How "Hair Cycling" Can Give You The Strands Of Your Dreams
The lowdown on TikTok’s latest fixation.
While a trusty bottle of shampoo and conditioner are really all you need to take good care of your hair, there are countless varieties to pick from — and alternating between different hair treatments on wash days is an easy way to take your hair game to the next level. This is called hair cycling, a concept that’s technically been around for ages but now has over two billion views on TikTok (and a cute name).
To try hair cycling, all you have to do is cycle between hair care products based on what your strands and scalp need in the moment, says Dr. Lauren Penzi, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology. So rather than using the same shampoo and conditioner over and over again, you’d rotate through a variety of options to create a customized regimen, she tells Bustle. This means reaching for specialized shampoos and conditioners (think clarifying, hydrating, and anti-dandruff) as well as hair oils, masks, treatments, or whatever else your hair might need on a given day.
According to Penzi, you’ll want to consider your hair type, the weather and seasonal changes, scalp conditions, hormonal or health changes, and any chemical treatments you’ve recently had (like hair dye or hair relaxers) when choosing your hair care product lineup. All of these factors affect the moisture levels of your hair and scalp, your hair’s texture, its oiliness — and thus what it needs. Read on for everything to know about hair cycling and how to incorporate it into your beauty routine.
The Benefits Of Hair Cycling
The whole idea of hair cycling is that you’re turning to products based on a specific concern. “Common components of a hair cycling routine include cleansing, clarifying, conditioning, and using a mask,” says Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D., FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at Cornell. If you’re dealing with product buildup, for instance, you’d want to reach for a clarifying treatment. If your hair is feeling extra dry, you’d opt for a hydrating mask and/or nourishing conditioner. If you dye your hair a lot, a repairing mask might feel right. In other words, if you’ve noticed a pesky ongoing issue, hair cycling might be for you.
By incorporating different kinds of products into your hair care regimen, you can better address special concerns, like flakes or oiliness. And by constantly swapping them, you ensure you don’t use too much of any one product. “For example, someone with an oily scalp may benefit from a clarifying shampoo but it may be best to only incorporate it a few times per week to prevent dryness of the scalp and hair,” Garshick tells Bustle. “Similar to skin cycling, cycling hair care products can help to prevent irritation or dryness.”
Hair cycling also gives each product a chance to do its thing since you’re only using it when you actually need it instead of every day or on a regular basis. This, according to Penzi, ensures you get the most benefit out of each formula.
How To Try Hair Cycling
The beauty of hair cycling is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. “Your cycle is custom-designed based on your individual hair needs,” says Penzi. As an example, Penzi points to her straight, oily hair that she says is prone to dandruff. To get an idea of what a hair cycling routine looks like, here’s what she might use in a week:
- Day 1: Volumizing shampoo and conditioner
- Day 2: Anti-dandruff shampoo and conditioner
- Day 3: Volumizing shampoo and conditioner
- Day 4: Skip shampoo, maybe a little dry shampoo
- Day 5: Clarifying shampoo and conditioner
- Day 6: Anti-dandruff shampoo and conditioner
- Day 7: Volumizing shampoo and conditioner
“One day a week I don't wash my hair and will sometimes even use dry shampoo that day,” she tells Bustle. “The next day I'll use a clarifying shampoo to help rid my scalp of any excess oil or product buildup.” She usually skips hair oils but does use a leave-in conditioning treatment once a month to keep her ends hydrated and healthy.
Because her hair is oily, Penzi says she prefers to shampoo every day. Of course, you can choose to skip more wash days — it’s all about catering to your hair’s unique needs.
The Downsides Of Hair Cycling
One thing to keep in mind, especially when watching TikToks with lots of fancy products, is that it is possible to go overboard with a hair cycling routine. “Don't fall into the trap of thinking you need to cycle through five or six products to achieve the hair you want,” Penzi says. Not only does that get pricy, but you’ll also run the risk of dryness, excessive oiliness, and scalp irritation. A general rule of thumb is to keep your regimen as simple as possible.
To figure out exactly what your hair needs, Garshik recommends adding just one new product at a time. If you notice flakes on your scalp, try incorporating an anti-dandruff shampoo two to three times a week to see if it makes a difference. If you have other hair concerns, then you can add a third product, and so on. “Hair cycling doesn’t necessarily require a lot of products,” Garshik says. One or two might do the trick.
And hey, if your hair is fine as-is, you might not need anything extra at all. Hair cycling is all about figuring out what you need.
Grymowicz, M. (2020). Hormonal Effects on Hair Follicles. Int J Mol Sci. doi: 10.3390/ijms21155342.
Kobayashi, M. (2016). Physiological and microbiological verification of the benefit of hair washing in patients with skin conditions of the scalp. J Cosmet Dermatol. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12228.
Punyani, S. (2021). The Impact of Shampoo Wash Frequency on Scalp and Hair Conditions. Skin Appendage Disord. doi: 10.1159/000512786.
Dr. Lauren Penzi, MD, board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology
Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D., FAAD, board-certified dermatologist, clinical assistant professor at Cornell.