For You Beauty
Madison San Miguel after trying skin cycling on her dry, acne prone skin.

I Tried Skin Cycling For Just 4 Days & Yes, It’s Worth The Hype

My skin now “has the juice.”

Madison San Miguel

Skin cycling has been around since August, but it keeps trending on your For You Page for a reason. Known as the viral skin care routine that can give you “Instagram filter skin,” skin cycling is fall’s most inescapable #SkinTok trend. But what exactly is skin cycling? For starters, if you, like me, are a post-cystic acne kind of gal with dry skin, this is the skin care routine you’ve spent your whole life waiting for.

I’ve had my share of skin concerns. Throughout my life, I’ve mainly dealt with acne and dryness and I’ve treated them the way you’re supposed to. I saw a dermatologist and was prescribed one regimen of oral and physical prescription treatments after another. The process of trying to clear my acne made my skin drier and drier, eventually affecting the strength of my skin barrier. Over the years, this has resulted in an increase in dullness and redness around my cheeks and nose that feel impossible to hide with makeup. When #SkinTok influencer @_Eaden called skin cycling “a f*cking game changer” for improving skin health, I knew I had to give it a try. Not only are skin cycling results measurable and, you know, actually legit, but the science behind the method holds up to scrutiny.

That’s because, unlike more questionably-sourced TikTok skin and beauty trends, this one didn’t originate from a content creator’s experiments. Although it was popularized on social media, skin cycling was actually created by board-certified dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, which makes this viral trend is dermatologist approved.

What Is Skin Cycling?

Dr. Bowe defines skin cycling as a method that “helps to streamline your skin care routine in a way that’s both effective and easy to follow.” In other words, it’s a “less is more” approach. Rather than mixing and matching your skin care products and routine to address your day-to-day concerns, skin cycling puts a huge emphasis on being strategic with product application to prevent irritation that can be caused by using multiple powerhouse products (i.e. chemical exfoliants and retinol) at once (something I tend to do). Essentially, this gives your skin more time to heal between treatments that could potentially weaken its barrier. Based on the 104 million views attached to the hashtag on TikTok, it seems as though more people are taking notice of skin cycling’s benefits for skin renewal.

Using a three or four-day schedule depending on your skin type, skin cycling focuses each day on a single type of skin care. There’s one night for exfoliation (pro tip: never skin cycle in the mornings) and one night dedicated to retinol followed by one to two nights for recovery. Over time, dark spots, hyperpigmentation, dryness, and other concerns improve. Because I have dry skin, I decided to have two nights of recovery to better prepare my skin for the exfoliation nights.

If you’re unsure about what products to start with, thousands of TikTok users have boasted about Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant as the ideal exfoliant, Differin Adapalene Gel for retinol, and a combination of the COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence and La Roche-Posay Soothing Therapeutic Multi-Purpose Cream for recovery nights. Read on for all the details on my first skin cycling experience.

Night 1: Exfoliation

A chemical exfoliant (i.e. glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid) is recommended for night one of skin cycling. After washing my face with Laneige Cream Skin Milk Oil Cleanser, a gentle, hydrating cleanser, I applied Peach & Lily’s Power Cocktail Lactic Acid Serum, my chemical exfoliant of choice. Because my skin is dry and sensitive, a gentle exfoliator is the right choice for me. Those with oily and/or acne-prone skin types might prefer an exfoliant with salicylic acid, whereas those with dry and/or sensitive skin should look for products with lactic acid.

Surprisingly, the main issue I had on my first night of skin cycling was just how few products were needed. In order for skin cycling to work, you’re instructed to only apply a skin barrier-focused moisturizer after exfoliating on night one. In other words, no toners, serums, or facial oils are allowed. I was worried my dry patches would intensify the next morning without my usual round of slugging. Instead, I woke up with smoother skin.

Night 2: Retinol

Night two is all about retinol. This powerhouse skincare ingredient unclogs pores, exfoliates, and boosts collagen production. You can either use a prescribed — I personally love Tretinoin — or an over-the-counter retinol. Keep in mind that you don’t have to use products that only contain retinol. If you’re new to the ingredient or have sensitive skin, try using a moisturizer, serum, or facial oil that contains around .2% retinol to avoid over-exfoliating.

Since I’m a frequent retinol user, this night was a breeze for me. As on night one, you’re only meant to use two items: your active skin care product and a moisturizer. While retinol can be drying for some people, I’ve never experienced that issue. The next morning, my skin continued to glow.

Nights 3 & 4: Hydrate, Nourish and Restore

My favorite part of skin cycling was the last step: recovery. Nights three and four are scheduled to give your skin a break and help strengthen your moisture barrier. Products that contain ceramides, squalane, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid are all fair game. These also happen to be the products my very dry skin loves. Along with a moisturizer, I applied my holy-grail serum, Great Barrier Relief by Krave Beauty.

Final Verdict

Early in my skin cycling journey, I noticed a change in my complexion. My skin was smoother and bouncier with less noticeable hormonal acne. Compared to other skin care trends I’ve tried, skin cycling has been the most effective. Take slugging, for example. Slugging has helped seal in my moisturizers, but only provided temporary relief. By contrast, skin cycling has been helping my skin heal so it stays brighter and bouncier over time.

The right side of my face before and after four days of slugging.

Madison San Miguel

Despite these differences in my skin, skin cycling does require consistency before it delivers more extreme noticeable benefits such as an improvement in hyperpigmentation. That said, if you want the juiciest skin of your life, be patient and give skin cycling a try.