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Is Skin Cycling Worth the Hype? A Dermatologist Weighs In

As self-professed beauty obsessives, we’ll try any trend that makes its way across our desks. Chlorophyll? Sipped it. Rice water? Rinsed with it. Slugging? Still doing it. So naturally, we had to explore the buzz surrounding the latest phenomenon: skin cycling. Coined by dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, its hashtag renders nearly 200M views on TikTok and has countless skincare aficionados switching up their nightly skincare routine.

Convinced? Same. But before you start planning out your “nights”, read on as we explore skin cycling’s benefits (if any) with help of board-certified dermatologist Dr. Alpana Mohta, MD, MBBS, DNB. 

WHAT IS SKIN CYCLING?

Skin cycling is a skincare routine that works on a rotating basis. “Popularized on social media, skin cycling gives the skin ‘rest days’ to allow it to repair itself after using certain products,” Dr. Mohta explains. “This can help prevent irritation and inflammation.” The latter is what makes skin cycling a particular favorite for sensitive skin types who may fear using actives like retinol and acids

HOW TO START SKIN CYCLING

“Skin cycling is a 4-day skincare routine—the first night is for exfoliating, the second night is for applying retinoids, and the third and fourth nights are for recovering, focusing on hydration and repairing the skin's barrier,” says Dr. Mohta. “After completing the cycle, it is repeated.”

Read on for a step-by-step skin cycling routine.

NIGHT 1: EXFOLIATION
First up: Exfoliate. Dr. Mohta specifically recommends chemical exfoliation by way of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), which are both found in our Instant Resurfacing Mask. (Note: We only recommend applying Doctor’s Visit 1x per week.) If you prefer a physical exfoliator, you can reserve night one for Day Maker, which uses gentle microcrystalline to sweep away dead, dull skin cells for a brighter, softer complexion.

NIGHT 2: RETINOL
On the next night, grab your retinol of choice. “Retinoids are very effective, but they can be irritating if used too frequently or in combination with other potentially irritating ingredients,” explains Dr. Mohta. “For this reason, it's best to use retinol on its own and not mix it with other exfoliating or resurfacing products.” We know this to be true about most retinol, which is why we specifically formulated our sensitive skin-approved Press Restart Collection with gentle retinol alternatives that prevent any surface irritation and dryness.

NIGHTS 3 AND 4: MOISTURIZE
“Nights three and four are for recovery,” says Dr. Mohta. “Exfoliating acids and retinoids should be avoided during these nights to give your skin a chance to rest.” That doesn’t mean leaving your skin bare for two nights, however. “Focus on nourishing your skin microbiome and repairing your moisture barrier with hydrating and moisturizing products.” To us, a solid recovery night looks like our Hydrating Hyaluronic Serum followed by our (perfectly named) Recovery Mode Advanced Night Cream. If you’re feeling extra dry, layer a few drops of the Antioxidant Oil-Serum to seal in all that moisture and up the skin’s natural glow. 

While you can now consider your first round of skin cycling complete, it’s called “cycling” for a reason. “After night four, repeat the cycle from the beginning. This allows the skin to adjust to the use of active ingredients and prevents irritation,” Dr. Mohta concludes.

IS SKIN CYCLING WORTH THE HYPE?

Given that skin cycling was started by a board-certified dermatologist, it’s not surprising that the practice does have some proven benefits. However, it’s certainly not necessary for everyone. “Skin cycling is a beneficial skincare routine for all skin types, but it can be particularly helpful for those with sensitive skin due to the inclusion of "rest" days,” Dr. Mohta adds. “[It] can also be helpful for those who are new to using exfoliating serums or retinoids, or those who have a skin condition like rosacea.”

If this doesn’t sound like you, no need to switch up your routine. Simply follow the skincare rules of thumb: Don’t over-exfoliate (aim for 1-3 nights a week) and use AHAs and retinol on separate nights. 

Shop products for your skin cycling routine below.

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