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Skin Cycling: The Viral Nighttime Routine that Dermatologists Actually Recommend

TikTok has become a hotbed of skincare misinformation and downright bad advice (sunscreen contouring, anyone?). But every once in a while, there’s a hack or trend that’s really good, like skin cycling. This derm-approved method makes sense, involves only three basic steps each night and is a simple way to boost the benefits of your skincare products.

So what exactly is skin cycling? It’s a four-night skincare rotation schedule that involves one chemical exfoliation night, one retinoid night and then two nights of recovery.

“Instead of layering your skincare products on top of each other all in one night, skin cycling directs you to cycle through your products separately in a four-night cycle,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Brian Moore. Ahead, we break down where skin cycling originated and how to do it right (including a daily step-by-step order with your favorite Hero products).

Skin cycling goes viral

While many dermatologists have been recommending some form of skin cycling to patients for quite a while, the method was recently popularized by Dr. Whitney Bowe, a New York-based, board-certified dermatologist.

During the pandemic, people began to focus less on makeup and more on skin care. In some cases, this shift brought about super-complicated routines, active ingredient overload and skin that simply needed a break. That’s what inspired Bowe to share the less-is-more, ordinary, affordable approach.


RELATED READ: Which Viral Dark Spot Remedies to Avoid (and What to Try Instead)


Benefits of skin care cycling

Because you aren’t layering multiple actives, skin cycling greatly decreases the risk of over-exfoliating or irritation. Plus, you’re giving your skin a chance to maximize the benefits of the exfoliants and retinoids, without interference from other active ingredients.

“The rationale behind this is building in nights for the skin barrier to recover,” says Moore. “An analogy I use with patients is this: you don't go to the gym and do all muscle groups on the same day – you separate them over the week.”

Since friends don’t let friends skip leg day, we’ve got you covered with all of the details for exactly how you should skin cycle, every night of the week.

Night 1: Chemical exfoliation routine

Chemical exfoliants like alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs) are a gentle way to help clear pores and remove dull, dead skin cells. Nighttime application helps to reduce the photosensitivity you might experience using chemical exfoliants during the day.

STEP 1: Calming, hydrating facial cleanser = Gentle Milky Cleanser

Allow face to dry completely between steps 1 and 2.

Acne-prone, oily or combination skin STEP 2: AHAs + BHA (Salicylic Acid) = Pore Release

Dry skin STEP 2: AHAs + Glycolic Acid = Lightning Swipe

STEP 3: Microbiome-balancing moisturizer = Clarifying Prebiotic Moisturizer

Night 2: Retinol routine

Time to boost skin cell turnover for younger- and clearer-looking skin. Retinoids are vitamin A-based serums or lotions that can help treat acne, fade hyperpigmentation, and reduce signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles.

STEP 1: Calming, hydrating facial cleanser = Gentle Milky Cleanser

Allow face to dry completely between steps 1 and 2.

STEP 2: Retinol of your choice

STEP 3: Hydrating moisturizer = Clarifying Prebiotic Moisturizer

BONUS STEP for dry skin = Rescue Balm

Nights 3 + 4: Recovery routine

Here’s where you give your skin a rest and take a break from exfoliating acids and retinoids. As you focus on hydrating toner, serum, lotion and/or cream, your skin has a chance to heal and reap the benefits of the previous two nights.

STEP 1: Calming, hydrating facial cleanser = Gentle Milky Cleanser

Skin can be damp when you begin step 2.

STEP 2: Hydration-boosting Hyaluronic Acid + Glycerin = Balancing Capsule Toner

STEP 3: Moisturize = Clarifying Prebiotic Moisturizer

BONUS STEP for dry skin = Rescue Balm

The skin types best suited for cycling

Skin cycling is generally safe for all skin types, but if your skin is particularly dry or sensitive, you may want to add an extra recovery night to your skin cycling calendar (for a total of three). And if you take prescription medication for skin or have conditions like rosacea, eczema, psoriasis or cystic acne, you’ll want to check in with your dermatologist before beginning skin cycling or any new routine.

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