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Beauty junkies will know that skincare trends come and go, but not all of them are recommended by skin experts.

However, there’s a new trend that’s taken TikTok by storm, and it actually has dermatologists and skincare influencers singing praises about it. We’re talking about the “skin cycling” trend.

What is “skin cycling”?

Photo source: @drwhitneybowe/TikTok

Coined by dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, “skin cycling” is a nightly skincare routine that’s done over four days to help tame breakouts and even out skin texture. This works by conditioning your skin to adapt to the ingredients being introduced to it.

Before you decide that it is too complicated, here is a simple breakdown of how the routine works.

“Skin cycling”: What the routine looks like

Before starting your routine, you must always cleanse and pat your skin dry for the best results.

Night 1: Exfoliate

Photo source: Cult Beauty

Apply a chemical exfoliant after cleansing to slough off any dead skin cells and reveal fresh skin. You can choose from various types of acids you are familiar with. For example, glycolic, salicylic, or lactic acid.

Chemical exfoliation is a lasting form of exfoliation that is sometimes gentler than physical exfoliation. The acids are able to reach deeper into your skin’s layers and pores to remove dirt and debris.

To go deeper into it, there are two types of exfoliating acids:

  • AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids): Acids like glycolic and lactic acid fall under this category. If you have dry skin or if you are looking to eliminate any signs of ageing, AHAs are more suitable for you!
  • BHAs (beta hydroxy acids): Salicylic acid falls under this category. If you are prone to acne breakouts, BHAs can help you tackle this problem.

For those with sensitive skin, these acids may be slightly intense for your skin at the start, which is why “skin cycling” is a great way for you to condition your skin to adapt to the acids.

After letting it sit on your skin for a while, follow up with your usual moisturiser.

Night 2: Retinol


Whether it’s in the form of a moisturiser, serum, or oil, any retinol product will do for the second night. Apply a pea-sized amount to your entire face.

Retinol is another intense ingredient that delivers quality results. It increases your skin cell production and helps further exfoliate your skin, working to diminish signs of ageing like fine lines and wrinkles. This star ingredient also helps to reduce the appearance of enlarged pores when used regularly.

If you have sensitive skin or if you are new to retinol, apply a layer of moisturiser on your sensitive areas first, such as your under-eyes and the corners of your mouth.

After your skin gets used to the retinol, you can expect to get plumper and fresher skin.

Related read: 16 best retinol creams that smoothen wrinkles, fade dark spots, and clear acne scars

Nights 3 and 4: Moisturise

Credit: Sora Shimazaki/Pexels

The next two nights are simple.

All you need to do is apply moisturiser and take note of the areas that are irritated and dry. Night three and four are meant for your skin to rest and heal as exfoliation and retinol use can sensitise your skin.

This will help condition it to adapt to the next round of exfoliation and retinol it will be exposed to.

Does “skin cycling” really work?

Photo source: @sarabloom/TikTok and @hello.glen/TikTok

After Dr. Whitney’s initial TikTok introducing this concept blew up, skincare junkies on TikTok trialed the routine. They came back with positive reviews and results.


I owe @Dr. Whitney Bowe my life for saving my acne prone skin 🥲 #skincycling #skincycle #skincyclingroutine #acne #acnetransformation #acnetreatment #acnetips #acneproneskin #skincareroutine #skincaretips #glassskin

♬ super freaky girl x luxurious – xxtristanxo


Cr: @ericanic0le 🤍 #skin #skincare #skincareroutine #skincaretips #skincare101 #skintok #skincarebyhyram #skincareasmr #koreanskincare #koreanskincareproducts #koreanskincareroutine #koreanskincareproduct #koreanskincaretips #koreanskincaretiktok

♬ super freaky girl x luxurious – xxtristanxo

Both of these TikTok users have testified to the efficacy of “skin cycling” by showing clips of their skin condition before and after trying it out.

Initially, their skin was dry and prone to irritation. However, after trying “skin cycling”, they saw significant improvement in their skin as it went from textured and irritated to smooth and clear.

Aesthetic doctor Dr. Salome Dharamshi explains that this routine is an effective way to introduce active ingredients to the skin.

By practising this routine, you can give your skin time to absorb ingredients and let your skin ease into treatment that can be harsh. Your skin will also be able to take a break and benefit from the healing cycle.

Pros and cons of “skin cycling”

Like every skincare trend and routine, it is hard to say whether it will be a success or a flop as skin type, condition, and tolerance varies from person to person.

If you’re looking to attempt “skin cycling”, here are some tips to remember when trying out the process for the first time.

