While you should always take social media beauty trends with a grain of salt, some are worth looking into. For example: skin cycling.

With more than 182 million searches under the hashtag alone, everyone seems to be talking about this skin care trend. But what is it? How do you do it, and does it actually work? Learn everything you need to know here.

What Is Skin Cycling?

Coined by board-certified, New York City-based Dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, MD, this term refers to a four-night regimen, or cycle, that helps your skin reset and strengthens the skin barrier. It entails exfoliating on the first night, applying Retinoids on the second night, and giving your skin time to recover on the third and fourth nights.

This skin care cycle can help prevent irritation from an overload of active ingredients by paring down your routine, and the built-in rest days help to restore the skin barrier. It's also a good way to ease Retinoids into your regimen, knowing they can cause irritation if introduced too quickly.

How Does It Work?

Here's a night-by-night breakdown of what your skin cycling routine might look like based on Dr. Bowe's TikTok tutorial video.

Night 1: Exfoliate

Start by cleansing your skin. Pat dry, and then use an exfoliating product. Dr. Bowe recommends using one that stays on your skin, rather than one you have to wash off. She also advises choosing a formula with exfoliating acids, instead of a scrub, as these are gentler. Finally, seal it with a moisturizer like EltaMD Barrier Renewal Complex to support the skin barrier and provide much-needed hydration.

Night 2: Apply Retinoids

Like night one, begin by cleansing your skin with a gentle cleanser like EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser and pat dry. Dr. Bowe explains that wet skin mixed with Retinoids will increase your chances of irritation, so make sure to absorb all the moisture on your face first. If you have sensitive skin, she recommends using your moisturizer as a buffer on any areas that are prone to irritation, like your neck, the lines around your mouth, and under your eyes.

Then, apply a pea-sized amount of a product with Retinoids, like Retinol, to your face, neck, and across your décolletage. If your skin feels dry, top it off with a moisturizer.

Nights 3 and 4: Rest and Recover

Nights three and four are focused on replenishing moisture in your skin. Start by cleansing—but this time, you can leave your face damp. Then, apply a hydrating serum. Try something with Hyaluronic Acid, glycerin, or Niacinamide, like EltaMD Skin Recovery Serum, to support and restore the skin barrier. Finally, moisturize.

Now repeat the cycle all over again!

What Products Should You Use?

This regimen doesn't involve an entire cabinet of products. All you really need is a cleanser, a chemical exfoliant, a Retinoid, a hydrating serum, and a moisturizer. The most important thing to remember is to layer your skin care products in the correct order to make sure the active ingredients can do their job properly.

Is Skin Cycling Right for You?

Strong ingredients like exfoliants and Retinol may be irritating if you have sensitive skin or a skin condition like rosacea. On the other hand, you might crave more from your routine if you already use these ingredients on a regular basis. The beauty of this skin care craze is that it provides a strong foundation to work from. You can adjust the products as needed to minimize irritation, and you may decide to give or take a recovery day depending on your needs.

Any Dermatologist-backed trend that helps protect and strengthen the skin barrier is worth looking into. After all, establishing a regular skin care routine is key to unleashing the healthiest, brightest version of you.


  • Audrey Noble

    Audrey Noble is a New York City-based reporter specializing in features, celebrity profiles, and beauty topics. Her work has appeared in Vogue, Harper's BAZAAR, Allure, Vanity Fair, Refinery29, and more. She is a University of Southern California alumna with bachelor's degrees in print journalism and creative writing.

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