A Dermatologist Explains Skin Cycling: What Should You Know

Navigating through the skin care product world can be a daunting task. With so many different products and ingredients on the market, most patients get confused.

Key takeaways:
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    Skin cycling involves rotating certain key skin ingredients in skincare products at night to get better results.
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    Skin cycling causes fewer side effects, like irritation and inflammation.
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    The basic skin cycling routine involves four nights: exfoliation on night one, retinoids on night two, and rest on nights three and four.
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    Skin cycling can be tailored to your skin's needs based on your skin's response to the routine.
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    Skin cycling may not help patients with acne or wrinkles or those who can tolerate daily use of the products.

Some apply too many products in hopes of getting better, faster results. This often backfires and causes more skin problems than it solves. Many times less is best. This dialing back on product use has spawned the skin cycling method for skin care which has been getting rave reviews.

What is skin cycling?

The principles of skin cycling have been used for many years but only recently were they referred to as "skin cycling" by Dr. Whitney Bowe. Skin cycling involves rotating certain key skin ingredients and products to get better results for patients and with fewer side effects. More is not always better than less.

What does skin cycling do for your skin?

Skin cycling allows patients to reap the benefits of clinically proven anti-aging products, like retinoids and exfoliants, without side effects. Retinoids and exfoliants commonly cause redness, irritation, and inflammation, especially in the beginning. Even after weeks or months, some cannot use them daily. Skin cycling gives the skin a chance to recover and get used to the ingredients while allowing the patient to gradually see the benefits of smoother, brighter, hydrated skin. It also encourages the patient to use moisturizers daily to nourish and hydrate the skin.

What is the basic skin cycling routine?

The basic entry-level skin cycling routine consists of the nighttime application of an exfoliator, a retinoid, and a moisturizer. This routine cycles every 4 days. Here is an example of a basic skin cycling routine:

Day 1- exfoliation

After cleansing your face with a gentle cleanser, pat dry with a clean towel. Then apply a chemical exfoliator, such as glycolic acid. The final step involves applying your dye and fragrance-free moisturizer.

Exfoliation is a great way to remove dead skin cells that can clog your pores and give your skin a dull appearance. It also allows the deeper penetration of products applied after it, so your products work better and give you better results. Chemical exfoliators are gentler than physical ones and better for novices or those with sensitive skin.

Day 2 - retinoid

After cleansing your face with a gentle cleanser, pat dry. Then apply your retinoid. You only need a pea-sized amount of it. Next, apply your dye and fragrance-free moisturizer. Some patients benefit from applying a moisturizer before the retinoid instead of after. Others must apply moisturizer before and after the retinoid, also called the "sandwich" method. It just depends on your skin and what it will tolerate.

Retinoids help rebuild collagen, which helps fade wrinkles and fine lines. They give you a smoother, brighter complexion, treat acne, and help remove scars. They are the number one anti-aging product in the world.

Day 3 and 4 - rest/recover

Cleanse your face with a gentle cleanser. While still damp, apply your moisturizer. Stick to ingredients with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and squalene to help nourish and hydrate your skin. Some use vitamin C cream these days as well.

It is important not to skip this step. Your skin's barrier needs time to recover and repair itself. Without proper barrier function, the skin is susceptible to infection, dehydration, and inflammation.

Who benefits most from skin cycling?

While skin cycling can benefit many people, it is not for everyone. Patients who are just starting out using exfoliants or retinoids are ideal candidates. It is a great way to get your skin used to the new products without side effects. Many people use it as a springboard to more advanced skincare routines when they can tolerate using the products daily. As your skin tolerates the products, you can use a more advanced skin cycling routine which might involve dropping a recovery night or increasing the strength of your products.

Patients with sensitive skin find skin cycling beneficial. They can reap the rewards of using these products without irritating or inflaming their skin. Many with sensitive skin remain skin cycling forever because they cannot tolerate using the products daily. That is ok. They are still getting good results.

Skin cycling can also help patients who suffer from dry skin during the fall and winter months. They may have no problem tolerating the daily use of chemical exfoliants or retinoids during the summer months but have to dial it back during the fall and winter. These patients can tailor their treatment routines to their skin's needs.

Who should not try skin cycling?

Some patients will not benefit from skin cycling, such as those who already tolerate daily retinoids and chemical exfoliants. There is no need to back down on the frequency of use of these products. If you tolerate using them daily, continue doing so.
Patients with acne should not continue to skin cycle. They might need to do it when they first begin using retinoids or chemical exfoliants. However, to get full therapeutic benefits for acne patients, retinoids work best when used daily.

If you are treating wrinkles and fine lines, daily use of retinoids and chemical exfoliants is more beneficial. These products exert full therapeutic benefits when used daily. Just like acne patients, they may need to start skin cycling till their skin is used to the products.

While skin cycling has been utilized for many years, the term has only been used recently. It is a great way for your skin to get used to retinoids and exfoliants without irritating side effects. For some, it is a starting point, and for others a springboard to more intense routines.

With any skincare routine, consistency is the key to success. Listen to your skin; it will tell you what it needs and wants. If you are having trouble selecting products or need a more tailored routine, always seek treatment from a board-certified dermatologist.

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