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Skin Cycling: The TikTok Trend That Actually Works

If you regularly scroll through BeautyTok, you’ve seen all the girlies trying out the newest skincare hack, Skin Cycling. Normally, I pass on skin trends, like using lube as primer– let’s be honest, that was... yikes, however this one was created by a real dermatologist and people are seeing amazing results.

What Is Skin Cycling?

Unless you’ve been off the grid, you’ve likely seen #skincycling floating around TikTok– I mean, it has over 52M views and counting. Essentially, the routine is a 4-day nighttime skin process that starts with exfoliation, the use of retinol, and two nights of recovery to promote regeneration of the skin. Originated by Dr. Whitney Bowe, award-winning, board-certified dermatologist and research scientist based in New York, this process is the sure way to get even, glowing skin.

How Does It Work?

For best results, follow these four steps to start your skin cycling journey:

Night 1: Exfoliation

On the first night, you should exfoliate your skin with a gentle liquid exfoliant, not a physical exfoliator (like scrubs or microbeads). Physical exfoliators often cause more damage to the skin barrier and don’t work well when followed with a retinoid (spoiler, that’s day 2), as they can cause irritation and inflammation.

Look for chemical exfoliants with active ingredients like salicylic acid, lactic acid, and glycolic acid, to name a few. Each with a unique skin benefit depending on your specific skin concerns.

After exfoliating, always follow with a light weight, fragrance-free moisturizer to rebalance the skin and support the skin barrier. Avoid heavy slugging, don’t worry recovery nights are right around the corner.

Night 2: Retinol

On the second night of the cycle, Dr. Bowe recommends applying a small amount of retinol after cleansing and patting dry. Applying retinoids to damp skin can cause irritation. Retinoids are a class of skincare compounds that have been found to regulate epithelial cell growth and can be purchased over the counter (retinol or tretinoin) or with a prescription from your dermatologist.

This stage will help promote collagen production and increase cell turnover, which helps reduce the appearance of aging, hyperpigmentation, acne, and ease a variety of skin conditions.

If you have sensitive skin, Dr. Bowe recommends using a small amount of moisturizer prior to application to the delicate areas of the skin such as around the eyes or in the corners of your mouth & nose.

“That acts as a buffer, allowing your skin to adapt to a lower concentration of your retinoid,” she says. “Once you acclimate to the retinoid, you can reverse the order: retinoid first, then moisturizer.”

Night 3 & 4: Recover

On the final days of the cycle, it is important to grab your best moisturizers, squalanes, and hyaluronic acids. It’s time to slather! On clean skin, apply those nourishing products to repair your skin barrier for glowing skin. Per usual, avoid any harsh moisturizers with synthetic dyes and fragrances. I typically opt for a squalane for a light-weight slug-fest. For more information on squalane, check out my recent article about how to choose the right one. These nights are also a good time to pop on that sheet mask you've been saving and relax. I would recommend ESW Beauty's Strawberries & Cream Soothing Sheet Mask for your first skin cycle.

By the end of your second cycle, or on the eighth day, most people start seeing real results so start cycling!

Dr. Bowe recommends an extra recovery night if you suffer from sensitive skin or have skin conditions such as eczema or rosacea.

For a quick explanation of skin cycling for beginners, watch Dr Whitney Bowe explain the basics of her process.


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