routine on TikTok.
The New York City–based dermatologist asked her patients to bring in the products they were using and explain the order in which they applied them and how often they used each in a given week. Soon, she discovered that no one seemed to know which products to use when and that anytime they learned about a new ingredient, they simply added it into their existing regimens.
“Their routines were getting very long, very cumbersome, and they ended up with either severe irritation or they just hit a plateau and weren’t seeing any real changes or benefits in their skin,” so as I was thinking about their skin care and changing variables, I knew we needed to find a more strategic and deliberate way to approach skin care." Dr Whitney Bowe understood that the full range of benefits would only come from using these ingredients in isolation, rather than all together, so she devised a new plan for her patients: skin cycling.
@drwhitneybowe #duet with @sarahpalmyra #glycolicacid Love this! #glycolicacid #exfoliation #feetcare #thatboweglow #dermatologist ♬ original sound - Johnathan Dodson
Typically, a skin cycle will start with an exfoliation night, followed by a retinoid night, and, finally, two nights for recovery, before returning to night one to do the whole thing over again. “The concept there is that during exfoliation night, you use an exfoliating product—ideally a blend of different acids—that’s going to slough away the uppermost layer of dead skin cells on the surface of skin, so you’ll not only get sort of a glow overnight, but your skin will also get the most out of night two, your retinoid night,” Bowe says. “Because when you remove the layer of dead skin cells, the next product you use will penetrate better.”
Bowe continues, “When it comes to exfoliation night, I find that a blend of acids is more effective than a single acid, and an AHA like glycolic acid that’s formulated in 8 to 10 percent strength has been shown to stimulate collagen production, which matters long-term.” She adds, “It’s one thing to unclog your pores and brighten your skin overnight, but it’s another thing to actually create this scaffold and structure in the deep layers of your skin that will make your pores literally smaller over time and help with fine lines and wrinkles.”
The next night, you use a retinoid."Retinoids are one of the most powerful ingredients to include in your skin-cycling routine," Dr. Bowe says. "However, if you try to use them too frequently, or layer them with other potentially irritating ingredients, you end up with inflammation rather than results." Because of this, it's best to use retinol on its own as the only exfoliating or resurfacing ingredient in your routine.
Nights Three and Four
Nights three and four are all about recovery. “Nights three and four focus primarily on hydration, nourishing the skin microbiome, and repairing the skin barrier,” the skin cycling creator says. “So you want to avoid any potentially irritating ingredients and just focus on repair.”
The Benefits of Skin Cycling
This practice allows you to reap the benefits of your exfoliants and retinoids without overdoing it and causing irritation. "There are two groups of people who will benefit most from skin cycling: those who are overwhelmed by all the products out there and not sure where to start, and those who are already using great products but reaching a plateau in results," Dr. Bowe says.
Every skin type can benefit from trying skin cycling. "You can make small tweaks based on your skin type and your goals," Dr. Bowe says. For example, if you have sensitive or dry skin, you can use a lower-grade retinol or acid or add a third recovery night to the rotation. Those with acne-prone skin, on the other hand, can benefit from testing their skin-care routine on a three-day cycle: exfoliation, retinoid, recovery, repeat. It's all about finding what's right for you.
How Quickly Does Skin Cycling Work?
According to Dr. Bowe, you may start to see results in your skin after just eight days, which is two full cycles. "You can expect to see a more healthy glow and an overall radiance to your skin," she says. "Skin should overall look and feel more hydrated and feel softer to the touch."
The longer you skin cycle, the more of a difference you'll notice in your complexion.
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