Skin Cycling: Products, tips and a step-by-step routine

Skin Cycling is a four-day nightly routine designed to give your skin a break from harsh products.

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Voronchuk Daria/iStock/GettyImages

If you’ve been watching TikTok influencers share their morning routines or nighttime skincare routines, you might have come across the term “skin cycling.” The viral skincare routine has the wellness side of social media. Beauty brands have also caught on, encouraging consumers and skincare connoisseurs to try it (with their products, of course).

You can’t trust everything you see on social media. But according to dermatologists, this trend is actually legitimate. And it has proven benefits for your skin.

Here’s what you should know about skin cycling, including how to do it right.

“Skin cycling is a nightly skincare regimen that you follow repeatedly, using active ingredients only on specific days, followed by rest days,” says Aanand Geria, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Geria Dermatology in Rutherford, New Jersey. “The point of skin cycling is to reduce the side effects caused by many active ingredients in products.”

Just as our body needs days off from sport, our skin also needs “rest”. Skin cycling gives your face a break from products while helping the skin naturally renew itself, explains Dr. geria.

“This way, more oxygen gets to your face and gives your skin more time to regenerate its natural elastin and collagen,” says Dr. geria. “Overuse of products can damage the skin’s barrier, which is essential for protection against harsh chemicals, infections and allergens.”

Imagine never taking days off from the gym. This could lead to Overload Injuries, progression plateaus, and more harm than good. Our skin needs just as much care — and without proper rest, it can create a compromised skin barrier that causes problems like eczema, acne, or irritation, says Dr. geria.

  • cleaning supplies

  • Exfoliator (typically a serum with active ingredients like salicylic acid)

  • retinol

  • moisturizer

Skin Cycling includes a handful of products—a cleanser, an exfoliant, a retinol, and a moisturizer.

“The average skin cycling program consists of four nights: the first night is an exfoliation night, the second is a retinol night, and the third and fourth nights are recovery days,” says Dr. geria. “Depending on your skin type, your dermatologist may recommend a variation of this cycle.”

Using a quality cleanser is an important step in your skincare routine (there’s a reason it’s always the first thing to do!). Nightly facial cleansing removes makeup or excess dirt that has accumulated throughout the day. It can also affect the appearance of your skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Your cleanser should gently cleanse your skin without drying it out (avoid cleansers that contain alcohol).

Try these dermatologist-recommended cleansers

  • CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser ($19.74 at Amazon; $13.68 at
  • Eucerin Hydrating Cleansing Gel ($9.40 at Amazon; $21.45 at
  • La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Face Cleanser ($16.99 at Amazon; $18.99 at

Exfoliation is a tougher process than cleansing, but its purpose is to help skin cells regenerate. The AAD explains that exfoliating products can help your skin look more radiant and improve clogged pores (resulting in fewer breakouts!). Think of it as a step further than cleansing by ridding your skin of impurities and dirt hiding in your pores.

Try these dermatologist-recommended peels

Retinol has many uses in skin care. It can treat acne, has anti-aging effects, and increases collagen production, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Using retinol can reduce wrinkles and fine lines on your face and give your skin a fresher look. This product can be prescribed by a dermatologist (retinoid topical products) or purchased over the counter.

Try these dermatologist-recommended retinols

Finally, there’s a moisturizer—the last, but certainly not the least important part of a skincare routine. The skin is the largest organ in our body and moisture is a crucial factor in its health. Moisturizing your face can reduce skin problems like extreme dryness or oiliness, according to The University of Tennessee Medical Center. From a cosmetic perspective, according to the AAD, a moisturizer can also help your skin look brighter and younger by keeping it hydrated.

Try these dermatologist-recommended moisturizers

Once you have your skin cycling products, the fun can really begin. Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting your four-day skin cycling routine started.

Night 1: cleansing and exfoliation

Night one of Skin Cycling looks like this:

  • Clean and dry
  • Apply an exfoliating serum (leave on overnight and wash off in the morning)
  • Apply a moisturizer

According to the AAD, choose an exfoliant with active ingredients like alpha and beta hydroxy acids. “This helps remove dead skin cells from the surface layer of your skin,” says Dr. geria.

Night 2: Cleanse and apply retinol

  • Clean and dry
  • humidify
  • Apply retinol

Note: You can apply a moisturizer before or after retinol; it is mostly a matter of personal preference.

Retinoids come naturally from vitamin A and help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, explains Dr. geria.

It’s common for sensitive skin to be irritated by retinol when you first start using it. Dermatologists suggest moisturizing under the eyes and in the crease of the nose before applying retinoid. If your skin still feels dry after using the retinoid, re-wet it.

On the third night just cleanse and moisturize. Do not apply exfoliating acids or retinoids.

“This gives your skin the time it needs to recover. Instead, cleanse and hydrate your skin and avoid harsh ingredients,” says Dr. geria.

By night four, you’ll be cleansing and moisturizing just one more time, staying away from harsh ingredients.

The next evening go back to the first evening (cleansing and exfoliation) and repeat the sequence.

Although there is limited peer-reviewed research, dermatologists say a skin-cycling routine can lead to improved skin health and appearance.

The skin is the body’s largest organ, so prioritizing is all the more important. According to the AAD, skin can be an important indicator of your overall health. Skin irritation, dryness and discoloration are all signs of a compromised skin barrier. Skin cycling is just one way to keep it healthy.

“Skin cycling promotes healthier skin and gives your appearance a natural glow and radiance,” says Dr. geria. “It will also make your skin more hydrated and soft to the touch.”

2. Less sensitivity over time

Adding new products to your face can cause irritation, especially if you have naturally sensitive skin. dr Geria explains that this is common with strong products like retinol. But sensitivity doesn’t necessarily mean that a particular product isn’t right for you. It could just mean your skin needs time to adjust.

“After two or three cycles, the mottle and sensitivity should improve,” says Dr. geria.

What you should know before you start

1. Short-term skin sensitivity may occur

As already mentioned, sensitive skin types can react differently to certain products. That’s why it’s important to find products that aren’t too harsh. But remember that it is normal to have an adjustment period when trying something new.

“It’s possible to experience dryness, redness, or scaling when you start skin cycling, although this should only last about two weeks,” says Dr. geria. “The built-in rest days included in skin cycling are designed to help minimize irritation.”

The term “skin cycling” suggests an ongoing routine, which it is over a four-day period. In order for the products to work and maximize their effectiveness, you should be consistent with your skin care routine. Skipping days or applying products infrequently is unlikely to produce the same glowing results.

The TikTok viral trend might seem like a new concept, but it’s actually a tried and true process, endorsed and encouraged by dermatologists. Skin cycling is a systematic way to protect your skin from harsh chemicals by allowing it to rest and recover. The four-day schedule builds on nights to shed dead skin cells (exfoliation) and target fine lines and wrinkles (retinol), but it’s the rest days that are critical to protecting the skin’s barrier.


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