What Is Skin Cycling

by Sep 15, 2022

What is Skin Cycling?

Skin cycling is the latest skincare trend taking social media by storm! Skin cycling is a method of rotating your skincare products throughout the week so you don’t over-exfoliate or irritate your skin.

Exfoliants and retinol can have some powerful benefits. From preventing fine lines and wrinkles to unclogging pores, these products can be helpful in your routine. However, more is not always better – you can have too much of a good thing when it comes to skincare.

Using too many harsh products such as chemical exfoliants and retinol can weaken the skin over time, making the skin more prone to irritation. Those with sensitive skin will need to be especially careful using products with strong active ingredients. However, even if you have sensitive skin, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the benefits of exfoliation and retinol, which is where skin cycling comes in.

Skin cycling consists of a four-night regimen: exfoliation, retinol, and two recovery days. It’s designed to provide maximum benefits of exfoliation and retinol while also giving the skin time to recover and repair.

Skin Cycling Routine

The first night of skin cycling focuses on exfoliation. Chemical exfoliants typically contain acids that dissolve pore-clogging debris and dead skin cells leaving you with more even skin and improved texture. The most common chemical exfoliants are:

AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids)
Plant-derived acids exfoliate excess skin cells and support collagen production to reduce lines and wrinkles. Glycolic acid is a common AHA in many skincare products.

BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids)
Acne-fighting acids are oil soluble, helping them reduce excess oil in the skin to unclog pores. The most common BHA is salicylic acid which is typically found in acne products. Exfoliants should be used on clean skin and followed with a moisturizer. Chemical exfoliants should not be used alongside retinol.

The second night of the skin cycling routine focuses on the use of a retinoid. Retinoids are topicals derived from Vitamin A and have been long-studied in the skincare field. Research shows retinoids are effective at increasing cell turnover in the skin, increasing collagen production, fading age spots, and treating acne. There are various forms of retinoids available on the market. Some of the most common are:

The most commonly used term for over-the-counter retinoids that can be found in conventional skincare products. Available in lower potency than other retinoids and typically a better option for sensitive skin or those adjusting to retinoids.

A form of retinoid that is more potent and bioavailable to the skin than retinol and works up to 11 times faster when treating lines and wrinkles.

Prescription-strength retinoid with a higher potency than over-the-counter offerings. Tretinoin must be prescribed by a doctor.

Commonly used to treat acne thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. Can now be found in over-the-counter products such as Differin.

For those who are new to using retinoids, there can be an initial adjustment period. These products should only be used on clean, dry skin, and should be not used during the day as they can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Retinoids can be layered over moisturizers for those with dry or sensitive skin to reduce the risk of irritation, and should not be used at the same time as a chemical exfoliant.

Retinoids should not be used by those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Some people with sensitive skin may experience adverse reactions when using retinoid-based products. When using a retinoid of any kind, make sure you use sun protection during the day.

After exfoliating on night one and using retinol on night two, the third and fourth nights of skin cycling involve giving the skin a break so it can repair and recover. On recovery nights, you can focus on using skincare ingredients that will hydrate and nourish the skin such as:

Hyaluronic Acid
A slippery, hydrating substance that is naturally occurring in the body. When applied topically, it can help the skin retain moisture and bounce.

Products that contain amino acids help repair the skin, leading to increased collagen production and improved skin texture.

Another naturally occurring substance that acts as a humectant and attracts moisture to the skin.

A moisturizer with similar properties to the skin’s natural oils. Helps boost hydration in the skin and reduce damage from free radicals.

After cleansing on recovery night, you can use the hydrating serum of your choice and top it with a moisturizer. If you like slugging or using an occlusive such as Vaseline or Aquaphor, this is the night to do it (note: occlusive products should not be used with retinoids).

Once you go through two nights of recovery, start back at the beginning with exfoliation, and continue rotating throughout your week. According to Dr. Bowe, people with very oily skin may benefit from a three-day regimen (just one night for recovery before going back to exfoliation).