Skin Cycling Is TikTok's Latest Obsession, and It's Great for Sensitive Skin


(Image credit: @nataliemckeough)

I'm sure you've noticed by now that we love a good viral TikTok craze. Whether the latest obsession is nail slugging or baby Botox, we've always got our eye on what's trending on the app. I have to admit, though, I'm always a little skeptical when it comes to getting skincare advice on the app unless it's coming from a professional. Luckily, this time around, we're talking about a derm-approved skincare process that's great for sensitive skin. Skin cycling is a four-night process that involves rotating your retinoids and actives to avoid irritation. You may have seen an array of success stories while scrolling through your feed, but I'm sure you want to know if it actually helps your skin. I can't tell you what to do for your skin's specific needs—you should always talk to a dermatologist before switching up your routine if you have specific goals. What I can do, though, is tell you what happened when two beauty editors (with very different skin) tried it for a few weeks. If you're curious to know more about the process and our thoughts, keep on scrolling.

What Is Skin Cycling, and How Do You Do It?


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Board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD, coined the skin-cycling method and brought it to TikTok. Although the name "skin cycling" might sound like a lengthy commitment, don't worry—it's not in the slightest. Skin cycling is a four-night routine that allows your skin to recover and breathe after using stronger actives.

Night one, you'll do your regular skincare routine, but you use only an exfoliant instead of any strong actives. Most dermatologists (Bowe included) tend to recommend using a chemical exfoliant because it can reach deeper into the pores and lift away debris more effectively. It also preps your skin for the next night's routine. Night two, you'll do your regular skincare routine and use a retinoid instead of an exfoliant. After that, you'll take two nights off from both and repeat the cycle over again. That's it! Bowe goes into more detail on her website, explaining, "On recovery nights, you want to focus on nourishing your skin microbiome and repairing your skin barrier—think hydration and moisture."

This is a great routine for those with sensitive skin because it helps temper any irritation from using ingredients like retinol and ensures you don't overuse your active ingredients. If you are dealing with some blotchiness or sensitivity due to overusing a retinoid, give it a break for a bit and then try incorporating it back in through skin cycling. For our individual thoughts on skin cycling, keep on scrolling.

Our Thoughts on Skin Cycling 

Shawna Hudson, Associate Beauty Editor


(Image credit: @shawnasimonee)

My skin is pretty sensitive and acne-prone. Growing up, I struggled with acne quite a bit and thought that the way to treat it was to dry out my skin and use a prescription-strength retinoid every night. Boy, was I wrong. Years (and a damaged skin barrier) later, I realized this wasn't the best approach. You live and learn, right? A few months ago, I decided to stop using prescription Tretinoin, and my skin has been in recovery mode. I only decided to incorporate a gentle retinol for my skin-cycling experiment for a few weeks to see how I liked doing this.

Overall, I really like the idea of using an exfoliant one night, a retinol another, and then taking two nights off. Bowe is definitely on to something, as it does help offset any irritation and helps immensely if you're dealing with some barrier damage like I am. It's a great way to cycle out actives, and my skin was never left feeling too dry or irritated. I'm definitely going to continue using this routine since it's so easy to do and is easier on your skin barrier.

For a liquid exfoliant, I love using Slurp Laboratories Decalt Polish. I have to call this particular exfoliant out because it has been an absolute game changer for my skin. It's incredibly well-formulated and is one of the only liquid exfoliants I've ever used that helps repair the skin barrier instead of eroding it. It also doesn't even sting or burn in the slightest when applied since the formula is so gentle. I've been using it for about a month now, and I've noticed a huge improvement in barrier function, breakouts, and overall skin texture. A few more of my skin-cycling essentials are below.

My Skin-Cycling Essentials

Katie Berohn, Associate Beauty Editor


(Image credit: @ktberohn)

"I think I started skin cycling at the perfect time. I'm in the middle of moving apartments, which means major stress. For me, stress manifests in a super-annoying way: cystic acne (usually on my chin). I've still been getting some minor breakouts, but I think skin cycling has been a great way for me to treat my breakouts without throwing too many actives at my face, which I always do even though I know it makes things worse. I'm going to continue doing it, especially because I'm always bad at knowing when to exfoliate, and I'm a sucker for a schedule."

Katie's Skin-Cycling Essentials

Your Skin-Cycling Starter Pack


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Up Next: If You Want Glowing Skin Instantly, Change This Specific Step in Your Routine

Shawna Hudson
Associate Beauty Editor

Shawna Hudson has worked in editorial for over six years, with experience covering entertainment, fashion, culture, celebrities, and her favorite topic of all, beauty. She graduated from California State University, Fullerton, with a degree in journalism and has written for other publications such as Bustle, The Zoe Report, Byrdie, Elite Daily, Mane Addicts, and more. She is currently an associate beauty editor at Who What Wear and hopes to continue feeding her (completely out-of-control) beauty obsession as long as she can. Stay up to date on her latest finds on Instagram @shawnasimonee.