What is Skin Cycling and Should You Try It?

Gone are the days when we say the more the merrier in terms of skincare. The latest skincare trend of skin cycling has proved it where the focus has shifted from make-up to skincare. Skin cycling refers to engaging in a skin-care routine with rest days during the week for the skin to repair itself after the usage of skincare products. This routine which was designed by dermatologist Whitney Bowe prevents skin irritation and inflammation.

Over-exfoliating and overusing active skincare ingredients can cause more damage to your skin. People habitually overuse skincare products or go over the top with some skincare routines. This may cause stinging, burning, redness, irritation and hyperpigmentation. Moreover, it may accelerate the ageing process and worsen pigmentation. Your skin needs downtime to support skin recovery and skin cycling offers you the required break from overusing skincare products.

Skin Cycling Process

The three main ingredients required for skin cycling are an exfoliator like glycolic acid or salicylic acid, a retinoid, like retinol or retinaldehyde and a moisturizer. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has advised using a fragrance-free ointment or cream as a moisturizer.

Normally, it’s a four-day cycle which includes standard steps like cleansing, treatment and protection with one day of exfoliation, though this routine may vary for different skin types. For example, people with oily skin may require more exfoliating as compared to other skin types. This less-is-more-approach skincare routine is a four-night cycle which is as follows −

Night 1: Exfoliation

Cleanse and pat dry your skin and then exfoliate with a chemical exfoliant. This takes off the dead skin cells from the surface layer of your skin and improves the look of your skin. However, if you do this incorrectly, it may lead to redness and irritation of the skin. One way to avoid this problem is to use chemical exfoliants instead of physical scrubs as the exfoliants are gentler on the skin and may enable the other skincare products to penetrate your skin more deeply.

Night 2: Apply a Retinoid

Retinoids are derivatives of Vitamin A which may reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles on the skin. According to Harvard Health Publishing notes, retinoids may include prescription medications such as tretinoin and over-the-counter (OTC) products like retinol. As per Dr Bowe, retinoids may be important ingredients in a skin cycling routine but may irritate when you use them for the first time.

Also, people with sensitive skin or reactive skin should first moisturize the skin before putting the retinoid on. However, if even applying retinoid on a moisturizer makes your skin feel dry, you can apply moisturizer again on top of the retinoid to avoid skin irritation.

Night 3 and 4: Time for Skin Recovery

Nights three and four hold off on the exfoliating acids and retinoids. This offers an opportunity for your skin to recover and repair your skin barrier. On these nights, cleanse your skin before applying a moisturizer and leave your skin a little damp. The focus is on hydration and moisturization by avoiding the usage of any other ingredients. Dr Bowe advises applying a hydrating serum before moisturizing for better results.

Benefits of Skin Cycling

The term skin cycling has become immensely popular on social media platforms. This skincare routine gained popularity when the Covid-19 pandemic was at its peak and people got time to focus on their skincare regime. Dermatologists and skincare enthusiasts have suggested some noteworthy benefits of skin cycling.

Healthy Skin Barrier

A healthy skin barrier protects your skin from allergens, harsh chemicals and infections like acne, atopic dermatitis and eczema. However, overusing retinol and over-exfoliation may harm your skincare barrier leading to skin irritation and redness. Skin cycling may repair your skin barrier through its recovery nights as the focus is on providing skin recovery. This results in the nourishment of the skin barrier.

Decrease Side Effects of Skincare Products

Less is more is the key factor of skin cycling. This lessens the use of any skincare product and thereby minimizes the chances of harmful side effects on your skin. Skin cycling may thus allow your skin to stay healthy for a long time.

Furthermore, recovery nights in skin cycling may keep your skin healthy even with the changing seasons. For example, a dry, cold or windy climate may cause dry skin and worsen skin issues like eczema. However, skin cycling may prevent your skin from getting dry and help in minimizing the risk of developing any seasonal skin issues.

How Safe is Skin Cycling?

Skin cycling permits strategic usage of products instead of piling on skincare products one after another. Dr Bowe suggests that your skin cycle timing may vary as per your skin type. If you have sensitive skin, you may have to increase your recovery nights or if you have normal skin, you can omit one recovery night and make it a three-night cycle.

Exfoliating serums and retinoids may be highly effective products, but, you should not apply them frequently, as overusing them may cause dryness, tightness and irritation. Also, people with darker skin tones are at a high risk of hyperpigmentation due to the overuse of exfoliants and retinoids.

If you observe that your skin can tolerate a retinoid every night, it is possible that skin cycling may not give you as good results as expected. However, some people with oily or acne-prone skin may experience skin irritation. In such cases, Dr Bowe suggests using salicylic acid toner every morning and a blend of exfoliating acids on the day of exfoliation.

Skin cycling can be done continuously depending upon the response of your skin to the active ingredients applied to the skin. Consistency is the key to success in the case of skincare routines as products may perform more effectively on your skin when used regularly. However, it is always advised to consult a dermatologist before opting for skin cycling. Dermatologists can do a perfect analysis of your skin type and suggest a personalized skincare regime as per the skin type and to best suit your complexion.

If you tend to develop skin conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema or psoriasis, you should consult a dermatologist before trying a new skincare routine. Additionally, if you have had any of these skin conditions, have taken any prescription medications for your skin or are taking any medications, always consult your doctor before starting the skin cycling routine.


Skin cycling may be beneficial for your skin provided you follow it consistently and use the right products as per your skin's requirements. You can always begin with the gentlest exfoliants and check how your skin responds to them. Later on, you may consult a dermatologist before opting for advanced skin care products in the regime. This skincare routine may make your skin healthy and decrease your chances of getting skin conditions due to the harmful side effects of the active ingredients.

Updated on: 23-Jan-2023


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