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You’ve probably heard of this buzzword that’s been taking the skincare world by storm. But skin cycling is actually just a fresh rebranding of something you might already be doing. (Hats off to you if you are!)
We recently sat down with Dr. Rina Weimann (@drrinaderm) to uncover the truth behind this trending term that’s been making waves on social media. Ready to join us?
Meet the expert
Rina Weimann (Allawh), MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group.
What exactly is skin cycling?
Let’s start from the beginning. This term, coined by dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, refers to a four-day cycle that goes as follows: on the first night, exfoliation; on the second, retinoids; finally, the next two nights are for rest and hydration. Then, repeat!
Turning your nighttime skincare routine into a cycle builds in time to help the skin barrier recover. Dr. Weimann elaborates, “I often recommend alternating retinoids with gentle hydrating moisturizers to help minimize skin irritation or redness, while keeping up consistency.”
But is it really that innovative? According to Dr. Weimann, not really. “As a dermatologist, the skin cycling method is not entirely novel.” Chances are, you might already be doing this without realizing it. So why all the hype?
Less is more
If you’re loving the idea of glowing results from exfoliants and retinoids, you’re in good company. However, more isn’t always better. “Embrace product repetition,” says Dr. Weimann. “With all the options available out there, it can be easy to take on too much, adding in new skincare products monthly or even weekly.” But results take time, patience, and regularity.
This is where skin cycling comes in — it’s an easy way to organize your evening skincare routine and keep your barrier strong while maximizing benefits. “Although age-defying ingredients like glycolic acid and retinal are great for promoting healthy skin turnover, it can be important to set aside days to stick to gentle, hydrating ingredients,” says Dr. Weimann. With her expertise, let’s break down what a typical four-day skin cycling routine would look like.
A skin cycling routine for beginners
Night one: exfoliant
The first phase focuses on ingredients with exfoliating properties, such as glycolic acid — a popular alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) known for its renewing, smoothing, and brightening benefits.
On night one, apply your exfoliant to clean, dry skin. You can follow up with other products like eye cream or night moisturizer, just remember to save the retinoids for the next night.
Night two: retinoid
On the second night of the cycle, the focus is on retinoids. Retinol, retinal — these age-defying ingredients work to boost turnover, blur fine lines, and redefine your skin’s texture.
After cleansing and using an eye cream, apply your retinoid product onto dry skin. You can complement your routine with a night cream that will hydrate and soothe your skin.
Keep in mind that when it comes to retinoids, an adjustment period is important — AKA retinization. So, your skin might need less frequent application to start with.
Nights three and four: rest
Now it’s time to sit back, relax, and hydrate. On the third and fourth days of the cycle, your goal is to help your skin barrier recover by using hydrating products. Dr. Weimann confirms, “Look for ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, ceramides, glycerin, vitamin E, and niacinamide for an extra boost of skin hydration, improving the elasticity and strength of the skin barrier.” The result? Irresistibly plump, moisturized skin.
A good rest-night routine involves cleansing, then an eye contour cream followed by a hydrating serum. Finally, reach for a repairing cream that helps to regenerate the skin and boost its antioxidant defenses.
A personal touch
Now that you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to personalize. Dr. Weimann elaborates, “Customize your skin cycling routine based on your skin type.” Whether you have sensitive, oily, or combination skin affects what’s in your skincare lineup, and the same goes for skin cycling.
“For those with more oily skin, you may find adding an exfoliant up to three times per week beneficial,” she shares. And what about those on the more sensitive side of things? “Sensitive skin may only tolerate an exfoliating topical once per week.”
But skin type isn’t the only factor to keep in mind. “Seasonal changes may also affect your skin cycling routine,” elaborates Dr. Weimann. “During the late fall and winter, our skin becomes increasingly dry and thirsty for that extra boost of hydration,” she continues. However, that doesn’t mean you should throw out your retinoids. If your skin is extra sensitive in the colder months, “apply your retinoid at dinner time, and it wash off at bedtime.” Dr. Weimann explains, “A shorter contact period still provides benefits, with less of a chance for skin irritation.”
Above all, it’s all about getting to know your skin. No matter how effective your products-of-choice are, you won’t see the results you’re hoping for if your skin barrier is stressed.
What about other ingredients?
Along with retinoids and exfoliants, you can also incorporate other ingredients such as vitamin C, niacinamide, and vitamin E into your skin cycling routine. Just make sure you don’t overdo it. It’s best to limit your routine to one or two complementary skincare ingredients and apply them during rest nights, or as part of your daytime routine.
Overall, skin cycling is a great way to organize your skin care routine and practice a dermatologist-favorite philosophy: let the skin barrier rest in order to see results. Dr. Weimann leaves us with one last pearl of wisdom, “When it comes to creating your skin cycling regimen, chat with a board-certified dermatologist about your skin concerns and find out what ingredients you would benefit the most from.”