Skin Cycling: The TikTok Skin Care Trend Dermatologists Actually Like

This viral trend suggests changing your products every four days, but it's a little more complicated than that.
CARME PARRAMON via Getty Images

There’s a new skin care trend making waves through TikTok, but it’s not a product. It’s a technique called skin cycling.

This viral trend is credited to dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, who suggests using a four-day cycle, changing the skin care products you use each night.

“This is new on social media and in the news, but many dermatologists have been advising this for years,” explained Dr. Loretta Pratt, a board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology, P.C. “I have been practicing skin cycling with my own skin care products and routine for over 20 years.”

Part of the appeal of skin cycling is that you use certain products on different days instead of layering them all at once, which could lead to irritation.

Bowe’s skin cycling routine can easily be followed at home. Keep your morning routine the same: cleansing, adding any extra serums you may want, and, of course, applying sunscreen.

“For the daytime routine, the final application should always be a sunscreen/SPF product for your specific skin type,” Pratt said.

Nighttime is when skin cycling really starts.

“The routine is based on a four-night schedule: exfoliation (acids) night, retinoid night, recovery night, and another recovery night,” explained Alexandra Ward, a licensed aesthetician at Reform Aesthetics in Encino, California. “The idea is that the skin will receive both a retinoid and exfoliant while also preventing any irritation.”

Day 1: Exfoliation Night

“The first night of treatment should include a chemical exfoliant, such as a gentle at-home peel, to provide even exfoliation,” said Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, double board-certified facial plastic surgeon and founder of DeRosa Center Facial Plastic Surgery & Med Spa in Boston and Palm Beach. “An exfoliant should always be applied after gentle cleanser and always be followed by a moisturiser.”

There are multiple benefits to starting off the cycle with an exfoliation night. Not only will it clear away dead skin, making your skin smoother, but it preps your skin to absorb products better on the next day of the cycle.

For exfoliation night, Dr. Gary Motykie, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, recommended using SkinCeuticals Glycolic Renewal Gel Cleanser. While it’s a gentle cleanser, the glycolic and phytic acids help exfoliate and dissolve dead skin.

Day 2: Retinol Or Retinoid Night

Just like the first night, start night two with applying gentle cleanser to prep the skin for retinol,” DeRosa said. “Use only a small amount, as retinol is a skin irritant and, if you are just starting using it or have sensitive skin, be especially cautious not to overdo it.”

Why have a retinol night in the skin cycle? Retinol is essentially a miracle product. It increases skin cell production and helps stimulate collagen production, which in turn leads to fewer wrinkles, fading dark spots and improved skin texture.

There are numerous retinol products on the market. If you don’t currently have one in your medicine cabinet, Ward recommended Skinbetter Alpharet Overnight Cream.

If you’re a retinol newbie, consider starting with something gentle, like Fleur and Bee ‘A’ Game Serum, which has a lower percentage of retinol and naturally soothing ingredients like jojoba oil, aloe vera, and green tea.

Day 3 And Day 4: Recovery Nights

After the exfoliation and retinol nights, the next two days will focus on letting your skin rest. On these nights, all you have to do is cleanse and use moisturiser.

“I recommend using a simple moisturiser and making sure it doesn’t have any hidden active [ingredients], vitamin A, or retinol in it,” Ward said. “I love Epionce Medical Barrier Cream and Dieux Instant Angel Moisturizer as both contain fatty acids to focus on restoring the skin’s barrier.”

There is some wiggle room in these nights if you feel this isn’t enough moisture for your skin type.

“If there is need for extra hydration (if your skin feels dry) then consider adding a hyaluronic acid serum after cleansing and before adding the moisturiser,” DeRosa said. “If you want to go even further and keep the moisturiser locked in for better hydration, use skin oil on top of it to keep the moisture in.”

If you’re someone who wants extra moisturiser, DeRosa recommended, “Alphascience HA Booster Serum is fantastic.”

“The 0.5% pure hyaluronic acids include both low and high molecular weights, which means that some of the [hyaluronic acid] goes deeper into the skin’s epidermis, while the rest stays closer to the surface of the skin, making the skin more hydrated for the short and long term,” she said.

After your second recovery night, it’s time to restart the cycle.

Special Considerations When Skin Cycling

If you’re someone who doesn’t have much of a skin care routine, be careful not to jump in too quickly.

“If you’re going to skin cycle, start low and go slow. The technique allows you to gradually introduce stronger products,” Motykie said. This technique might not be for everyone and it’s helpful to first consult with an expert, he explained.

“If you have sensitive or reactive skin, you don’t want to introduce a super active product. A skin expert can help you select the products that will be right for you,” Motykie added. “Also, if you’re on Accutane or any other acne medication, you want to stick to super gentle products, skin cycling wouldn’t be the right routine for you.”

As beneficial as skin cycling can be (just look up the awesome results on TikTok), the most important part of any skin care routine happens in the morning: applying sunscreen. You can cycle with the best products, but if you’re not using sun protection, the damage will far outweigh the benefits of your new nightly routine.