Skin Cycling Is One Beauty Craze That Actually Works
If your beauty regimen could use a little refresh, say hello to the newest skin-care craze: skin cycling. Coined by New York-based dermatologist, research scientist, and founder of Dr. Whitney Bowe Beauty, Whitney Bowe, MD, this nighttime TikTok beauty trend streamlines exfoliation, retinoids, and moisturizer to give you your best skin yet. Just make sure you're still using SPF in the morning!
"The beauty of skin cycling is that you can personalize it for your skin’s needs," Dr. Bowe says, and the cycle works great for all skin types, including sensitive skin. "I usually recommend starting with the classic four-night cycle. However, there are modifications that can be made based on your skin concerns, skin type, and skin goals."
What Is Skin Cycling?
Skin cycling is a four-night skin-care routine that uses chemical exfoliators, retinoids, and moisturizers on the respective nights. It might sound complicated, but don't be intimidated if you've never used some of these products before. "If you’re a newbie to some or most of the products we use in skin cycling, introduce them one at a time," Dr. Bowe says. "This will allow you to adjust to the new products without irritating your skin. Also, if you have an allergy or reaction to any ingredient in a certain product, it helps you to identify what is causing that response in your skin."
Start your skin-cycling routine with exfoliation night. "Reach for chemical exfoliating products over harsh physical scrubs," says Dr. Bowe. Finish off with a moisturizer, but Dr. Bowe recommends avoiding heavy or greasy products so that you don't seal in the exfoliating product and irritate your skin.
"Your skin is especially vulnerable on exfoliation night after you slough away that dead layer of skin cells, so avoid any potentially irritating or inflammatory ingredients like essential oils and be especially careful about avoiding products with ingredients that might damage the skin barrier, such as olive oil."
For night two, Dr. Bowe focuses on retinoids. For anyone with sensitive skin, you can use a moisturizer as a barrier before you apply the retinoid while you're getting acclimated to it. The following two nights are both recovery nights, where you can use moisturizers and hydrating products to replenish your skin before you start back at the beginning.
The products used in skin cycling are pretty powerful, but they can also irritate the skin if used incorrectly. "Both exfoliating acids and retinoids speed cell turnover," says Dr. Bowe. "So although retinoids aren’t technically 'exfoliating' the skin, overusing them can lead to many of the same issues with sensitive, tight, dry, irritated skin. Overusing either one can also result in hyperpigmentation in people with darker skin tones."
Skin cycling allows you to have total control over the products, and your personal skin type will determine the types of retinoids and exfoliators that you use. "While some people can build up to using retinol more frequently, or exfoliating more frequently, in my experience, the vast majority of people benefit from spacing out these ingredients in time."
Try using 8% glycolic acid to firm your skin and boost collagen production or salicylic acid to help with breakouts. "If you have sensitive skin, you can actually tolerate most AHAs and BHAs so long as the product is formulated with soothing, calming ingredients to balance the acids."
"The beauty of skin cycling is that you can adjust your cycling schedule to meet your skin where it is. If you are experiencing sensitivity and irritation, you can increase your recovery nights," Dr. Bowe says. "If you are seasoned and well-adjusted to your retinoid and want to dial up, you can omit one recovery night for a three-night cycle. It’s a flexible framework that can be personalized for different skin types."
Breaking It Down: Exfoliation Night
Skin cycling for beginners: how to get started. And how to layer with Bowe Glowe #skincycling #thatboweglow #dermatologist #skintok
"When you exfoliate the skin, it dissolves away the uppermost layer of skin," Dr. Bowe says. Exfoliating correctly will give you a healthy glow and prevent clogged pores since your skin-care products are able to get deep into the skin. "This cadence of exfoliation allows you to gently remove that dead, piled-up layer of skin that gives your skin a dull appearance and prevents penetration of the ingredients you apply to the skin within the days following the exfoliation."
However, too much exfoliation will aggravate your skin because you're removing more than just that top layer. "When this happens, the skin easily dehydrates, because the skin can no longer trap moisture as effectively. Consequently, fine lines and wrinkles become more pronounced, and the skin feels tight and uncomfortable."
Your skin might become more sensitive to pollutants and allergens, and it can lead to breakouts or other skin conditions like rosaceaor post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
"One of the main concerns that inspired me to share skin cycling was the over-use of actives like exfoliating serums," Dr. Bowe says. "I introduced skin cycling as a 'less is more' approach, being thoughtful and deliberate about your skin-care routine. Rather than adding more products on top of one another, skin cycling encourages you to use products in a strategic way to complement one another and set you up for success while dialing down unnecessary irritation."
Skin Cycling Retinoid Night
Retinoid night is night 2 of your #skincycling routine. Here are some pro tips. #thatboweglow #dermatologist #skintok
"When it comes to retinoids, there are three main things to keep in mind: potency of formulation, how you layer that retinoid, and how many recovery nights you build in between," says Dr. Bowe. You can work with more gentle retinols instead of a prescription-strength retinoid if you have more sensitive skin, and you can even apply a cream before you apply the retinoid as long as it's not too heavy.
Skin Cycling Recovery Night Routine if you're wearing makeup!#thatboweglow #doublecleanse #dermatology #skincareroutine
"On recovery nights, you want to focus on nourishing your skin microbiome and nourishing your skin barrier," Dr. Bowe says. "Think hydration and moisture, deliberately adding ingredients like squalane, ceramides, prebiotics, postbiotics, sunflower seed oil will help to nourish and repair your skin during recovery nights."
Start off with a gentle cleanser, then pat dry. You can add some hyaluronic acid serum for extra hydration if you want, but make sure to moisturize with a gentle product that will hydrate and protect your skin's barrier. You can finish off with an oil if you have extra-dry skin.
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B+C Editorial Assistant, Swiftie | Chloe is from the Outer Banks (yes, like the Netflix show!). When she isn't writing or updating her blog Pastels and Pop Culture, Chloe enjoys watching Marvel movies or texting her sister about the latest celebrity news. Say hi at @thechloewilliams on Insta and @popculturechlo on Twitter!