Beauty

What Is 'Skin Cycling'? Turns Out, The Secret To Clear Skin Has Been Right In Front Of Us All Along

Less really is more.

By Diandra Malivindi
Ever since the skincare boom kicked off, our shelves have been stocked high with a bevy of products and tools that all promise to give us the clearest and most radiant skin yet. Now, beauty lovers have their eye on 'skin cycling', a new trend that claims to leave you with the healthiest complexion, sans the effort.
Sure, it's easy to get carried away with lotions and potions that all claim to rejuvenate, revitalise and regenerate our skin, it's tricky to know what our skin actually wants from us. Thankfully, Dr. Whitney Bowe has the answer and thanks to TikTok, skincare savants around the world have been introduced to the game-changing technique that doesn't break the bank.
Known as 'skin cycling', the trend's hashtag currently has 73 million views and has been flooding every For You page and Instagram feed, since a video of the founder singing its praises went viral. Not only that, but those who have tried the technique for themselves have also raved about its efficiency—one look at their complexions and it's easy to see why everyone has become so obsessed.
Aside from understanding what skin cycling is on a general level, there's more to the technique than meets the eye. So, fret not, because ELLE Australia has enlisted the help of the brains behind Ciaté London, Lottie London, and Skin Proud, Charlotte Knight, to help us understand it all.
Below, everything you need to know about skin cycling, from how to work it into your skincare routine to what products you should have on hand when you're ready to start.

What is skin cycling?

Created by Dr Whitney Bowe, a New York City-based dermatologist, she invented a four-day skincare regime that aims to leave our skin the healthiest it's ever been, while educating us all on how give our skin what it actually needs.
Back in 2021, Dr. Bowe developed the skin cycling routine while solving her patients' skin concerns at her dermatology practice. In the blink of an eye, her method quickly evolved into a four-night routine that alternates between using active ingredients and giving your complexion a rest.
"Skin cycling is essentially simplifying your routine to ensure your products are working as hard as possible to deliver results," Charlotte Knight tells ELLE Australia. "In short—skin cycling is creating four targeted skincare routines that you cycle through each evening; exfoliation, retinoid, and two recovery evenings before repeating the process and then repeat the total process again."
"My favourite thing about skin cycling is that it acknowledges that your skin needs time to recover in between what can be powerful active ingredients, those recovery evenings are just as effective as the retinol or exfoliation evening in creating healthy looking skin," she explains.
"Another huge benefit in splitting your routine in this way creates a habit that can be stuck to. Developing this consistency can be the key to seeing results in your skincare. Cycling means no more trying to remember when you last exfoliated or what day it was when you applied your retinol, instead you can easily run in a series. If you need to, you can track it easily on a calendar or in your phone."
Of course, nothing comes without its downfalls. And according to Knight, there can be some not-so-favourable results from the skin cycling method, but ultimately, there's a fix for everything.
"You don't want results to plateau with the products you are using, which can happen. I would advise to always start on a lower concentration retinol if you are new to retinoid treatments and build up to a stronger one if you feel that your skin needs further enhancement," she advises.
"Also, you can add in eye creams as you see fit—it is there as a guide and can be flexed to what works best for you."

What happens on night one and two of skin cycling?

Okay, so you're ready to reset your routine, so let us break it all down for you.
On the first night of the skin cycling regiment, Dr. Bowe suggests exfoliating your skin by using a chemical exfoliant—like a AHA or BHA—rather than a physical scrub. The dermatologist explained that an at-home face peel is another way to gently exfoliate without stripping our barrier. As we know, exfoliants should always be used after the skin has been cleansed, and should always be followed by moisturising to avoid drying the skin out.
Why is exfoliation so important? Well, doing so will see dead skin cells removed and skin texture improved. Not only that, but skincare ingredients that follow will be able to effectively absorb into your complexion. While physical exfoliating is also capable of the same results, the process is more rough than chemical exfoliation, so if you're skin tolerates the chemical offerings, we'd suggest sticking to that.
On night two of the skin cycling routine, it's time to whip out the retinol. Start off your skincare routine by doing your nightly cleanse, and then apply a pea-sized amount of retinol, before applying a layer of moisturiser to finish it up. As we know, retinol is one of the most common forms of vitamin A, and works by increasing cell turnover and showing newer, more radiant skin cells underneath.

