For years, the beauty market has exploded with hundreds of different skincare products advertising themselves as a ‘must-have’ item for age-defying skin—Kim Kardashian’s recent skincare line is a nine-step process that retails for $630. And now a brand-new beauty routine is making the rounds on TikTok: skin cycling. Dermatologist Whitney Bowe, the creator of the new skin cycling trend, has used her platform to advocate for doing less work to get better-looking skin.
Skin cycling is a four-day regimen. On the first night, after you wash your face, you apply a physical or chemical exfoliant to peel off dead skin cells on the top layer of your skin. On the second night, you apply a retinol to unclog pores and increase skin cell production to give your face a more refreshed appearance. The drawback with constantly using an exfoliant and then retinol closely after is that it can irritate the skin. So Bowe advises her viewers to use days three and four for hydration and recovery, applying just a moisturizer after your regular face cleansing.
TikTok users like _eaden are strong advocates for Bowe’s skin cycling regimen, calling it a game-changer. “When I started doing this a couple of months ago, someone literally came up to me in person the other day and said ‘Your skin looks like an Instagram filter,’” she recalls in one of her videos.
But, like any fad you find on TikTok, does it actually work?
“Other TikTok trends are from influencers that tried something and want to spread the word of a one-case scenario that worked on them,” says Melanie Kingsley, an associate professor of dermatology at Indiana University School of Medicine and dermatologist at Indiana University Health. “That’s when TikTok trends get a little dangerous because we don’t have the science behind them.”
However, for some peace of mind, this routine is being recommended by a board-certified dermatologist who clinically treats people’s skin conditions. Bowe has “years of experience,” Kingsley reassures. “She’s formulated it in a way that has helped her patients and fine-tuned it over the years.”
While there is no research studying skin cycling, Kingsley says there is some evidence that backs up the importance of getting rid of dead skin cells and using retinol to increase collagen production and remove skin damage. But instead of doing those two harsh steps over again and risking your skin drying out, she says that allowing the skin to heal gives you the benefit of exfoliation and retinol while not harming the barrier extensively, resulting in glowing and brighter skin.
Kingsley says she would recommend skin cycling for patients that want to restart their nighttime routine or do not currently have a skincare regimen but want something easy. “I think it’s a great option.”
Though not all skincare experts share the same enthusiasm over Bowe’s skin cycling methods. Amber Rose Johnson, a celebrity esthetician and founder of Facial Lounge, explains that skin cycling is helpful because it gives the skin time to receive treatment and recover. However, she points out that there is no one skin cycling protocol that is safe for all skin types. “There are a lot of different trends out there so I cannot recommend [Bowe’s] especially for sensitive skin.” Johnson also has her own preferred skin cycling method which revolves around deeper exfoliation during your menstrual cycle or every 28 days. “This is the natural exfoliation process of our body and it’s great to keep the process up.”
Pregnant people should be cautious of doing the skin cycling trend given that there is some evidence that retinols may cause birth defects. Having sensitivity to retinoids—such as people with rosacea, contact dermatitis, and eczema—could make the skin cycling routine intolerable. If you fall into one of these categories, Kingsley advises to forgo the retinol and instead focus on doing very gentle exfoliation and moisturizing. The key is to not overdo it and to take it slow.
“The skin loves to exfoliate but can be irritated and mad at you after the process,” adds Johnson. “You must give it some love with lots of hydration that is paraben and fragrance-free. Not only is this good for large pores, blackheads, fine lines, and scarring but definitely slows down the aging process.”
If you’re interested in skin cycling, but don’t know if it’s right for your skin, see a skincare expert first. They will help you identify your skin profile, sensitivities, and tailor treatments specific to your needs.