Skin Cycling: I Tried TikTok’s Hot New Skincare Trend And These Are My Thoughts

Rafael Benites

If you’re in a skincare rut, TikTok’s new ‘skin cycling’ movement could be exactly what your dull, dry or hormonal skin is crying out for. While TikTok can throw up some next-level makeup looks, it’s rare that I buy into the viral skincare trends. I like a little meat on the bone when it comes to my skincare advice and, at best, there’s a lot of questionable tips out there; at worst, trends are based on dangerous misinformation, with little to no dermatologist-backed substance. That’s perhaps the most surprising aspect of skin cycling. The term was actually coined by dermatologist Dr Whitney Bowe and it’s gaining steam precisely because of its derm-approved credentials. Not to mention, 3.5 billion views to date is pretty impressive even by TikTok standards.

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The crux of the movement is this: you see your skincare routine like your exercise routine and divide your week into workout and recovery days. The premise is that you then apply certain active ingredients in the same order over a four-day cycle to avoid riling your skin. Think of it as kind of like a HIIT class: you invest two nights a week to reset the skin, two night to keep the barrier happy and then repeat. So after cleansing you exfoliate on the first night, apply retinol on the second night and slather on fragrance-free creams that repair the skin barrier on days three and four to prevent dryness and allow the skin precious time to heal.

The key reason skin cycling appealed to me was my chequered relationship with retinol. As a beauty editor I know it’s the silver bullet for tackling fine lines, pigmentation and slack skin. It’s not even the occasional peeling that I find unpleasant – it’s the angry welts that appear under my eyes as a (literal) red flag that I’ve overdone it by building up to even just a pea-size amount every night. And the more the beauty industry bangs on about the skin barrier and the many things that are causing it to become ‘leaky’, the more wary of actives I’ve become. It means I tend to skip retinol altogether, much to the chagrin of my skin cells that need an extra bit of cajoling in order to behave as efficiently as they did when I was in my 20s. 

Having spoken to board-certified dermatologist Dr Mona Gohara in the past about the benefits of ‘pulsing’ actives in your routine, I knew that it would be a smart move for someone like me whose skin has become more sensitive with age.

Simplicity is the name of the game here so I stuck to my favourite Youth To the People Superfood Cleanser each day. Even though the formula doesn’t sit on your skin for long, the main thing is to opt for something uncomplicated to ensure there are no hidden acids lurking in your cleanser. 

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