What Is A Skin Cycling Routine and How To Do It Correctly

If you’re fond of skincare routines, you have probably noticed the emerging trend of skin cycling on Tiktok and Instagram. But with so many influencers sharing their tips and tricks, it can get overwhelming to figure out the best way to get the process right. 

What is this buzzy practice? What products does it include? Why do you need to follow this skincare trend? You probably have tons of questions — and we’re here to answer each one of them, including why the skin cycling routine should be at the top of your beauty resolutions for 2023! 

What Is Skin Cycling?

Skin cycling refers to the strategic use of 3 specific skincare products — an exfoliator, a retinol-based product, and a hydrating cream — such that your skin gets time to rest and recover. This cyclical approach of alternating products and allowing your skin to breathe will regenerate and enhance skin health while keeping damage and over-exfoliation at bay. 

The simple yet incredibly effective twist brought by the skin cycling routine is great for all skin types, including dry, sensitive, and oily. 

“Skin cycling assists people in reading their skin and amend their routine accordingly by advising them how to apply products strategically to complement each other. That way, the skin receives treatment and recovery simultaneously,” states Dr. Vy Nguyen, an aesthetic doctor at Skin and Sanctuary.

How Skin Cycling Works

The skin cycling routine is a simple 4-night process that is both cost-effective and time-efficient. The first night features exfoliation, the second is for retinol, and the third and fourth are devoted to recovery, where you apply a hydrating serum to repair your skin barrier. 

Read on for a comprehensive night-by-night how-to guide for an easy and super-fruitful skin cycling procedure! 

1st Night: Exfoliation 

The first night focuses on removing dead cells from your skin, which will then allow better and deeper absorption of the next ingredients. 


Cleanse your skin with a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser. Try not to rub your skin, and rinse your face with lukewarm water. Pat dry with a soft towel. 

Make sure not to over-cleanse your skin, as this may disturb the natural moisture and allow allergens to enter. 

Chemical Exfoliant 

Exfoliators unclog pores, even out the skin tone, and remove dirt and dead skin cells. “Exfoliation helps remove dead skin cells, which allows retinoids and other products to penetrate the skin more effectively,” says Dr Nguyen.

For skin cycling, we recommend using a chemical exfoliant. They include AHAs (like glycolic acid) or BHAs (like salicylic acid), which boost the cell replacement process. The exfoliant can either be washed off or left to dry. 


Once the tingling feeling of the exfoliator has soothed out, apply a moisturizer for hydration. Look for a product with ingredients like dimethicone and hyaluronic acid to achieve long-lasting moisture without making the skin too greasy. 

Pro Tip: You can use a hydrating serum before the moisturizer if you’re skin is too dry. 

2nd Night: Retinol 

Retinoids are not advised to be used directly after exfoliation. Therefore, the second night of the skin cycling routine will be given to retinol alone. 


Start with the same step done on the first night. Use a cleanser that suits your skin type and pat your face dry. This step will allow the anti aging property of retinol to work better on your skin. 

Hydrating Serum 

Since a cleanser may temporarily remove natural oils from your skin, using a hydrating serum before applying retinol can prep and enrich your skin with deep moisturization — especially if you use a product with lipid-replenishing ingredients. The hyaluronic acid in the serum will also bind water in the skin to make it look plump and fresh. 

Pro Tip: Focus on hydrating sensitive areas like under the eyes and around the nose. 


Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A that act as an anti aging product and minimize the appearance of wrinkles, dark spots, fine lines, and acne. The application of retinol “increases skin cell turnover and sloughs away dead skin cells,” says Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, a New York-based board-certified dermatologist.

The right way to apply retinoids is to take a pea-sized amount on your palm and dab it all over your face with your fingers. If your skin is too dry, use the “sandwich method,” where a hydrating serum is applied, followed by retinol and then a moisturizer to keep the skin from getting too tight or dry. 

Pro Tip: Too much retinol can feel irritating in the beginning. So it is best to use a lower percentage concentration initially to allow your skin to get used to it. 

3rd & 4th Night: Recovery 

The recovery period is the final step of the skin cycling process. The exfoliating acids and retinoids are replaced with a cleanser, hydrating serum, and moisturizer to restore your skin’s barrier and allow it to breathe and take a break. 


Wash your face with a mild, lightweight product like a gel cleanser. Try avoiding products with harsh ingredients that can disrupt the recovery period. 

Hydrating Serum 

When stowing away active ingredients with products that provide deep moisturization, hydrating serums are a great addition. “There's a lot of benefit to hydrating serums, from smoothing fine lines to minimizing age spots, that you can't reproduce in any other formulation,” says Ni'Kita Wilson, a cosmetic chemist at Englewood Lab. 


While moisturizing is a simple task of your skin routine, choosing the right product is important to achieve the best results. We recommend using a non-comedogenic and fragrance-free formula to avoid the risk of harsh skin reactions and clogged pores. 

The key is to hydrate and nourish your skin to encourage effective repair and recovery. 


Let’s get a deeper insight into the popular skin cycling routine to make sure you receive the expected and promised results! 

Is skin cycling good for your skin? 

Definitely, skin cycling fully lives up to its hype. It repairs your skin barrier, reduces the negative side effects of specific products, and protects the skin against seasonal issues. 

The logic behind these incredible effects is that giving your skin a short break from the chemicals and powerful ingredients of different skincare products allows the skin to maintain the right texture and absorb the products more efficiently. Any adverse effects, such as rashes, irritation, or harsh chemical reactions, will most likely be avoided as the products are switched and alternated every night. 

You incorporate strong, active ingredients known to improve skin health, but at the same time, you are allowing your skin to do its own thing on some nights — that’s what makes the skin cycling routine a special and fruitful process! 

How long should you do skin cycling? 

The skin cycling routine circulating on Tiktok revolves around 4 nights. According to Dr. Whitney Bowe, you will start seeing the desired results in 8 days, which is two complete cycles. Continuing the routine for at least a month and a half will give you complete, clear, and amazing effects. 

What you must keep in mind is that the number of days required for a fruitful skin cycling routine depends on and varies with your skin type. Some people with sensitive skin might need to add extra recovery days, while others with dry skin may need to reduce the frequency of exfoliation. So before you hop onto the trend, it is important to identify your skin type and customize the process as per your requirements. 

skin cycling

Is skin cycling safe? 

Yes, skin cycling is absolutely safe, given that you use the right products for your skin type. It gives your skincare products more time to work and cuts down on the excessive usage of unnecessary chemicals. 

What is the best time to start the skin cycling routine? 

If you have been using retinol for a while, you can start the skin cycling routine at any time of the year, regardless of the season. But if your skin is yet to be retinised, it is safer to begin the process when your exposure to the Sun is minimal. 

Whenever you’re ready to dip your toes into the famous skin cycling, make sure to follow the precautions and tips we’ve discussed above. 

Skin Cycling Makes All The Difference

Skin cycling isn’t a new process. However, people are recently being drawn toward this idea more and more.  This is because skincare lovers have started to realize that the secret to happy and healthy skin isn’t using products more frequently but accepting and working on a “less-is-more” approach — as done in the skin cycling routine

Remember, skincare regimens don’t have to be extravagant. A structured schedule that takes a cyclical approach to the application of active products is all you need! 

Don’t forget to share your experience and results with us in the comments below. 


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