What Is Skin Cycling And Should You Try It?

Every year, makeup and skin-care trends go viral on Instagram and TikTok, stirring up conversation in the world of beauty. Have you heard of soap brows, cloud skin, snail facials, slugging, or the clean-girl aesthetic? These beauty concepts gained traction on North America’s most popular social media platforms and quickly made the leap into the real world—and skin cycling was one of them. But not all trends have staying power. Only a few manage to change the way we think about beauty, while others fade away or are branded as “what were we thinking?” moments in time. Dermatologist-approved and easy to implement, skin cycling has proven to have longevity.

What Is Skin Cycling?

A term first used on TikTok in 2021 by New York City dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, skin cycling involves rotating through your products on different nights, allowing you to use exfoliants and retinoids in your skin-care routine without irritation. Using potentially harsh ingredients only a couple times a week isn’t a new concept, but skin cycling specifically involves repeating a four-night regimen: night one is for exfoliation, night two is for retinoids, then nights three and four are for rest where your skin care should focus on repairing the barrier and replenishing moisture. On night five, you start the skin-cycling routine over again.

What Are The Benefits Of Skin Cycling?

Active ingredients like chemical exfoliants (think glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acid) and retinoids (examples are retinyl palmitate, retinol, retinal, and retinoic acid—all forms of vitamin A) are often used to remove dead skin cells, increase cellular turnover, and target fine lines and wrinkles. But using these types of products too often can cause itching, redness, and flaking. By consciously giving your skin a break and using ultra-nourishing serums (try Back To Earth Skin’s Glow Facial Serum!) and creams (like the Glow Daily Moisturizer) on your recovery days, you’ll be less likely to sensitize your skin. Exfoliating the night before you apply a retinoid is also a smart way to get more out of it, because exfoliating preps the skin for better ingredient absorption.

How To Skin Cycle

Each night, start by cleansing your skin. If you’re wearing makeup, you might want to double cleanse, first with a makeup remover and a second time with a foaming cleanser. Next, follow these steps:

  • Night one: Exfoliate your skin with a chemical (a.k.a. acid) or physical (a.k.a. a scrub like Back To Earth Skin Glow Exfoliating Scrub) exfoliant, then apply a nourishing eye cream, serum, and moisturizer.
  • Night two: Apply your moisturizer and allow it to dry, then massage in your retinoid and let it dry. Follow up with eye cream and moisturizer. This is the “retinoid sandwich” approach to reduce the chance of irritation.
  • Nights three and four: Simply apply your nourishing eye cream, serum, and moisturizer. Look for products with soothing, natural ingredients that will improve moisture levels and protect the skin.

On night five, start the skin-cycling routine over.

What Skin-Care Steps Should You Do In The Mornings?

Retinoids should only be used at night. In the mornings, you can cleanse your face again if you like, then apply your eye cream, serum, and moisturizer. Pat sunscreen all over your face before applying any makeup.