We asked skin experts to give us their opinion on skin cycling – is it a fad or something that will help you get more from your skincare?

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If you’re an avid TikTok user you may have seen lots of videos about ‘skin cycling’. Skin cycling is being touted as a 'new'skincare trend (we’ll come back to that point in a minute) and the best way to think of it is like a workout plan for your face, combining a mix of high-intensity skincare ingredients alongside much-needed rest days. As we know TikTok can be a mixed bag of information, there was that time we tried the TikTok trend fruit used as makeup, which had definite highs and lows. But it has also taught us how to make green goddess salad and dressing, which we’re still eating and enjoying now. Swings and roundabouts.

Skin cycling started its TikTok life via the feed of dermatologist, Dr Whitney Bowe and has now gone on to have more than 87.9 million views. While it’s definitely a new phrase, you may find that the concept of skin cycling doesn’t feel that new to you;  your skincare routine may even be ticking all the skin cycling boxes already. 

In short, it’s a four-night skincare routine, switching between an exfoliator, retinol and ‘rest’ days, where you lay off your evening actives. It’s not that dissimilar to the micro dosing skincare trend that was doing the rounds last year.  As TikTok trends go, this one has substance and is something doctors tell us they do themselves. 

“For those with more sensitive skin or conditions such as rosacea and eczema, skin cycling is the sort of thing that they can stick with forever,” says Dr Raj Arora, GP and aesthetic doctor. “But for others, it will be a short stop gap and stepping stone into conditioning the skin to use actives appropriately without compromising their skin’s barrier. When I use stronger retinol or change my exfoliant I tend to do it slowly and increase frequency over a number of weeks - this is essentially skin cycling.”

@sparklesandskin What is skin cycling? I heard about this from @drwhitneybowe #skintok #acne #skincareroutine #retinoid #exfoliate ♬ original sound - sparklesandskin

What is skin cycling?

“Skin cycling is basically cycling between products in your evening routine,” explains cosmetic doctor, Dr David Jack. “The first night you use an exfoliating cleanser containing either AHA or BHAs. The second night you use a vitamin A-based product that will provide a little bit more exfoliation and stimulate collagen production, treat hyperpigmentation, treat pores and also work on the microbiome of the skin. And then on the final two nights, you use [just] a moisturiser instead to hydrate the skin. The whole point of it is to not over-exfoliate or over-stimulate the skin and to use retinoids a bit more gently than they have been the last few years."

What is the skin cycling routine?

  • Night 1: Exfoliate Dr Bowe recommends using a chemical exfoliator that combines both AHA and BHAs as they give the most effective exfoliation. If you’re looking for a guide to using exfoliating acids in your skincare routine, we’ve got you covered. By exfoliating on the first night you are prepping your skin for what's to come so that it can absorb actives much better and therefore garner better results. If you were to exfoliate and apply actives you run the risk of over-exfoliating your skin and causing your skin to react.
  • Night 2: Retinoid Dr Bowe’s main mantra, whether you’re using a retinol or a retinoid, is that less is always more. She recommends using one pea-sized drop on the face, the same size for your neck and two pea-sized drops for your chest. She also suggests using a fragrance-free moisturiser on top and if you have sensitive skin that can react to retinol put moisturiser on first to act as a buffer and barrier. As you advance with skin cycling you can put moisturiser on after. If you're looking for the best retinol cream or serum for your skin type, read our guide. 
  • Night 3 and 4: Recover These are to help your skin repair itself after the exfoliation and retinoid. Dr Bowe recommends starting by using a gentle cleanser, leaving the skin slightly damp and applying a hydrating serum containing ingredients like niacinamide, glycerin and hyaluronic acid. She then says you can layer an essential oil and fragrance-free moisturiser on top and if your skin still feels parched then you can try slugging with vaseline. She advises that anyone with acne prone give slugging a swerve and pat an oil on top instead. She loves the Indie Lee Squalane Facial Oil, £14

Does skin cycling work for everyone?

“Skin cycling may not suit everyone," says Dr Arora, "if you have oilier/acne-prone skin then it may be the case that you need to use your actives most days and the skin's barrier may be quite resilient. However, you can ‘upcycle’, as I like to call it – this is where you may use a stronger chemical exfoliant on some days to target acne/excess oil and on the other days a gentler exfoliant. You may also alternate your retinoid use or start off slowly and build the frequency.”

However, there are some people where skin cycling is beneficial. “For first-time users of actives such as retinol or AHA/BHAs, it is quite important to build a tolerance and to start off slow – this is when skin cycling may be useful,” says Dr Arora.

Dr Jack, however find is all, " a bit of a faff. I would rather do good things over a longer term with a regular routine. So for me, that means using a more gentle retinoid every night. Then once a week do a slightly deeper exfoliation using a peel. This way you’re prepping the skin for the week, not over-exfoliating the skin and allowing the barrier to repair itself.”

For the best at-home facial peels, read our guide.

What should I put on my skin during the day when skin cycling?

Dr Bowe recommends having a light cleanse in the morning and then using a vitamin C serum to help diminish pigmentation, boost glow and dose the skin in antioxidants. Seal that in with a moisturiser and of course, apply an everyday SPF

Your skin cycling kit

You may already have everything you need in your bathroom cabinet already but if you’re on the lookout for something new then these are some of team GTG’s favourites.

Exfoliator: Alpha H Liquid Gold, £39.95

Formulated with glycolic acid (which is an AHA), you simply saturate a reusable cotton pad with the liquid and sweep it over your face and let the gently exfoliating tingling begin.

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Retinol: Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1, £30.99

A brilliantly formulated stabilised retinal that comes in different levels of strength so you can graduate up as your skin gets used to the product.

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Hydrator: CeraVe Moisturising Cream, £7.60

Packed with three types of ceramides and hyaluronic acid this no-fuss, budget-friendly cream will replenish and rehydrate the skin.

Buy now