I naively assumed that after puberty my hormonal surges would subside and my dull skin would finally be flawless and glowing. Yet here I am as an adult, still struggling with monthly cystic pimples, hyperpigmentation, and most recently, eczema.
For these reasons, I desperately went in search of a cure. In addition to topical prescriptions, I’ve tried slugging and dermaplaning, 10-step diets, and even nothing but water — all of which yielded unimpressive results.
But last month, like thousands of others on TikTok, I discovered “skin cycling,” another beauty craze with over 80 million views on the video-sharing platform. Invented by Dr. Whitney Bowe, this simple and affordable trend involves spinning or “cycling” through your products – rather than using them all at once. The goal, says Bowe, is to distribute the powerful active ingredients over a four-day cycle to avoid irritating your skin for healthy, hydrated results.
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“We used to think of skincare in a linear way,” says Bowe, a New York dermatologist, research scientist and founder of Dr. Whitney Bowe Beauty. What started as a piece of advice for her patients quickly turned into the latest TikTok fad when she took it to social media in April 2021.
“When people discovered new ingredients or products, they just added another step to their routine and mixed different ingredients that didn’t work well together, causing irritation rather than results.”
Bowe, along with many TikTok users and other dermatologists, hails the skin cycle as a “game changer.” It’s a bold claim – one that convinced me to give it a shot. For five weeks I rode the bike to see if it lived up to its hype.
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What should your skin cycling routine look like?
In his private practice, Bowe says his patients have benefited the most from a four-step cycle. On the first night, she recommends gently exfoliating to loosen dead skin cells. On the second night, apply retinoids, a vitamin A derivative known for its anti-aging effects. Nights three and four are all about recovery, hydration and moisture. Then the cycle repeats.
What’s great about the skin cycle is that it can be changed to suit your needs. People with sensitive skin can add an extra recovery night to a five-step routine, while people with oily, acne-prone skin would benefit from one less recovery night, Bowe recommends.
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Throughout my month-long trip, I followed Bowe’s recommended four-night regimen. (Note that the products I used are just the ones I already had at home. Any similar product will do.)
Day 1: Night Scrub
- Bowe advises using a chemical exfoliator, not a physical one, to remove dull skin without causing micro tears. I used COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid which is recommended for more sensitive skin.
- After exfoliation, it is best to use a non-occlusive, fragrance-free moisturizer. For my eczema-prone and acne-prone skin, I opted for my light and youth-enriched cream innisfree with orchid every night of the skin cycle.
Day 2: Retinol/Retinoid Night
Day 3 and 4 Recovery night
- Recovery nights focus less on actives and more on simple hydration and hydration to repair your skin barrier. As recommended by Bowe, I use a hyaluronic acid serum on damp skin (CLEARSTEM CELLRENEW Serum with Stem Cells & Hyaluronic Acid)
- To finish, I keep it consistent with my moisturizer and occasionally “slug” with Aquaphor to lock in that moisture overnight.
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Does the skin cycle really work?
As a skincare fanatic who’s tried every trend and every product in the book, I knew the skin cycle wouldn’t be the panacea to my plethora of concerns. That’s why I was surprised to see dazzling results after a few cycles.
Of course, this is no miracle. I broke out first – a common reaction to those new to chemical exfoliants – and I still do, although less frequently. Overall my skin looks brighter, healthier and more hydrated.
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This shouldn’t be too surprising: research has confirmed the importance of chemical exfoliation and retinoids in eliminating skin damage. But a common problem with these products is the risk of overdrying and irritating your skin. This is why the skin cycle, according to Bowe, is so effective.
“By deliberately browsing, people can use what we dermatologists know to be the most potent and effective ingredients – but in a thoughtful, streamlined way. You get the most out of those ingredients, but you don’t get irritation or damage.”
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Who Should Avoid Skin Cycle?
Cutaneous cycle is relatively safe with no known risks. However, not all skin types will experience its benefits. People with more serious conditions that require professional attention, such as painful cystic acne, are unlikely to see results with Skin Cycle, which relies less on prescriptions and more on over-the-counter products.
Bowe adds: “It will not replace an appointment with your dermatologist.”
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