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Skin Cycling: An Easy & Simple Skin Care Routine

Filed in: Clean Beauty

Skin Cycling

Have you heard of skin cycling? 

the term Skin Cycling sounds like a workout for your skin but not quite. Let me introduce you to Dr. Whitney Bowe, a New York–based board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Dr. Whitney Bowe Beauty. She noticed that during the pandemic people started to focus more on skin care and applying less makeup. But she noticed a common mistake people were making over and over that was literally destroying their skin. 

Can you guess what it is? 

Dr. Bowe noticed that many people were using too many skin care products, or the wrong products for their skin concerns. During her interview with Self Magazine, she goes on to say people were adding layer after layer after layer onto their skin care routines and experimenting with ingredient combinations that were irritating and damaging their skin. The result? Their skin was blotchy, sensitive, and breaking out because they were taking a more-is-better approach. So that’s when Dr. Bowe started spreading the word about skin cycling which is a simple and easy skin care routine everyone can follow. 

In this blog post I’m going to explain:

  • how skin cycling works
  • the benefits

How Skin Cycling Works

The concept is simple: a four-night skin care routine designed to reset your skin and strengthen its barrier. You start with chemical exfoliation on the first night, retinol on the second, and nights three & four are your recovery nights.

Night 1: cleanse, apply a chemical exfoliant, moisturize

Night 2: cleanse, moisturize, apply retinoid 

Recovery Night 3: cleanse and moisturize

Recovery Night4: cleanse and moisturize

The philosophy of skin cycling is to avoid…

a) over exfoliation

b) mixing too many active ingredients on the same night

Here are her rules:

  • You can use no more than three products before bed and only one containing active ingredients. 
  • The cycle must be performed at night (exfoliants and retinoids) 
  • They must be used in a specific order (exfoliating on Night 1 prepares the skin for the retinoid to penetrate more effectively on Night 2).

skin cycling

Benefits of Skin Cycling

  • Skin cycling is a good base system for almost anyone because it can be adapted for different skin types, ages, lifestyles and budgets. 
  • Less is more. Seriously, who has the time for a 12-step skincare routine? You don’t need to use all those products daily. 
  • At its core, the rotation and balancing of active ingredients and moisturizer helps keep your skin barrier healthy.
  • Harsh skin ingredients like retinol and exfoliants are only used on certain days to promote moderation. Too much can lead to sensitivity, irritation, tight, dry skin, inflamed skin and hyperpigmentation when overusing these products.

My Five-Day Skin Cycling

This method is not new to me but it’s the first I’ve heard of the term “skin cycling”. Because my skin is sensitive, I take a day off from any active ingredients in between my bakuchiol and face acids. It looks something like this:

Night 1: cleanse, apply a chemical exfoliant, and moisturize

Night 2: cleanse and moisturize

Night 3: cleanse, moisturize, and apply bakuchiol (or retinol or peptides)

Night 4: cleanse and moisturize

Night 5: cleanse, serum for redness and sensitivity, and moisturize

How to Choose Your Exfoliant

The purpose of an exfoliant is to clear your pores and slough away dead, dull skin.

I prefer a leave-on a chemical exfoliant versus a physical exfoliant or a mechanical exfoliant. Scrubs, procedures, and tools are the three main types of physical exfoliation. They create more damage to the skin barrier. I mean seriously…have you seen those microdermabrasion tools on Pinterest? Women are seriously damaging their skin with these diamond tips, pulling, and tugging their skin like crazy. It’s scary really! 



Chemical exfoliants like mandelic acid and lactic acid are so much safer. You may experience a bit of tingling with an exfoliant but if it causes painful burning or instant inflammation, you’ll need to wash that off right away and make sure you apply your skin with a very hydrating moisturizer at bedtime. 

How to Choose a Retinol

Retinoids are designed to help speed up skin cell turnover. It is not an exfoliant. It can also help treat mild acne, fade hyperpigmentation and scarring, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, per the American Academy of Dermatology. My sensitive skin can’t handle retinoids. Instead, I use bakuchiol because it’s a sensitive skin-friendly product that performs just as well as retinol. In fact, if someone wants to start a retinol journey I recommend that you start with bakuchiol. 

Skin Cycling: Recovery Nights

Recovery nights are all about keeping it simple by focusing on serums and moisturizers that offer hydration without active ingredients. Your skin needs to recover from your exfoliation and retinols. I love fragrance-free products that contain skin-repairing boosters like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides. 

Advanced Skin Cycling

Those with combination and oily skin types that do not have any sensitivity can experiment by adding one more night of retinol (or bakuchiol) and chemical exfoliant but protecting your skin barrier should always be a priority. 

Skin Cycling Key Takeaway

Skin Cycling & skin care doesn’t have to be complicated and more is definitely not better when it comes to creating gorgeous, healthy skin. The skin cycling routine is simple and easy to follow. Because you’re not mixing active ingredients on top of one another, skin cycling will give you the results you’re looking for faster because you’re not wrecking your skin barrier. 


skin cycling

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