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Introducing ‘Skin Cycling,’ the new skincare trend on TikTok that actually works

When has Dr. Whitney Bowe ever led anyone astray?

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Image via Hello I'm Nik / Unsplash

Picture a skincare novice. Their routine occupies a place between Patrick Bateman and Dwight Schrute, a broad spectrum on which they (as of late) lean towards the latter. TikToks comparing men and women applying skincare products are a welcome glimpse into their relationship with creams, serums, gels, masks, and acids. They apply sunscreen/moisturizer hybrid (when they feel like it), and rub a bar of Dove soap on their face when they shower (also when they feel like it).

“Skin cycling” is the perfect routine for skin novices like the one described above. Skincare guru and celebrity dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe coined the term and popularized it to refer the idea of staggering one’s application of exfoliant and gentle moisturizers to prevent a routine from becoming too abrasive. Many beauty influencers overdo their daily application of exfoliants, which can prove terribly irritating for those with sensitive skin.

Bowe brilliantly likens it to working out the same body part everyday without allowing a recovery period. The analogy is one sure enough to familiarize the avid gym rat with the importance of staggering their routine. Skin cycling is deceptively simple, and follows a period of 3 to 4 days, a short description of which can be found below.

Night 1: Exfoliation

The first night is when one excavates the dead skin using an exfoliating agent applied just before bed. Dr. Bowe recommends a chemical exfoliant (a serum including AHAs or BHAs is preferable to harder cleansers with micro-beads. Exfoliation shouldn’t feel like a burning on the skin, that would indicate that irritation and dryness may occur as a result. Chemical exfoliants that include solutions like Salicylic Acid are widely available in different concentrations depending on one’s skin type.

Night 2: Retinoids

Welcome to retinoids. For the uninitiated, retinoids are a catch-all term for Vitamin-A based skincare products which promote more even skin tone, boost collagen, and encourage skin cell turnover, a process crucial to skin cycling. In order to apply retinoids, one must wash their face and make sure it’s completely dry. Retinoids may prove too abrasive for those with very sensitive or dry skin, so use caution when applying these products.

Night 3 & 4: R&R

All of these chemicals have been working over time to ensure the skin is freer of blemish and dead skin cells, and one must proceed with caution over the next two days so as not to further aggravate their skin. There are a wide array of hydrating moisturizers, serums, and mists that gently accentuate the skin’s natural oils. One should think of nights 3 and 4 as a reward for the hard work their skin is doing. It’s best to exercise caution when applying more products at this stage while the skin cells actively recover.

One should always check with their dermatologist before skin cycling. Though it’s proven to work well for a variety of skin types, those with susceptibility to any of the above-mentioned products should have a medical professional’s advice before changing up their routine.

About the author

Matt Herskowitz