Skin Cycling: A Four Day Process To Glowing Skin

Changing your skincare products every four days might sound a bit excessive, but skin cycling is actually the key to glowing skin, according to dermatologists.

By Simone Sydel3 min read
shutterstock 1630501783 (1)

Just like the rest of your body, your skin goes through changes every day. The skin sheds, produces new cells, and recovers itself, only to be exposed to environmental stressors like pollution and UV rays the very next day. This constant cycle means that your skin needs different things at different times.

This is where skin cycling comes in, which is the practice of changing your skincare products to match your skin’s needs. And because this method aims to mimic the skin’s natural cycle, it’s said to be gentler and more effective than using the same products day in and day out.

But how exactly does skin cycling work? And where do you even start? Here’s everything you need to know about the novelty skincare trend that's taking over social media.

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What Is Skin Cycling?

Skin cycling is a new, dermatologist-backed, TikTok trend that involves a particular order of exfoliation, use of retinoids, and barrier-repairing components with the intention of mimicking the skin's natural process of shedding, repairing, and renewing itself.

The concept, although it sounds intimidating, is rather simple: Just as we have a wardrobe for every day of the week, and we often repeat outfits but never wear the same thing two days in a row, our skin also needs a "wardrobe" of its own to encourage the natural process of cell turnover without overwhelming it with the same active ingredients by using them more than once or twice a week.

Now, you might be wondering why you would use products to mimic what the skin does naturally on its own. Well, many factors can slow down or throw our skin's cellular turnover rate off balance, including age, the environment we live in, cosmetic products we use daily, and even the food we eat. And when our skin's cellular turnover isn't working properly, it can lead to a number of skin concerns, including aesthetic concerns like dullness, uneven texture, fine lines and wrinkles, as well as more serious skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis. This is why you need to use products to help your skin cycle properly and maintain healthy, radiant skin with minimum effort.

The easiest way to understand skin cycling is to see your skincare routine as your exercise routine and divide your week into “workout” and “recovery” days. On your workout days, you apply certain active ingredients such as exfoliating acids and retinoids, while on your recovery days, you focus on repairing and rebuilding your skin barrier with more hydrating and nourishing products. This way, you would be giving your skin the opportunity to rest, repair, and renew itself while also stimulating cellular turnover with active ingredients and improving its overall health and appearance.

The Right Skin Cycling Schedule

If you want to give skin cycling a try, but you're not sure where to start, here's a helpful schedule that you can follow:

Day 1: Exfoliation

After cleansing your skin with a gentle cleanser, apply a toner or serum containing exfoliating ingredients that help loosen up dead skin cells and encourage them to shed, which is a skin function called desquamation.

This is where it's essential to choose the right exfoliating ingredient for your skin type, as certain components can be too harsh for some skin types, which can lead to irritation. If your skin is dry and sensitive, you want to avoid harsh exfoliants like glycolic acid and opt for more gentle ingredients like lactic acid. If your skin is oily and acne-prone, you want to use ingredients that are more effective at unclogging pores and preventing breakouts, such as salicylic acid and mandelic acid.

After exfoliating, simply apply your regular moisturizer, and you're done for that day!

Products To Try: Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, $34 |Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One AHA Lactic Acid Treatment, $85

Day 2: Retinoid

The second night of your skin cycling schedule is when you will apply a retinoid product to encourage cellular turnover. Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives used in skincare products for their ability to improve the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and uneven skin texture. They work by increasing cellular turnover and boosting collagen production, which results in smoother and younger-looking skin, and an evened-out complexion.

There are different types and strengths of retinoids, which is why some can be found in over-the-counter products while others can be bought through a prescription only. So, if you're new to using retinoids, it's best to start with a lower concentration and see how your skin reacts before moving on to a stronger alternative.

After applying about a pea-sized amount of retinoid all over your face, simply follow up with your regular moisturizer.

Product To Try: Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform® Treatment Serum, $88

Days 3 and 4: Recovery

Days three and four of your skin cycling schedule are your skin's recovery days, where you will focus on rebuilding your skin barrier by generously applying a moisturizer that contains strengthening ingredients such as lipids and ceramides. Additionally, you can also use a hydrating face mask once or twice a week on your recovery days for an extra boost of hydration.

Products To Try: Skinfix Barrier+ Triple Lipid-Peptide Face Cream, $52 |LANEIGE Water Sleeping Mask with Squalane, $29

Your Morning Routine

Using active ingredients is reserved for an evening skincare routine, which is why you should keep your morning routine simple and focus on protecting your skin from harmful UV rays by applying a broad-spectrum, clean sunscreen with an SPF of 30.

Sunscreen will also boost the effectiveness of your skin cycling schedule by preventing symptoms of sun damage such as discoloration, hyperpigmentation, and the premature appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Product To Try: Dermalogica Dynamic Skin Recovery SPF 50 Moisturizer, $77

Closing Thoughts

Doing too much of a good thing can sometimes do more harm than good, which is why it's important to give your skin the break it needs through a balanced skin cycling schedule that consists of both active and recovery days.

By following this schedule and keeping it simple, you can achieve healthy, glowing skin while slowing down some of the most challenging skin concerns.

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