If you’re anywhere near the skincare community on social media, you’ve probably heard of this new and mysterious approach to skincare called “skin cycling”. Many skinfluencers are now coming out with examples and recommendations for skin cycling. Heck, you’ve probably seen people rant about it because “it’s just a new fad”.
Perhaps it’s a new fad but we have to acknowledge that this new fuss-free, step-by-step approach has helped a bunch of people who are new to skincare or maybe just looking to optimize the existing skincare routine – myself included.
What is skin cycling?
So what the heck is skin cycling anyway? It’s simple – a 3 to 4-day cycle that allows you to use actives and let your skin barrier get back in check to prevent irritation. The process is very simple and there are only a few products that you’ll need to get started.
To get started with skin cycling, you’ll need:
- An exfoliator (like glycolic acid or salicylic acid – more here)
- A retinoid (some recommendations here)
- A serum (skin barrier-friendly)
- A moisturizer
Do note that this is an evening routine and that you WILL NEED A SUNSCREEN in the morning. This is a perfect routine for newbies, or people who tend to overdo it with exfoliants (we’ve all been there), or for people who are mentally in the dump and can’t be bothered – like me.
Personally, I like this routine because I tend to forget to use actives (shocking I know). Sometimes I use it and forget when I used it and then don’t do anything with my skin just to be safe. Then I get some little breakouts and some flaking and wonder what’s happening. Dead skin build-up that’s what’s happening…
Before talking more about the steps do take note that skincare is personal and this approach might need to be tweaked for your personal preference.
Skin Cycling Steps One by One
Night 1: Exfoliation
This is your first night and it sets the canvas for the perfect start. On this night you will cleanse and proceed with an exfoliant of your choice. It can be an AHA or BHA toner, or a wash-off exfoliating mask. Maybe you prefer a powder enzyme wash, in which case your cleanser and exfoliant will be a 2-in-1.
Once this is done, your other products will perform much better and absorb well into the skin. This also improves the appearance of your skin giving it a glow boost, eliminating dead skin cell build up, and even improving superficial fine lines.
Night 2: Retinoids
This night is focused on retinoids, which are vitamin A derivatives that can help reduce the appearance of pigmentation, fine lines, and wrinkles. These are the powerhouse of your skincare routine. They are one of the most powerful ingredients, scientifically backed.
Of course as powerful as they are they can also be irritating, so start at a low percentage. You can also opt to buffer your retinol, meaning that you first use a hydrating toner/essence, and apply your retinoid on top. You should also protect the more sensitive areas, so apply moisturizer around your lips, eyes, and nostrils. Pro-tip, apply your retinoids on dry skin, wet/damp skin will make it absorb faster and cause irritation. Proceed with a nourishing thick cream, preferably something like Cicaplast or a ceramides-rich cream.
Nights 3 and 4: Recovery
This step is quite straightforward – let your skin recover after 2 nights of actives.
This is where you will use hydrating and soothing products. Think niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, centella asiatican ceramides, etc. The aim is to enforce your skin barrier before going back to actives. You can leave your skin damp and apply these ingredients on top of it.
Of course like previously said, this is a routine that you can adapt to your needs. It can be a 3-day cycle or it can be a 5-day cycle with an extra recovery day before or after retinoids. The aim is to not overuse the active ingredients, over-exfoliate, or cause irritation with the abuse of retinoids.
Personally, I am a mess at using active ingredients and this regimen helps me stay consistent. I am notorious for using an exfoliant when I remember aka maybe twice a month, and I tend to forget when I last used retinoids and always take many recovery days just to be on the safe side.
Skin cycling so far has worked so well, and I reach out for products that otherwise will sit neglected, like the exfoliating masks. I might reduce it to only 3 days as my skin does withstand well exfoliation and retinoids. My only fear is that I might look extra flaky under makeup. Something to experiment with!
I’d love to know your own opinion on skin cycling- is it just a fad or is it legit?
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