Skin cycling is the viral routine approved by dermatologists. Here’s how to do it

Chances are you’ve heard about TikTok’s viral “skin cycling” trend. Only it isn’t really new, but a technique dermatologists have been recommending for years – albeit without the catchy name.

The idea? Go back to basics with your skincare.

First coined by New-York based dermatologist Dr Whitney Bowe (@drwhitneybowebeauty) in response to her clients’ overuse of products, #skincycling has since exploded on TikTok with enthusiastic reviews from beginners to fellow skincare experts.

Sydney-based dermatologist Dr Shreya Andric describes the four-night routine as a sensible way to introduce active ingredients without damaging the skin barrier, the outermost layer of our skin whose job it is to keep water in and irritants out.

“Night one involves using a chemical exfoliant; night two involves applying retinol; and nights three and four are all about rest and recovery,” says Andric.

At her Northern Sydney Dermatology and Laser practice, Andric says she prescribes a form of skin cycling to patients with inflamed and irritated skin usually caused by overusing active ingredients.

“I always advise pulling back their skincare routine and then slowly reintroducing active ingredients,” she says.

Cosmetic chemist Dr Michelle Wong says unlike other TikTok trends that use “harsh products and aggressive techniques”, skin cycling is a safe technique when done properly.

“If your skin is improving with it, I’d recommend gradually increasing the frequency of using the actives – for example removing one or both of the hydration nights,” says Wong, who shares her knowledge via her popular @labmuffinbeautyscience Instagram.

Wearing a daily SPF should already be part of your skincare routine, and Wong warns it’s a must if you are using ingredients like exfoliants and retinol as they can increase sun sensitivity.

“If you’re new to skincare, I would recommend using a retinol product at below 1 per cent, and a gentle exfoliant like a lactic acid product at less than 5 per cent.”

She adds: “It’s also good to use a gentle cleanser and moisturiser when using irritating ingredients.”

Skin cycling follows a four-night rotational cycle:

  • Night one: Chemical exfoliant.
  • Night two: Retinol, a derivative of vitamin A, reduces fine lines and wrinkles by boosting collagen production and cell turnover.
  • Night three and four: Recovery, focus on hydrating the skin using hyaluronic acid, niacinamide serums, oils and slugging.

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