Of course, retinol is rather harsh on the skin, so be careful with the ingredient, unless you're already an avid user. If you're new to retinol, then incorporate the ingredient cautiously to see if your skin can tolerate it.
For most, the first two weeks of retinol use will see your skin potentially endure breakouts, redness, dryness, and even peeling, as it adjusts to the harsh exfoliant—this is called a retinol purge and is completely normal. However, beware the retinol burn, which will see your complexion start to turn red and make the topmost layer of skin peel almost immediately or within the first 24 hours. If your skin feels even angrier as the days pass, even after applying a fragrance free moisturiser, then you likely have a burn. In that case, feel free to opt for natural, plant-based retinol alternative which should give you the same results, minus the shedding.
Remember, it's vital to always apply a moisturiser after a retinol and to wear a high-coverage SPF every single day, since the ingredient works by accelerating the formation of new skin cells and is more prone to sunburn. Additionally, it's important to note that you should not be using any form of retinol when pregnant or breastfeeding.
If you're looking to stock up on some products, you can find some of our favourite exfoliators and retinols below.
Kombucha Exfoliation Power Toner by Youth To The People, $40.60 at Sephora.
Liquid Gold Exfoliating Treatment with 5% Glycolic Acid by Alpha-H, $72 at Sephora.
Recharge 0.5% Retinoid Serum by Skin Proud, $20.79 at Priceline.
A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum by Sunday Riley, $184 at MECCA.

What happens on night three and four of skin cycling?

Rounding out the final days of skin cycling, days three and four are a breeze. Completely dedicated to hydrating and repairing the skin, neither day includes an active ingredient and exists only to give your skin the TLC it deserves.
Kick off days three and four by washing your face with a gentle cleanser, perhaps give it two rounds just to be sure. And if your skin is need of a moisture kick, feel free to apply a hyaluronic acid serum. Then, finish it off with your go-to moisturiser, preferably a fragrance-free option that includes as little irritants as possible. If you're feeling extra fancy, you can seal the deal by applying a face oil to keep your skin as dewy and hydrated as possible.
If you're looking to stock up on some products, you can find some of our favourite hydrating products below.
Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Serum by Peter Thomas Roth, $105 at Sephora.
Rosehip Bioregenerate Oil by Pai Skincare, $49 at Sephora.
Lait-Crème Concentré Moisturiser by Embryolisse, $46 at Adore Beauty.
Ultra Facial Cream by Kiehl's, $52 at Adore Beauty.

Should I try skin cycling?

While skin cycling sounds all fine and dandy, many couldn't help but wonder what skin types would benefit from the method the most. After all, sensitive or acne-prone skin could benefit from exfoliation or retinols but could also be playing with fire by using them.
"Some skin types may be sensitive to ingredients such as retinol so it's important to start with a low percentage to see how your skin reacts," Knight explains. "Skin Proud's Recharge uses a 0.5 per cent retinoid which is ideal for first time users or those with skin prone to sensitivity."
"Skin Cycling is also really great for anyone starting out building their routine—it keeps it simple and easy to get into the habit of doing it.
If you have oily or combination skin, God speed, the method will likely work perfectly with your complexions. For those with sensitive or dry skin, your compatibility with the regime could require some trial-and-error.
Given skin cycling's easy-to-achieve steps, the method is also simple to experiment with. So, those with hard-to-please skin types can take their time testing out the active ingredients on their skin to make sure they're finding one that comes with no negative reactions. Try test patching active ingredients by applying the product in hidden areas, such as where the jaw meets the ear or under your chin, so if a reaction appears, it's not visible.
If you decide to opt for an exfoliant or a retinol, remember to take it easy. Start slow and introduce the products gradually, rushing into the routine will be futile if your skin isn't prepared for the change in ingredients.
Don't forget, you're trying to restore your skin barrier, not damage it even more.
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  • undefined: Diandra Malivindi