What Is Skin Cycling?

January 25, 2023

What is skin cycling? Woman using skin care products on a regular rotation.

TikTok has given us a lot of skincare trends in its short tenure. From double washing to the sheet mask trends of the pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of skincare advice that we can take or leave. According to Dr. Jennifer Holman of the Center for Aesthetic and Laser Medicine in Tyler, Texas, “Most of the skincare recommendations I see on social media and from other non-professional sites aren’t necessarily good or bad. However, very often, the recommendations are only right for certain skin types or for achieving a specific result, but they’re touted as a go-to solution for everyone. For example, not everyone needs to use a face mask every day but adding a face mask periodically can be beneficial for just about anyone. When it comes to one of the latest trends, skin cycling, the beauty of this TikTok recommendation is its versatility. People who skin cycle, can incorporate complimentary skincare products used on a rotation to achieve a wide range of skin health results. This is something dermatologists recommend for patients regularly.” In this blog, Dr. Holman dives deeper into the benefits of skin cycling and makes some recommendations for products to include.

So, Exactly What Is Skin Cycling?

When it comes to defining skin cycling, Dr. Holman says, “While social media’s concept of skin cycling is relatively new, the idea should sound familiar, especially to people who have sensitive skin. It involves incorporating certain skincare products that can be harsh or abrasive into your skincare routine only on certain days of the week while allowing the skin to rest, heal, and recover for the rest of the week. People with sensitive skin may already be doing this without knowing what to call it because sensitive skin is much more likely to be irritated by the active ingredients in skincare products, so sensitive skin may not tolerate daily application. While these cyclic skincare routines are commonly recommended for people with sensitive, rosacea-prone, or psoriasis-prone skin, anyone can benefit from skin cycling to incorporate a range of skincare products while minimizing inflammation and irritation.”

What Should My Skin Cycling Routine Include?

Your specific skin cycling routine may vary from person to person depending on skin type and the desired results, but Dr. Holman recommends, “You’ll want to cycle through using exfoliants and retinoids with rest days between. Everyone seems to have their own preferred cycle for skincare products, but one of the simplest options is to use an exfoliant in your skincare routine on night one, a retinoid on night two, and then rest for at least two nights. While you can exfoliate in the morning, retinoids should be used in the evening, so it’s usually easiest to just plan these extra treatments as part of your evening routine to stay consistent. If you see good results, stick with your skin cycling. If you notice inflammation, redness, irritation, or other concerns, pause your cycle and talk with a dermatologist.”

Exfoliants and retinoids are the most important products to include when skin cycling. While these products are essential to promote skin cell turnover, increase collagen production, and improve the tone and texture of the skin, they can be harsh. Frequent use of exfoliants and retinoids can lead to skin inflammation and damage. For this reason, skin cycling allows people to receive the benefits of these products without any unnecessary skin damage.

Choosing an Exfoliant

The purpose of an exfoliant is to remove the outermost layer of skin to reveal healthy, new skin below and open the pores. This allows other products to be more readily absorbed by the skin, promotes an even skin tone and texture, and helps reduce the risk of acne breakouts and flare-ups in many chronic skin conditions like psoriasis.  There are two types of exfoliants available. When you picture an exfoliant, you may conjure up something like a sugar scrub. Those harsh, abrasive products are physical exfoliants. They can serve a purpose, but even with infrequent usage, they may be too harsh. Most people should choose chemical exfoliants. These products use chemicals to gently break down and remove dead skin cells.

Choosing a Retinoid

Retinoid is the term most often used to refer to skincare products with active ingredients derived from vitamin A and formulated to help prevent and counteract the signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. While most people refer to all vitamin A skincare products as retinoids, this actually refers only to prescription-strength products. The products that are available over the counter are called retinols. By any name, the result is the same, retinoids are essential anti-aging products that help to break down thickened areas of skin, promote the production of collagen and elastin, and keep skin smooth and glowing. However, the strong ingredients in retinoids and retinols can cause irritation. In fact, these products are so closely linked to skin irritation, there’s a word that specifically describes the inflammation, redness, and pain caused by retinol usage – retinization. Skin cycling can help avoid this adverse reaction to retinols.

Your Ideal Skin Cycling Week

Below, Dr. Holman has outlined a week-long evening skin cycling routine. This nighttime skincare routine includes an exfoliant then a retinoid on the first two nights followed by rest days and a deep-hydrating face mask. It’s a good option for all skin types, but it may be especially beneficial for those who have sensitive skin.

Monday Night

Tuesday Night

Wednesday Night

Thursday Night

Friday Night

Saturday Night

Sunday Night

Is Skin Cycling for Me?

According to Dr. Holman, “Skin cycling can work for just about anyone. I’ve been recommending skin cycling for retinols and retinoids for years because they can be so irritating to the skin with daily use. While I don’t often say that a TikTok skincare trend is dermatologist-approved, skin cycling may just be the first one I’ve seen that can be adjusted and updated to work for almost anyone of any skin type just by changing a few skincare products. I still recommend working with a dermatologist to develop your specific skin cycling routine and pick the best products for you, but skin cycling is definitely one social media skincare trend I hope sticks around.”

Ready to Talk with a Dermatologist About Skin Cycling?

If you’re interested in creating the ideal skin cycling routine, U.S. Dermatology Partners has you covered. It’s easy to get started working with us. Simply take a few minutes to complete our online scheduling form. Once our local dermatology office team hears from you, they’ll be in touch to confirm your visit.

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