Keep a skincare journal

We know it can be a hassle to create a journal for your skin but it’s worth it. It doesn’t have to be an actual journal, though. You can simply use the Notes application on your phone to take down your observations.

Photograph your skin before and after every round of exfoliation and retinol on day one and day two. Take note of the areas that appear red and irritated and pay extra attention to hydrate and moisturise those areas for the next few days.

If you have particularly sensitive skin, you may need to reduce the concentration of retinol you’re using or the frequency of your cycles. For this, you will need to monitor the progress of your skin to see whether it is purging or getting irritated.

Related read: Is your skin purging or breaking out? 3 dermatologists explain the difference

Trial and error

Your skincare journal will help with this tip. If you notice that your skin condition is improving, you can continue and even increase the concentration of chemical exfoliant and retinol used.

However, if you notice that your skin is looking worse for wear, scale back on the concentration of actives used or add more moisturising days in between your exfoliating and retinol days.

Skincare products often take a few days or weeks to take full effect. Some skin types also take longer to adapt than others, but don’t give up on this routine immediately if things go south.

Always remember that everyone’s skin is unique, so trial and error is necessary when trying new skincare routines that involved harsh formulas like acids and retinol.

Slather on sunscreen

Skincare junkies and experts will agree on this tip. The acids and retinol used in “skin cycling” often make your skin barrier more sensitive to UV rays.

When you wake up, the products from the previous night are still taking effect in the day. If you don’t apply a protective sunscreen, the acids and retinol will be exposed to sunlight and may irritate your skin.

Exfoliating products you can use on Night 1

IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Pores Glycolic Acid Serum

Here is a glycolic acid product you can consider for night one. Its formula contains 10% of glycolic acid to reduce the size of your pores and refine your skin texture.

This formula also includes hyaluronic acids which can help smoothen and hydrate the skin to leave you feeling supple.

IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Pores Glycolic Acid Serum retails for S$44 on Sephora.

Alpha-H Clear Skin Tonic with 2% Salicylic Acid

If you’re looking for a salicylic acid product, try this Alpha-H tonic. It is known to soothe inflamed and agitated skin. Plus, it will help exfoliate the inside of your pores for a clearer complexion.

The salicylic acid will help decongest your pores and the other ingredients like chamomile and arnica will help diffuse redness and blemishes on your skin.

Alpha-H Clear Skin Tonic with 2% Salicylic Acid retails for S$81 on Sephora.

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA

The Ordinary is no stranger to fans of chemical exfoliation. After all, this brand’s products are known for its affordable price points and fruitful results.

This serum may be strong for some but like all chemical exfoliation products, trial and error is key to utilising the powers of this product.

This high-strength lactic acid will offer exfoliation to the pores and the Tasmanian pepper berry factored into the formula to reduce signs of inflammation and irritation.

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA retails for S$16 on Sephora.

Retinol products you can use on Night 2

Frank Body Rewind Retinol Serum

A retinol serum like this has a wide range of benefits. From targeting and preventing fine lines to reducing breakouts and scars, this serum will complete your retinol requirement for “skin cycling”

This serum even includes niacinamide and ginger extract that will help boost the effects of the retinol, giving you faster and more apparent results.

Frank Body Rewind Retinol Serum retails for S$40 on Sephora.

Pixi Overnight Retinol Oil

This product has a silkier oil texture compared to the previous serum. This product plumps your skin and decreases the appearance of fine lines and pores.

It also contains peptides to boost your skin’s firmness and revitalise your skin condition.

Pixi Overnight Retinol Oil retails for S$40 on Sephora.

Moisturisers you can use on Nights 3 and 4

Bioderma Sensibio Defensive Active Soothing Moisturiser

Bioderma is known for giving us products that are effective yet gentle on the skin. Their moisturiser is a fan-favourite of those who have sensitive, sensitised, and irritated skin.

This soothing moisturiser will nourish your skin and boost your complexion’s inner defence against daily stressors.

Bioderma Sensibio Defensive Active Soothing Moisturiser for S$33.90 on Lazada.

Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Pink Juice Moisturizer

Known for its products that are derived from natural ingredients, Glow Recipe doesn’t disappoint us with this lightweight, oil-free moisturiser.

Infused with watermelon extract, the moisturiser hydrates parched skin. It also contains soothing botanicals to boost your overall radiance and glow.

Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Pink Juice Moisturizer for S$63 on Sephora.

Featured image credit: @drwhitneybowe/TikTok and @sarabloom/TikTok