All About Skin Cycling
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All About Skin Cycling

By Safina Ali
04/08/2023 | Read time: 5m

If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ve probably come across me talk about something called skin cycling.

It’s all the rave right now on Tiktok, or ‘SkinTok’, the term being coined by Whitney Bowe, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.

In her words, she describes skin cycling as a:

‘thoughtful, strategic method for cycling through your nightly skincare products to drive the best results’.

If you’re unfamiliar with skin cycling, this is the post for you. I will give you guys the run down of skin cycling, what it is and whether you should try it (spoiler alert: You should).

What is skin cycling?

Skin cycling refers to a nightly skincare routine, with a focus on strengthening the skin barrier. It involves ‘cycling’ through active skincare products, followed by strategic rest or recovery days.

What’s the point of skin cycling?

Think about when you first got into skincare. Or maybe you’re completely new to skincare. Everything is overwhelming. Terms like ‘retinoids’ ‘AHA’ and ‘niacinamide’ all thrown around and written in big bold letters across the front of every skincare product in the skincare aisle.

Conflicting advice on when to use a vitamin C… What retinoid should you use? Are toners even necessary? It can get so confusing so quickly, and before you know it, you’ve piled every product onto your skin in the hope of reaping every benefit possible and waking up with flawless glazed doughnut skin. But instead you’ve woken up to a itchy red hot mess.

What went wrong? You’ve used BHAs before, why is it only giving you problems now? Is it because you combined it with something else? Did you leave it on too long? Maybe you should use some centella to help calm it – Ow wait! That stings!

Whether you’re new to skincare or well acquainted with it, we’ve all been there. It can be frustrating when you don’t know which products to combine with each other. And equally as frustrating when products you’ve used for a while start to irritate. But that is where skin cycling comes in!

Skin cycling is like the superhero of skincare. Rather than layering products over each other and hoping for the best results, skin cycling is about using products in a strategic way to complement one another and give you optimal results.

If you still don’t understand, think about a time you’ve gone to gym and woken up the next day sore. You then use that next day to recover so you’re as good as new. But if you don’t rest and you hit the gym again, you’ll probably wake up the next day twice as sore.

The concept of skin cycling is not just for beginners. Anyone, no matter their age, can benefit from it.

How do I skin cycle?

According to Dr Whitney Bowe, skin cycling is made up of 4 essential parts:

Night One: Exfoliation

Pretty self explanatory, but this night routine focuses on cleansing, drying, and using your exfoliator – preferably a chemical one, as these tend to be more gentle than physical, and give an immediate glow.

Remember to only exfoliate over dry skin to reduce the risk of irritation. ISNTREE Clear skin 8% AHA Essence, formulated with lactic acid, is perfectly formulated to give you that glow, while still being gentle enough for sensitive skin.

Night Two: Retinoid/Retinol

The gold standard. Retinoid to the skin is like mitochondria to the cells. A complete powerhouse of an ingredient that provides anti-ageing and skin brightening benefits.

They, like exfoliants, should be applied to dry skin to reduce the risk of irritation. Prescription strength retinoids like tretinoin, should ideally be applied between layers of moisturiser.

Though some people like to pair their retinol product with azelaic acid, it’s important to go slow when it comes to this product as irritation from retinols can occur very easily. Slow and steady wins the race!

Night 3 and 4: Recovery

Hold off on your actives and instead focus on repairing and strengthening the skin barrier.

Here, Dr Bowe states that:

‘you want to focus on nourishing your skin microbiome and repairing your skin barrier’.

Remember the rest days after the gym days? Here you want to look for products that focus on skin strengthening ingredients. Ingredients to look out for include ceremides, propolis, centella or cica, and hyaluronic acid.

Some of my favourite ever skin strengthening products include the COSRX Full fit Propolis Light Ampoule, which is anti-inflammatory in nature, and also gives your skin a great glow.

A’PIEU Madecassoside Ampoule 2X is also a well loved product for that undeniable calming effect and of course, this wouldn’t be a skin cycling post without mention of the ILLIYOON Ceramide Ato Concentrate Cream. It’s just chalked full of skin loving ingredients like ceremides and fatty acids to help strengthen the skin!

And then after that, all that’s left is to repeat the cycle!

It may take a few cycles to start seeing benefits but when you do, you definitely won’t be disappointed. Definitely don’t fall into the mistake of thinking you can tolerate less rest days and more active days – I’ve made that mistake, and it really doesn’t do anything in the long run except increase the time it takes for your skin to heal.

Consistency over frequency always! Here’s another gym analogy (sorry!), but it’s kinda like building muscle. You’ll find that you’ll get better results training a muscle consistently in a regular routine, over going all out to train a muscle, but doing so inconsistently.

Final words

Just to throw in a necessary disclaimer, but definitely take this process one step at a time, particularly if you have sensitive skin. It’s always good to get a dermatologist’s opinion if they have one, and it’s also a good idea to start on actives with weaker percentages and work your way up.

So there it is. Your guide to skin cycling. Definitely give it a shot if you haven’t and may all of us forever be blessed with glowing glass skin!