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What is Skin Cycling? Let’s Talk About the New Viral Skin Care Technique

what is skin cycling

This article was written by The Zillennial Zine’s fall editorial intern Brianna Allison. Find her on Instagram at @ballison7. If you would like to share an article with The Zillennial, send us an email at

TikTok is always full of different skincare tips, tricks and techniques. But do they really work? Maybe. Are they what your skin needs? Potentially.

But there’s one new technique that has completely taken over the internet because of its benefits: skin cycling. This nighttime skincare routine originated from award-winning and board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Whitney Bowe. The New York-based dermatologist is changing the game of skincare. People all over the world are talking about the skin cycling routine and sharing how it improved the look and feel of their skin.

So what is skin cycling? Why should you do it? What products do you need? If you have lots of questions, don’t worry because we got you covered. Now, let’s get into it.

Well, what is skin cycling?


Replying to @vic 🇧🇷 @drwhitneybowe is the secret

♬ original sound – e

Skin cycling is a simple three or four-day process that is designed to reduce the acne, texture and irritation that is a result of over-exfoliation. If you have oily and acne-prone skin, then you should use the three-day routine. If you have more sensitive and dry skin, then you should use the four-day routine.

On the first night of skin cycling, you use an exfoliant. The second night, you apply a retinoid cream. Then, the third and fourth nights of the routine are recovery nights. You should start the routine by double cleansing your skin, patting it dry, and then using the product designated for that night. This routine allows you to cycle through different products that work well together to produce the best results for your skin. Skin cycling helps to make sure that you’re not over-exfoliating and damaging your skin’s barrier.

Dr. Bowe mentions in her article about skin cycling that since the skincare world has become so complicated that it’s easy to make mistakes. She stated that “People were experiencing irritation, red blotches, or thinking their skin was just ‘purging’ for months at a time, but it was because they were using too many products, at too high concentrations, many of which just don’t work well together on the skin.” So we need to remember that “less is more” when it comes to our skincare.

The process of skin cycling


Skin cycling for beginners: how to get started. And how to layer with Bowe Glowe #skincycling #thatboweglow #dermatologist #skintok

♬ original sound – Dr. Whitney Bowe

No matter what night of the routine you’re on, you should double-cleanse your skin. If you’re wearing makeup you should start with a cleansing balm or micellar water, such as JUNO & Co. Clean 10 Cleansing Balm, Banila Co. Clean It Zero Cleansing Balm or Bioderma H2O Micellar Water. Then, follow up with a gentle cleanser that isn’t too complicated to make sure that it doesn’t interfere with the other products. Some good cleansers to use are CeraVe Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser, La Roche-Posay Hydrating Gentle Face Cleanser, or First Aid Beauty Pure Skin Face Cleanser

You’ll also need a moisturizer that’s light but does a good job of hydrating the skin, such as La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer, COSRX Snail Mucin 92% Repair Cream or CeraVe Moisturizing Cream. Now on the pricier end, there’s Dr. Bowe’s microbiome nourishing cream, Bowe Glowe, that was specifically designed for skin cycling.

Night 1: Exfoliation Night


Skin cycling for beginners: how to get started. And how to layer with Bowe Glowe #skincycling #thatboweglow #dermatologist #skintok

♬ original sound – Dr. Whitney Bowe

Now for night one, you need an exfoliant. In one of her TikToks, Dr. Bowe recommends using a leave-on product instead of one that is washed off. She also says that a chemical exfoliant should be used over a gritty scrub because it is gentle on the skin barrier and ultimately more effective. Dr. Bowe recommends looking for ingredients like glycolic acid, salicylic acid or lactic acid. There may be a slight tingle when you use your exfoliant, but that’s okay. However, if you’re skin starts to burn, you should immediately wash it off. Exfoliating the skin removes all the dead skin cells and allows the skin to better absorb other products like retinol, serums and moisturizer.

Here are some options for an exfoliant:

So the routine for night one is to double-cleanse your face and pat dry. Then put your exfoliant on a cotton pad and swipe your face to remove the dead skin cells. Lastly, let it dry and then moisturize your face.

