“Skin Cycling” Routines Are BeautyTok’s Latest Fixation

Here’s everything you need to know about the viral trend.

Skin care can be intimidating. From figuring out how many steps you actually need in a routine or picking the right products for your skin type, there’s a lot of information (and oftentimes misinformation) to shift through. Creating a skin cycling routine has become a go-to way for TikTokers to simplify all of it — and many are swearing by the method for glowy skin.

Skin cycling, which rose to TikTok fame thanks to founder of Dr. Whitney Bowe Beauty and New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, MD, has piqued everyone’s interest lately — and for good reason. But to get a better idea of what it is and how to incorporate it into a routine, it’s best to hear it straight from the experts themselves.

Bustle tapped three pros — Dr. Bowe along with board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at the Shafer Clinic Dr. Dendy Engelman, MD, and founder of Dr. Rossi Derm MD and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Anthony Rossi Jr., MD — to break down everything you need to know about building your own skin cycling routine.

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What Is Skin Cycling?

Basically, skin cycling is a four-night skin care regimen meant to reset your skin and strengthen its barrier. You start with chemical exfoliation on the first night, retinol on the second, and spend the last two days “recovering” your skin.

“Skin cycling takes a less-is-more-approach, being thoughtful and deliberate about your skin care routine,” Bowe tells Bustle. “Rather than adding more products on top of one another, skin cycling encourages you to use products in a strategic way to compliment one another.”

Rossi adds that it is an alternative way of illustrating how to do particular skin care steps. “Skin cycling is not new, [but] it is important to have a skin schedule like a gym training schedule,” he says. “You can’t work out the same muscle group every day; it will become fatigued. When dermatologists prescribe retinoids or exfoliants like chemical peels, we do so in a titrated manner allowing the skin to adapt and adjust.”

Engelman agrees. “The skin cycling routine is simple and easy to follow, which makes it easy for anyone to adopt,” she says. “As a dermatologist, I love this because I hear from many patients who say that skin care can feel complicated and overwhelming at first.”

How To Create A Skin Cycling Routine

Bowe breaks down the skin cycling regimen as follows: night one is exfoliation night, night two is retinoid night, and nights three and four are your recovery nights. You can adjust based on your skin needs and skin type (she says if you have rosacea, you might benefit from doing it for five nights and if you have oily or acne-prone skin, you might benefit from doing it only for three nights). But in general, you stick to this four-night regimen and repeat.

Night One: Exfoliation

On the first night when you exfoliate, Engelman recommends using a gentle at-home peel or a liquid exfoliant like the Glo Skin Beauty Beta-Clarity Pro 5 Liquid Exfoliant. She advises against using physical exfoliants as those can create more damage to the skin barrier and if a physical exfoliant is followed by retinol on the second night, it can cause irritation and inflammation. Bowe adds that once you exfoliate, you’ll want to follow up with a fragrance-free moisturizer like the Dr. Whitney Bowe Beauty Bowe Glowe to rebalance the microbiome and repair your skin barrier.

Night Two: Retinoids

On the second night, Engelman says to choose retinol based on your skin type and how adjusted your skin already is to retinol. If you’re just starting out, she suggests looking for serums that also have soothing ingredients in them like Bliss Youth Got This serum or Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules. If your skin has already adapted to retinol, she says you can use higher levels.

Nights Three & Four: Recovery

Nights three and four are your recovery nights, which Bowe says are extremely important for your skin to reset. “Over-exfoliating and using powerful actives every night can be very irritating for many people, especially if you have sensitive or reactive skin,” she says. “Recovery nights, which focus on nourishing the skin barrier have been a game changer for so many of my patients (and for me).”

Engelman adds that on these recovery nights, you should focus on using products that are nourishing and contain ingredients that fortify the skin barrier. Some examples that she notes: vegan EGF, squalane, hyaluronic acid, and adaptogens (like mushrooms and CBD). Rossi’s new Catalyst Intense Renewing Serum contains nourishing ingredients like glycerin and niacinamide to soothe the skin and restore damage. What you want to avoid, of course, is anything that is known to be harsh or irritating.

The Benefits Of Skin Cycling

Skin cycling focuses on strengthening your skin barrier to minimize the occurrence of irritation and inflammation. Engelman says that it boosts the efficacy of active ingredients while mitigating some of the major downsides associated with those actives. Those who are new to retinol, for example, can use skin cycling to help their skin adjust to the intensity of retinol by resting during those recovery days. (Though she does say that it is still important to use retinol with caution if your skin isn’t used to it yet.)

Ultimately, it’s a pared-down approach that can help refresh and reset the skin. “This is a recipe for healthier skin than the kitchen-sink approach so many people were experimenting with,” Bowe adds.

Are There Any Downsides To Skin Cycling?

Though the method comes with loads of benefits, Engelman says it’s not a completely foolproof system for preventing irritation and inflammation. Those who are sensitivity to retinol, she says, may need to start slower with such a potent ingredient. Even then, she notes they might still experience some of retinol’s known side effects (like redness and irritation) until your skin adjusts.


Dr. Whitney Bowe, MD, founder of Dr. Whitney Bowe Beauty and New York City-based board-certified dermatologist

Dr. Dendy Engelman, MD, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at the Shafer Clinic

Dr. Anthony Rossi Jr., MD, founder of Dr. Rossi Derm MD and board-certified dermatologist