The idea of switching up your nightly skin routine every evening is big online. But are there real benefits to skin cycling, or is it just a waste of time?
‘Good’ skin has never been more in. We have lockdown to thank for the internet's obsession with skincare, as we all ditched make-up that covers our complexion for serums and lotions that treat the underlying causes of our skin concerns. Make-up sales fell by 19% between 2019 and 2022, according to insights agency Kantar, while skincare sales rose 300% at Zalando.
But experts have issued warnings that elaborate skincare routines including lots of active ingredients are actually doing more harm than good. The solution may not be to ditch the routines in their entirety, especially for those who find their step-by-step skin routine is a form of self-care, but to change how often you’re applying your products. Enter: skin cycling.
“Skin cycling refers to the practice of rotating skincare products, typically at night time to optimize results,” explains Lesley Powell, beauty therapist and founder of Skin Vitality by Lesley. “Different products that address different skin concerns are used in rotation depending on skin type.”
Typically, skin cycling is used so that a night of strong active ingredients that target concerns like fine lines or acne is proceeded by a few nights of calming, nourishing products that help the skin recover. It means skin health is protected while aesthetic or medical concerns are treated for all-round skin wellbeing. “After many TikTok skincare trends that could damage the skin, this is one that professionals approve of,” says Powell.
Everyone’s cycling routine will be different depending on what they want from their skincare routine. But for the best benefits for most people, Powell recommends a four-day cycle routine.
“I would advise clients to start day one with an exfoliating product such as a salicylic cleanser or glycolic acid wash to exfoliate the dead skin cells and prepare the skin for the actives the next night,” Powell explains.
The second night is when stronger, active ingredients are used on the skin to target concerns. “For most people, I would suggest a retinoid,” says Powell. Retinol - a form of vitamin A - is famed for being one of the only anti-aging ingredients that actually works, helping speed up cell turnover and increasing collagen production, but the benefits also include improving acne and evening skin tone.
“If you don’t want to or can’t use retinol, bakuchiol - a plant-based retinol alternative - or peptides can be used for particular skin conditions such as acne or pigmentation,” advises Powell.
“This is when skin oils, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, ceramides and squalene can be used to nourish and protect the skin’s barrier after using strong ingredients,” explains Powell.
The skin barrier - known as the epidermis - is responsible for keeping pollution, toxins and ultraviolet rays out while keeping hydration in.
While potent products like retinol causes skin barrier cells to renew, producing younger-looking, glowier skin, excessive use of these items strips the skin barrier, which can impact its health, says Powell. “I’ve always advised clients not to use acids or retinols every night and to cycle with more hydrating, calming products. I would also always recommend that new products - especially actives - are added in gradually, starting off using once or twice per week and gradually building up.”
One problem with layering products every night is that ingredients can interact, causing irritation or damage to the skin. “Many ingredients shouldn’t be used together, including retinols with salicylic acid, AHA/BHA’s and Benzoyl peroxide, as well as niacinamide with vitamin C,” explains Powell.
If you want to use any of these products, you’re better off cycling them on different nights so you can get all the benefits of each ingredients in a much safer way.
Some people love spending their disposable income on new skincare treats and will happily spend time at their bathroom sink applying all of their products. For others, leisurely and expensive skincare isn’t an option. Skin cycling can help.
Using products twice a week rather than every night makes them last longer, so you’ll be saving some important cash. And by applying just one or two products a night, you’ll also save time. No more complicated layering techniques - you can simply swipe on and head to bed.
Skin cycling doesn’t only have to be done on a weekly basis. You can skin cycle throughout the month, using products in line with your menstrual cycle like targetting PMS acne and supercharging your ovulation glow.
Cycling can also be seasonal. “I always recommend a client to change their routine in autumn as the central heating goes on and skin can get very dehydrated. Going from hot to cold also causes redness-prone skin to flush and become sore and irritated. A seasonal cycle would be to introduce more nourishing oils into the skin and thicker moisturizer to act as a barrier to protect from dry air and the difference in heat,” Powell explains.
Skin cycling can be for everyone, but there’s no one size fits all with the products you use. “What you use is so individual,” reminds Powell, and how often you use ingredients and the strength of the actives you use should depend on your concern, skin type and sensitivity.
“For example, clients with acne or congested skin benefit from cycling with a deep exfoliation to prevent blocked pores and restrict acne-causing bacteria. But if more mature or menopausal clients are prone to dry skin, using too many exfoliators and actives will not give their skin the nourishment it needs,” says Powell.
“Cycling is a solution to this, as each group can spend as many nights focusing on their specific problems; the latter can add in more evenings of nourishing oils and ceramide-based products alongside occasional exfoliating products for the best of both worlds.”
It’s always a good idea to check in with an expert about your skin concerns, especially before using strong ingredients. But cycling your skincare might just be the kindest TikTok trend we’ve come across so far.
Words: Chloe Gray
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