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Skin Cycling: Viral TikTok Trend Explained

Skin cycling is the latest beauty trend to take over the internet, and it was created by a dermatologist! I think it is a great way to think about skincare. But what is it and should you really change up your skincare routine?

What is Skin Cycling?

Basically, skin cycling is a 4-day (or 3-day) routine that incorporates active ingredients into recovery days. The morning skin routine is the same, while the night routine varies based on what day you are on. It can be applied to the face but also the neck and chest – just be careful as the skin is a little more sensitive in those locations.

Benefits of Skin Cycling

Skin cycling is a great way for people that have never had a skincare routine to start while minimizing irritation that can occur. It is also a great way to add new products to your routine that may cause irritation.

Can you relate to this? You get several new skincare products that promise youthful, glowing skin. You layer them all together, and in a week, you have a red, peeling face that even rebels against moisturizer. Skin cycling can prevent this.

How to Start Skin Cycling

Morning Routine

Your morning routine does not change! Stick with a gentle wash, moisturizer/serum, followed by sunscreen.

First Night

Wash your face with a gentle cleanser and then pat it dry. Apply a Glycolic acid/Beta hydroxy acid (also known as AHA/HA and salicylic acid) to help chemically exfoliate and brighten the skin. This can be a wash, but leave-on products are recommended as they are a little stronger. If you use a non-active serum, use this now, then apply moisturizer. I do not recommend scrubs with beads or texture as we want to chemically exfoliate, not physically.

Second Night

Wash your face with a gentle cleanser and then pat it dry. Make sure the face is definitely dry as this will decrease irritation. Apply a pea-sized retinoid or retinol. Retinoids are our most powerful product. They minimize dark spots and fine lines while building collagen. If using on neck and chest or sensitive skin, I recommend pre-moisturizing first and then applying retinoid (use no more than a pea-sized amount on neck and chest).

Third Night

Recovery! Use a gentle face wash and your favorite moisturizer that really moisturizes. See below for suggestions. If you use a serum, you can use this too.

Fourth Night

Recovery again (optional). If your skin is not sensitive or if you have already been using glycolic and retinoids, you can change the cycle to 3 days with only 1 night of recovery. If you have cycled a few weeks or months and your skin is happy, you can increase the strength of both the glycolic and retinoids. 


The cycle starts over, allowing the use of these healthful ingredients without giving you a red and peeling face.

What Products Should I Skin Cycle With?

These are products that I personally have used and love. There are a million skincare products available, so this list is not exhaustive. If you have a product you love, then keep using it!

Medical-grade skincare is typically stronger than drug store skin care products. Since you are exfoliating and using a retinoid 2x a week, we want these ingredients to be a little stronger than daily use. However, if you are just starting, it is totally fine to start slow and work up over time.


Moisturizer is a personal choice. I love Avene moisturizers. If I am recovering from a procedure or get too irritated, I love Cicalfate. It is thick and soothing without burning or being too greasy. CeraVe, Cetaphil and La Rouche Posay are also great OTC options. If your skin is oily or only needs light moisturizer, hyaluronic acid serums are great, as well as vitamin C or antioxidant serums.



There are a few variations of exfoliants that I recommend. The Cascade Peel Pads: Glycolic/salicylic or Mandelic/lactic are popular. There are also Glytone creams and lotions. I love these options because each come in three different strengths: 10, 15, 20. Finally, I also recommend the SkinMedica AHA/BHA Cream.


In order from less irritating to more irritating, I recommend Avene Retrinal, SkinMedica Retinol (strengths .25, .5, 1.0), and Adapalene (Differin). There are also two prescriptions retinoids available: Tretinoin (0.25%) and Retin-a (0.5%, 1.0).

Questions about Skin Cycling or Products?

Contact us at Cascade Eye and Skin Centers for a personalized skincare regimen that will work for your skin type and budget!

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