‘Skin cycling’ is the derm-approved skin schedule you need to know about

Finally, a TikTok trend that isn't BS

Editor / August 29 2022

There’s been no shortage of skin care trends over the years but the ‘skin cycling’ routine is one method we’re genuinely excited about. For starters, the technique was coined by a dermatologist and is based more around how to use your products, rather than spruiking replacements that you ‘need’.

Dr. Whitney Bowe is the brains behind the 4-night ‘cycle’ and after people started following her advice, their skin spoke volumes. Unlike the 10-step Korean skin care routine or jello skin trend, the schedule she’s put together focuses on one key element per night.

Intrigued? Here’s how to try skin cycling for yourself.

Skin cycling routine: Products and breakdown

Night 1: Chemical exfoliant

The skin cycling routine for beginners is broken down into four nights, the first being exfoliation night. Dr. Bowe instructs to cleanse and then pat the skin dry before applying your exfoliating product.

“I recommend a leave-on product over a wash-off product because it’s going to be more effective,” she said in a TikTok video. “And also, I prefer a product that’s made with exfoliating acid as opposed to a gritty scrub because the acids are actually more effective and more gentle for the skin barrier.”

The product may tingle (but shouldn’t burn) and then once the tingling subsides, apply your moisturiser as normal.

Alpha-H Generation Glow Daily Resurfacing Essence

Skinstitut Expert Refine AHA Glycolic Toner

Sunday Riley Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment

We recommend:

#1/ Alpha-H Generation Glow Daily Resurfacing Essence, $99.95 at alpha-h.com

#2/ Skinstitut Expert Refine AHA Glycolic Toner, $59 at Adore Beauty 

#3/ Sunday Riley Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment, $184 at MECCA

Night 2: Retinol

Night two starts the same, with a cleanse followed by patting the skin dry. Dr. Bowe explains that you don’t want damp skin on retinol/retinoid night because it can drive irritation, particularly if you’re new to using retinol. 

She does, however, recommend that beginners or those with sensitive skin apply a little moisturiser underneath the eyes, on the neck, and at the corners of the nose and mouth to act as a buffer to prevent dryness and irritation.

And then, it’s time for retinol. Dr. Howe stipulates that less is more; “one pea should cover the entire face, just dab it all over, rub it in, and [another] pea should cover the neck.”

She then says to wait a minute or two and if the skin still feels a little tight or dry, to put more moisturiser on top. She calls it the ‘sandwich technique'. 

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Serum

Kiehl’s Retinol Fast Release Wrinkle-Reducing Night Serum

The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane

We recommend:

#1/ Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Serum, $35.99 at Chemist Warehouse

#2/ Kiehl’s Retinol Fast Release Wrinkle-Reducing Night Serum, $138 at kiehls.com.au

#3/ The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane, $13.10 at Adore Beauty

Night 3 & 4: Recovery

The last two nights of the skin cycling routine are all about recovery. This time after cleansing, you can leave the skin a little damp because you’re going to be following with hydrating serums and nourishing creams.

Ingredients such as hyaluronic acid (which attracts and holds moisture) actually perform better when the skin is moist. Other ingredients Dr. Howe recommends for this night are glycerin, niacinamide, ceramides and squalane, “something that’s really going to nourish and support the skin barrier, and rebound the skin’s microbiome”.

If you’re a fan of slugging, recovery nights are also the night to do so. The only guidance from Dr. Howe here is to steer clear of fragrance and essential oils.

Fresh Tea Elixir Skin Resilience Activating Serum

CeraVe Moisturising Cream

Kit: Melatonin Night Balm

We recommend:

#1/ Fresh Tea Elixir Skin Resilience Activating Serum, $122 at Sephora

#2/ CeraVe Moisturising Cream, $19.99 at Chemist Warehouse 

#3/ Kit: Melatonin Night Balm, $45 at MECCA

Main image credit: @kellygale

Want more expert advice? A dermatologist reveals the most common skin mistakes we’re making.

Samantha McMeekin was BEAUTYcrew's Editor from January 2020 to June 2023. She has worked as a journalist in the beauty and lifestyle industry for over 10 years. In 2019, she was nominated for Best Digital Writer at the BSME Awards for her work on GLAMOUR UK. If you ever meet her in person, she'll probably try to guess which fragrance you're wearing (she's got a humble 60% strike rate).