The more we learn about skincare, the more products we pile into our routine. As more and more skincare products become cult, it’s all too tempting to bombard our skin with the latest and greatest products, and then wonder why we look and feel a little worse for wear.

While actives and retinoids work wonders for our complexions, using them sparingly as part of a nourishing and hydrating routine is more beneficial than overusing them and damaging our skin barriers. And that’s exactly where skin cycling comes to play.

What is skin cycling?
Skin cycling is a term coined by dermatologist Dr Whitney Bowe. Designed to balance hydration and nourishment with exfoliation and rejuvenation, skin cycling aims to incorporate retinoids and acids into a hydration-focused skincare routine, creating the optimal environment for your skin to benefit from the cycle. Above all else, skin cycling is a simple yet effective way to approach skincare and adopts deep-rooted respect for maintaining the natural balance of the skin’s microbiome.

So far, Dr Whitney Bowe has recommended skin cycling routines for numerous clients who have targeted problem skin conditions including acne, eczema, rosacea, hyperpigmentation, signs of ageing and more. The skin cycling phenomenon is taking TikTok by storm with over 106M views on the #skincycling hashtag and thousands of TikTokers sharing their own fantastic progress.

How to skin cycle
Skin cycling is ideal for all skin types but especially benefits those new to the world of skincare and those who suffer from sensitivity. For those who are relatively new to using retinoids and acids, skin cycling offers the perfect way to dip your toes into the world of advanced skincare.

A skin cycling routine is a four-night cycle that includes one night of exfoliation, one night of retinoids, and two nights of recovery.

Night One: Exfoliation
The first night of the cycle is all about exfoliation. Beginners should wave happily goodbye to their exfoliating scrubs and say hello to AHAs or BHAs. On exfoliation night, only one exfoliating product should be used, although products can be alternated every cycle (every four nights) to target different skin concerns.

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are plant-derived acids that kickstart the shedding of old, dead skin to reveal brighter, smoother skin. Glycolic acid is one of the most popular AHAs, closely followed by lactic acid, citric acid, malic acid and tartaric acid.

Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) are acne-fighting acids that reduce excess oils from the skin to help unclog pores. Salicylic acid is the most common BHA and is popular for its all-rounder properties that help to fight acne, minimize pores and soothe redness.


Night Two: Retinoid
Retinoids have potent anti-ageing properties and are popular for their ability to increase the speed of skin cell turnover and boost collagen production, both of which help to repair the skin, improve skin tone, and fade fine lines and wrinkles.
On the second night of the skin cycling routine, retinol should be applied on freshly cleansed, dry skin. To avoid an increased risk of sensitivity or irritation, moisturiser can be applied on sensitive areas including the under eye, lips, and neck to reduce dryness before applying retinoids. After retinoids are applied, it is best to wait 1-2 minutes to allow the product to soak in before applying a nourishing moisturiser.

Retinol is the most common over-the-counter retinoid and is found in many skincare products. The potency of retinol varies and, like with all active ingredients, users should start with a low potency and gradually increase as the skin adjusts.

Tretinoin is a prescription-strength retinoid and shouldn’t be used unless prescribed by a doctor. Tretinoin is often used to treat severe and painful forms of acne.

Adapalene is another prescription-strength retinoid that is commonly used to treat acne. Adapalene is more readily available than tretinoin and can be found in over-the-counter products like Differin.

Nights Three and Four: Nourish
After two nights of active ingredients (exfoliating acids and retinoids), nights three and four should focus on recovery and nourishment. When overused, actives can have a harsh impact on the skin, leaving it feeling dry and dehydrated, desperate for a little bit of love.

On these two nights, hydration and moisture are key to restoring and rejuvenating the skin’s microbiome and maintaining a healthy pH balance. Start by cleansing with a nourishing cleanser and follow by applying a hydrating serum on damp skin. Key hydrating ingredients include hyaluronic acid, glycerine, and niacinamide – all of which are known for their repairing, nourishing properties. For skin that needs an even bigger pick-me-up, follow with rosehip or squalene oils for an additional layer of protection and nourishment.

Skin cycling for all
Skin cycling is a failsafe way to introduce acids and actives into a skincare routine, making it ideal for those new to skincare and those with sensitive skin.
If you’re planning on giving skin cycling a go, let us know in the comments below and be sure to update us on how the skin cycling method works for you.

Melissa Redshaw