Skin Cycling: What is it and how can it benefit your skin?

Skin Cycling: What is it and how can it benefit your skin?

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Skin Cycling: What is it and how can it benefit your skin?

Skin cycling is the trend on everyone’s lips. What is it and how can it benefit your skin?

The concept: Maximize results and min­imize irritation by following a four-day skin-care regimen that calls for specific ingredients each evening. All the rage on social media, this routine, called skin cycling, was created by American dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe. Besides having a catchy name, this routine is quick and easy to implement. While it’s now having its moment in the spotlight, the concept of alternating products with different active ingredients, rather than using them all daily, isn’t new—many estheticians and dermatologists recommend it. “I believe Dr. Bowe’s success is in making this approach more accessible by creating a sequence that’s easy to understand,” says Vee Mistry, celebrity esthetician, skin-care specialist and founder of facial studio SKINBYVEE.

The routine

Here are the steps to Dr. Bowe’s skin cycling method.

Evening 1

Chemical exfoliation

On the first night of the cycle, cleanse your face, then apply a chemical exfoliant. Choose a serum with exfoliating enzymes, AHAs (such as glycolic or lactic acid) or BHAs if you have oily or acne-prone skin. Finish by applying a moisturizer.

Banish dull skin and reveal a radiant complexion with these tonic pads pre-soaked with polyhydroxy acid. At the same time, green tea and cucumber extracts work to soothe stressed skin.


NEOSTRATA Restore PHA Renewal Pads, $60,

With lactobionic acid (a PHA) and fruit extracts boasting naturally occurring AHA
content, this exfoliating toner helps stimulate cell renewal and improve skin texture. 


NUORI Gentle Glow Tonic, $45,

Evening 2


The second night is focused on retinoids, effective anti-aging ingredients that boost skin-cell turnover. Retinoids are a family of vitamin A derivatives that include retinol, retinal and prescription-only retinoic acid. After cleansing, apply a retinoid treatment and finish off with moisturizer.

If it’s the first time you’ve used a retinoid or you have particularly sensitive skin, Mistry recommends starting with an over-the-counter treatment, which contains a low percentage of retinol. “I would suggest trying a product that has a retinol concentration of 0.1 to 0.2 percent to start with,” she says. Another suggestion from the esthetician is to find a treatment that combines a retinoid with moisturizing ingredients, such
as ceramides, to keep skin comfortable.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women can turn to bakuchiol instead of a retinoid, which offers similar benefits without any known contraindications. The same goes for those with very reactive skin, as the plant extract is not as potent as a true retinoid, and tends to be better tolerated.

This slow-release retinol targets fine lines and wrinkles while boosting the radiance of the complexion. Plus, it’s suitable for all skin types!


THE INKEY LIST Retinol Serum, $17,

Containing 0.3 percent pure retinol, this concentrated night cream is made for first-time retinol users and is designed to improve the appearance of pores, fine lines and blemishes while you sleep.


SKINCEUTICALS Retinol 0.3 Refining Night Cream, $82,

Combining retinol with peptides, green tea extract and hyaluronic acid, this cream provides anti-aging, hydrating and skin-soothing benefits with minimal acclimation time.


JAN MARINI SKIN RESEARCH Age Intervention Retinol Plus Face Cream, $109,

Evenings 3 and 4


The goal of the third and fourth nights is to “replenish the skin’s moisture and help it repair itself if it’s been damaged,” says Dr. Geeta Yadav, board-certified dermatologist and founder of FACET Dermatology in Toronto. On these days, apply a moisturizing serum after cleansing and prioritize ingredients like hyaluronic acid, peptides and ceramides. “If your skin is feeling very dry or tight, you can layer a facial oil on top of your moisturizer,” she suggests.

Give your skin a boost with this new serum that harnesses the power of hyaluronic acid, vitamin B3 and thermal spring water to hydrate and soothe the complexion.


AVÈNE Hydrance Boost Concentrated Hydrating Serum, $51,

With its rich, lush formula, this cream melts into the skin to provide unparalleled comfort and hydration, making it a perfect finale to your nightly routine.


WELEDA Skin Food Nourishing Night Cream, $38, 


Using this four-day cycle can help followers adopt a more regular and structured skin-care routine and gradually introduce certain ingredients that can be more irritating, allowing your skin to build a tolerance. This is the case with chemical exfoliants, which help dissolve dead cells on the surface of the skin and promote cell renewal, and retinoids (such as retinol), which stimulate the production of collagen, while targeting any hyperpigmentation, fine lines, wrinkles and dullness.

According to Dr. Yadav, because retinoids, AHAs and BHAs can do a lot of good for the skin, skin cycling can work for most skin types, especially for those looking to target signs of aging or hyperpigmentation. However, “I just wouldn’t recommend it for those who are very sensitive, or those with conditions like severe acne or rosacea,” she says.

Remember, because all skin is different, this basic four-day cycle may not be the right fit for everyone. “It’s hard to find a one-size-fits-all approach because the sequence might be irritating to some people, while others might benefit from using these ingredients more often,” says Mistry.

Personalizing your cycle

For first-time users of chemical exfoliants and retinoids, it’s a good idea to start by first integrating the exfoliant into your routine and monitoring your skin’s reaction for a few days before adding retinol or any other derivative of vitamin A to the cycle.

It may require some trial and error to find the right cycle and combination of products that suits your skin’s needs and sensitivity. “If you apply a product and it tingles for a few seconds before the sensation fades, that’s normal,” says Dr. Yadav. “But if you’re feeling a prolonged burning or tingling sensation, that means the formula may be too strong.”

There is also the option to add an extra recovery day to the cycle or increase the frequency of some of the ingredients, depending on how your skin tolerates the treatments. As it can take several weeks to start seeing results, don’t forget to be patient!

What about your morning routine?

When the sun rises, products that hydrate and protect the skin’s moisture barrier are key—look for ingredients such as niacinamide and hyaluronic acid. You can also reach for a brightening vitamin C serum before finishing off with moisturizer and sunscreen. We all know that SPF should be part of our daily routines, but it’s even more important when using chemical exfoliants and retinoids, which can increase sensitivity to UV rays.


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Skin Cycling: What is it and how can it benefit your skin?