Skin cycling is one of the latest TikTok trends to have taken over social media by storm. To date, the hashtag #skincycling has raked up over 175 million views on the platform and counting. Surprisingly, the buzz surrounding this trend doesn’t involve any wild or risky skincare steps. In fact, the term “skin cycling” was coined by New York-based dermatologist, Dr Whitney Bowe, who came up with a sensible four-day routine to achieve healthy skin sustainably. The steps include exfoliation, renewal, and recovery using exfoliants, a retinoid and a nourishing moisturiser—products that can easily be found at your nearest drugstore or your favourite niche skincare boutique. But is this journey to perfect skin too simple to be true?
“I think the jury is still out there. As with all social media trends, one needs to be careful of pseudo-science,” comments Dr Iroshini Chua, co-founder of Dr Kevin Chua Medical & Aesthetics. “However, I must say that the steps sound sensible and the results seen online so far seem convincing,” she adds. For those who are considering giving skin cycling a hand, Dr Chua breaks down the roles of the ingredients below. And if your skin is unable to tolerate the effects of active ingredients such as AHAs and retinoids, she proposes alternative options that will be helpful.
Night 1: Exfoliate
On Night 1, Dr Bowes recommends using a chemical exfoliant on clean, dry skin as it is “more gentle and more effective for the skin barrier”. Chemical exfoliants include anything from AHAs, BHAs, PHAs to even multi-acid products. Theoretically, this step helps with sloughing off surface dead skin cells, which enable the products for Night 2 to seep deeper into the skin and deliver better results.
But Dr Chua is not opposed to the idea of using facial scrubs, as long as the beads are gentle and super fine—like that of micro jojoba beads. If physical exfoliants are your option, avoid any formulas that contain crushed seed pits as their sharp edges could cause micro tears on the skin.
Night 2: Cell renewal
Night 2 is where all the skin regenerating magic happens. Here, Dr Bowes recommends using a retinoid as it increases the skin cells’ turnover rate and thus renewing the skin.
“Retinoids help to reduce the depth of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as erase pigmentation. Over time, it also helps with reversing some effects of sun damage,” Dr Chua explains. However, she cautions that this step is not suitable if you are planning to start a family or if you spend large amounts of time under the sun. While retinol alternatives are a good replacement, Dr Chua recommends using vitamin C, as the ingredient also promotes cell renewal.
Nights 3 and 4: Heal and restore
Common side effects of using skin renewing agents include sensitivity, dryness and irritation. So it’s important for the skin to repair itself with the support of restorative skincare formulas. Ingredients to look out for include niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and ceramides. Dr Chua adds that concoctions with vitamin E and stem cells will also help to bolster this healing process as they help to strengthen the skin barrier and also protect the skin against environmental aggressors.
Porcelain Skincare Bio-Reset Intensive Night Recovery Elixir
Malin+Goetz Vitamin E Face Moisturiser
Chantecaille Bio Lifting Cream+
Paula's Choice 10% Niacinamide Booser
Dr Wu Hyalucomplex Extreme Hydrating Cream
Though Dr Bowes recommends repeating the cycle again after Night 4, Dr Chua insists that you pay attention to how your skin is reacting first before doing so. “Depending on your age and your skin type, one may find that two days of recovery is not enough,” she says. “In addition to the exfoliating step, retinol and even vitamin C could potentially dry out the skin and cause some light peeling and redness in the skin. So it’s best to give your skin a few more days to recover before starting the cycle again, especially if you’re new to skincare”, she suggests. To avoid irritation, Dr Chua advises that you patch test the active ingredients first before jumping into this routine unprepared.