Night 2: Retinoid Night


#duet with @chooseyourglow #skincycling Very occlusive ingredients can increase irritation. Advanced skincyclers might be able to get away with this. #slugging #thatboweglow #retinol

♬ Sun Down, I’m Up – Sped Up & Pitched – Lil Yawh

Next, we have night two of the routine. Retinoids can be tricky. Sometimes it takes a while for the skin to become used to them. So if you’re new to retinoids, you should start with a low strength, such as 0.3%, then gradually increase from there.

Depending on the sensitivity of the skin, you might want to consider a retinol sandwich. Instead of going directly in with your retinol after cleansing, you can start by putting moisturizer in specific dry spots on your face or all over. Then you put your retinol on, and once that’s dry, you put more moisturizer on top. In one of her TikToks, Dr. Bowe recommends not using anything like Vaseline, Aquaphor or silicones on top of the retinol because it can increase irritation.

Here are some recommendations for retinol:

Again the routine for night two is to double-cleanse your face and pat dry. It’s important to make sure that your face has no moisture before you apply your retinol, otherwise, it can cause irritation. Use a pea size amount of retinol on your face and another pea size amount of retinol on your neck. Always remember: with retinol, less is more. Let it dry, then moisturize.

Day 3/4: Recovery Night(s)


#duet with @Riley Bond #skincycling As the weather gets cooler you may need to add more layers. #skincycling #drwhitneybowebeauty #thatboweglow

♬ Summer – Instrumental – Devinney

The last nights of the skin cycling routine are the recovery nights. These nights are very important for your skin barrier. You can keep it simple, and just use your moisturizer. But if you want extra repair and protection of your skin’s barrier, you can use hydrating serums. Dr. Bowe recommends using serums such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin and niacinamide.

Here are some great options for your recovery serums:

For the third and/or fourth night of the routine, you’ll double-cleanse your face and pat dry. But, for these nights you want to leave your face damp before applying your serums. Let them soak in and then moisturize. On recovery nights, you can also “slug” if you need extra moisture. This means putting something heavy like Vaseline on your face and allowing it to absorb throughout the night.

Morning Routine


Replying to @Tayler Forester Morning skincare is consistent. All about protecting your skin from environmental exposures throughout the day. #thatboweglow #skincycling #dermatologist

♬ Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) [2018 Remaster] – Kate Bush

I also wanted to share a basic rundown of what your morning routine can look like during the skin cycling process. Dr. Bowe shares in one of her videos on TikTok that consistency is key for your morning routine. 

You’ll want to start by using your cleanser. Then follow up with a vitamin C serum to help brighten the skin. You could use TruSkin Vitamin C Serum, Advanced Vitamin C Serum or CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid. You’ll want to allow your serum to absorb before applying your moisturizer. Lastly, you need to use SPF. There’s no argument about it. There are lots of sunscreen options, but here are some good ones for everyday wear: EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 Face Sunscreen, Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense Face Serum or Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen. These are the necessities for your morning routine, however, you can add some hyaluronic acid or niacinamide if you want!

Skin Care Health GIF by DrSquatchSoapCo - Find & Share on GIPHY

I just started my skin cycling two weeks ago and so far, I love it! Prior to starting this skincare routine, I felt like my skin was dull and dry with constant breakouts. But now, I feel that my skin has started to look clearer, healthier, and has less texture. 

After watching and listening to Dr. Bowe, I realized I’ve wasted too much money on products I don’t need. Over this last year, I’ve really tried to focus on taking care of my skin, but I didn’t know where to start. With all the products and different vitamins and acids, I never understood what everything meant or what was actually good for my skin. So I just kept trying products and routines I saw on the internet, but nothing seemed to really do what I was looking for.

At least that was the case until I found skin cycling. I feel like I’m starting to understand my skin better and what products I should be using every day. I can’t wait to see what my skin looks like in a few months after it’s been through a few more cycles. 

So again, I ask what is skin cycling? It’s a skincare technique that you definitely need to try! Your skin is going to thank you!

Have you tried the new viral skincare technique, skin cycling? If so, comment below what products work best for you!

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