Skin Cycling is TikTok’s Latest Beauty Trend—Here’s How to Do It

Last Update: April 6, 2023

Some TikTok beauty trends may be questionable at best, but other helpful hacks to come from the platform are downright genius. “Skin cycling” is one of the most popular trends (like, 3.5-billion-views popular) to make its way from TikTok to IRL in recent months, and many devotees say it’s totally transformed their skin.

What is skin cycling? 

Skin cycling is a skincare routine developed by a board-certified dermatologist (always a good sign!) named Dr. Whitney Bowe. According to Dr. Bowe, skin cycling solves the common problem of taking a “kitchen sink” approach to skincare: combining too many products with too many active ingredients, and using them too frequently.

Instead, skin cycling is a routine that focuses on exfoliating and retinol on the first two days, then allows your skin a couple of days off from harsh, active ingredients (think: acids and retinoids) in order to focus on moisturizing and recovery. It’s a simple, easy-to-follow schedule that tells you exactly which products—and which ingredients—to use on which days, removing the chance for irritation and damage to your skin’s moisture barrier. 

“The concept is very intuitive. Your muscles need recovery days, your mind needs recovery days, so it makes sense that your skin also benefits from recovery days,” Dr. Bowe says on her blog. It’s especially beneficial for those who experience frequent irritation, purging, or redness when using popular skincare products like retinol. “The classic four-night cycle works incredibly well for individuals with sensitive skin,” explains Dr. Bowe. 

How to Create a Skin Cycling Routine 

To create a skin cycling routine using natural skincare products, focus on prioritizing exfoliation and retinol the first two nights, then give skin time to recover with moisturizing and hydrating products on the second two nights. 

Night 1: Exfoliation

On the first night, you’ll focus on removing dead skin cells through exfoliation.  Many dermatologists prefer chemical exfoliants over gritty scrubs; these use ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids to slough off dead skin cells from the surface of the skin and allow other products to penetrate deeper. Dr. Bowe recommends thoroughly cleansing the face, then using a leave-on exfoliant overnight.

Try these exfoliating products:

Earth Harbor Glow Juice Refining Enzyme Mask
This gel mask uses naturally derived AHAs and BHAs to remove dead skin cells and gently exfoliate the skin. 

Moon Juice Acid Potion 
With a powerful AHA and BHA complex combined with nourishing reishi and balancing niacinamide, this liquid exfoliant gently unclogs pores and sloughs away dead skin cells. 

Mad Hippie AHA Exfoliating Peel
This peptide- and AHA-based serum combines both glycolic and lactic acids to shed dull skin cells overnight. 

Night 2: Retinoids

Retinoids are Vitamin A derivatives (like the ever-popular retinol, but also alternatives like retinal) that help to unclog pores, improve uneven skin tone and texture, and minimize the appearance of wrinkles. While some people use retinoids every day, for many people, this is too frequent and can be quite irritating, causing purging or peeling. When following the skin cycling schedule, you’ll use retinoids on the second night only. 

Try these retinoid products:

Andalou Naturals Age Defying Rejuvenating Plant-Based Retinol Alternative Serum
This night serum contains a fruit stem cell complex, antioxidants, and bakuchiol, a plant-based alternative to traditional retinol. 

MyChelle Remarkable Retinal Night Cream
Smooth this rich cream over the face and neck to absorb the benefits of retinal, a type of Vitamin A derivative similar to retinol. 

Nights 3 & 4: Recovery

On the third and fourth nights, you’ll let your skin rest and recover, focusing on hydration and moisturization. According to Bowe, this helps to “nourish your skin microbiome and repair your skin barrier.” On your recovery nights, you’ll only use creams and moisturizers with nurturing ingredients like peptides, hyaluronic acid, and rich oils—no aggressive ingredients like acids or retinol.

Try these moisturizing products:

Derma E Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Cream
This deeply nourishing, moisturizing cream uses hyaluronic acid to add hydration, soothe, and plump up the skin. Hyaluronic acid holds up to 1,000 times its weight in water, which means it can deliver intense hydration to your skin.

Ursa Major Golden Hour Recovery Cream 
This fast-absorbing cream is known for protecting dry, chapped skin with soothing ingredients like aloe vera and natural plant-based oils. 

f.a.e. by Thrive Market Organic Rosehip Oil 
Mix this non-comedogenic oil with your moisturizer or layer it on top of other skincare products to lock in moisture and protect the skin’s moisture barrier.

Night 5: Repeat

On the fifth night, you’ll start the whole cycle over again. “If you stick with skin cycling, over the next few months you’ll really see that transformation,” says Dr. Bowe. “That’s when things like fine lines, wrinkles, breakouts, and dark spots can start to improve.”

This article is related to:

Skin Care, Skin Care Tips

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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