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what is skin cycling, experts weigh in on skin cycling

Tiktok Trend or Truth: Does Skin Cycling Really Work?

This article is a part of our “Tiktok Trend or Truth” series where we consult with the experts to unpack viral beauty trends. 

If you follow beauty trends on social media platforms such as Instagram or TikTok, you may have recently come across the term “skin cycling.” With the hashtag #skincycling generating over 320 million views on TikTok alone, we think it’s time to unpack this viral beauty trend and have dermatologists weigh in on what exactly skin cycling entails and how it can be utilized to take your skincare routine to the next level.

Skin Cycling

What is Skin Cycling? 

Skin Cycling is exactly as it sounds: The process of cycling your skincare products throughout your weekly routine with intermittent or alternating use of active ingredients with rest days in between. This avoids irritation and gives your skin time to recover and repair itself from the use of certain products.

“Skin Cycling is one of the best skincare trends because it helps reduce irritation from retinol and exfoliating acids, especially if you are a beginner. It also helps you stay more consistent with your skincare routine,” said board-certified dermatologist Dr. Adel.

Dermatologists Weigh In: How to Skin Cycle to Enhance Skincare Results 

According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, “The classic Skin Cycling routine is a four-night cycle: exfoliation night, retinoid night, recovery night, recovery night, and repeat.” 

She goes on to explain the process

Night One: Exfoliation Night 

“You want your skin to be completely dry before you apply your acids, said Dr. Whitney Bowe. “I always recommend blended exfoliating acids over a manual scrub because a blend of acids is going to be more effective and more gentle on the skin barrier.” 

Night Two: Retinoid Night 

“On retinoid night you want to first cleanse your face and pat it dry. Take one pea-sized amount of your retinoid and cover your entire face. When it comes to retinoids, less is more. Use another pea-sized amount to cover your neck, and then two pea-sized amounts to cover your chest.”

Night Three & Night Four: Recovery Nights

Finally, Dr. Whitney Bowe goes on to explain the final step in a skin cycling routine. “On recovery nights you want to avoid any irritating acids or retinoids and just focus on hydrating the skin, repairing the skin barrier, and rebalancing the skin microbiome. Your recovery night routine can be as simple as cleanings with a gentle, PH-balanced cleanser that doesn’t leave the skin tight or dry and following it up with a moisturizer – ideally one that’s been clinically proven to repair the skin barrier.” 

Who is skin cycling right for? 

Skin cycling can be suitable for many individuals, especially those who are looking to optimize their skincare routine and target specific skin concerns. Here are some examples of who skin cycling may be right for:

Those with sensitive skin: Skin cycling can be an excellent option for individuals with sensitive skin. By limiting the use of certain products and giving the skin a break, skin cycling can help to reduce irritation and inflammation, which are common concerns for those with sensitive skin.

Those with acne-prone skin: Acne-prone skin can benefit from skin cycling as well. By cycling through acne-fighting products, individuals with acne-prone skin can avoid overusing harsh ingredients, which can lead to dryness, irritation, and even more breakouts.

Those with aging skin: As we age, our skin’s needs change and skin cycling can be a great way to keep up with those changes. By cycling through products that target specific signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, individuals can help to maintain a youthful-looking complexion.

Those with dry or dehydrated skin: Skin cycling can also be helpful for those with dry or dehydrated skin. By cycling through moisturizing products, individuals can help to keep their skin hydrated and nourished, preventing dryness, flakiness, and other related issues.

Those who use multiple skincare products: If you’re someone who likes to use multiple skincare products, skin cycling can be an effective way to manage your routine. By cycling through products and using each one less frequently, you can optimize their effectiveness while avoiding overloading your skin with too many ingredients.

It’s worth noting that while skin cycling can be beneficial for many individuals, it’s not necessarily the right choice for everyone. If you have any concerns about incorporating skin cycling into your skincare routine, it’s always a good idea to consult with a dermatologist or skincare professional.

What are the pros and cons of the skin cycling method? 


Avoids Irritation

Maximizes skincare product results

Great for beginners


Not effective if you’re not consistent

Results vary depending on the products

May need to adjust routine for skin type

The Verdict on The Skin Cycling Method

Skin cycling is a great technique to maximize the results of your skincare products and avoid skin irritation. One of the primary benefits of skin cycling is that it allows your skin to take a break from heavy product usage. By cycling through products and using them only a few times a week, you can avoid overwhelming your skin with too many ingredients, which can lead to irritation, breakouts, or other skin problems. Giving your skin a break can also promote its natural renewal process. By taking rest days and allowing your skin to repair and regenerate, you can help to keep it healthy, glowing, and youthful-looking.

Finally, skin cycling can save you both time and money. Instead of using multiple products every day, you can cycle through them, using each product less frequently, and ultimately extending the life of each product. This can help you to save money on skincare products while still maintaining a healthy and effective skincare routine.

Take Your Skin Cycling Routine to the Next Level

If you’ve been skin cycling for at least a month and you’re not experiencing any redness, itching, peeling, irritation, stinging, or burning, here are three ways to kick your skin cycling routine up a notch.  Below are three tips from Dr. Whtiney Bowe.

1. Discontinue the retinoid sandwich.

Stop with the first layer of your retinoid sandwich. If you’ve been applying a moisturizer or hydrating serum first underneath your retinoid, drop that step.  Apply the retinoid directly onto clean, dry skin. You can still put your moisturizer on top, but this way you are getting a more powerful dose of the retinoid into the skin. 

2. Drop one of your recovery nights.

If you drop one of your recovery nights, your routine would look like this: exfoliation night, retinoid night, recovery night, exfoliation night, retinoid night, recovery night. Before you do that, make sure your retinoid is backed by clinical studies because some retinoids, especially ones over the counter are not that potent and not really that stable so you could be using them every night without any irritation but they are not really doing much. 

3. Add another retinoid night.

If your skin is thriving with no irritation and no signs of an unhappy skin barrier, you can actually add another retinoid night. So your cycle now looks like this: exfoliation night, retinoid night, retinoid night, recovery night, exfoliation night, retinoid night, retinoid night, recovery night. 

Bottom Line: 

Dermatologists agree that a skin cycling regimen is a highly effective skincare technique to avoid skin irritation and maximize results.

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