In a world that’s finally recognising that beauty comes in every shade, shape, and identity, it’s only fitting that our skincare routines get a shake-up, too.
Enter skin cycling, a skincare approach that strives to be as diverse and dynamic as you are.
Skin cycling represents a shift from a one-product-fits-all approach to an acknowledgment of the changing needs of our skin through different phases of its life cycle.
The term was coined in a 2022 TikTok video, which now has millions of views, but the idea itself is nothing new. If you alternate which days you use an exfoliant and when you use retinol or change up your moisturiser based on the weather, you may already be skin cycling without even knowing it.
Fans of skin cycling claim that you can achieve a more radiant complexion by harmonising your skincare routine with your skin’s natural fluctuations.
Simply put, skin cycling involves alternating between different types of products to ensure your routine meets your daily, weekly, and monthly needs.
General practitioner, cosmetic physician and Software spokesperson Dr Prasanthi Purusothaman describes skin cycling as alternating between using active ingredients and letting the skin rest and repair to get the most out of your products and minimise irritation.
Despite the recent trendy name, doctors and dermatologists have used skin cycling for a long time with their patients to maximise results without traumatising the skin barrier. The practice reflects the importance of moderation in active skincare ingredients and the adage ‘less is more’.
“Not every day requires active skincare, and rest is just as important as treatment days,” Dr Purusothaman said.
She explained that skincare ingredients often have different purposes and potent ingredients, which can all benefit the complexion but can also cause irritation when overused or combined with incompatible products.
Skin cycling is one way to take a more moderate and mindful approach to skincare, rather than throwing everything at it, hoping that something will stick and have a lasting positive impact.
How does skin cycling work?
If you’ve ever noticed that your skin becomes dry and flaky in the winter, had a sudden outbreak of adult acne, or seen an increase in oil production alongside your menstrual cycle, you know that your needs change multiple times throughout your life.
Likewise, your skin may benefit from different ingredients on a smaller cyclic period of a week or a month. For example, you may use retinol or retinoid-based products containing a form of vitamin A to stimulate collagen production and increase the turnover of skin cells to boost radiance and youthfulness.
At other times, you may need alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), a group of naturally occurring acids found in fruits, sugar cane, and dairy. AHAs are fantastic for gentle exfoliation to clear away dead skin cells.
However, Dr Purusothaman stresses that you should never use these two products together. Your skin will always need a break in between to rest and acclimate to the different ingredients and their impacts on the skin.
By consciously alternating between different products that work for your epidermal system, you can reap the maximum benefits of your skincare regime and get the healthy glow we all aspire towards.
How can you start skin cycling?
While the benefits of skin cycling seem impressive, it’s important not to get overexcited and try to overhaul your entire skincare regime overnight. Your skin is highly sensitive, and introducing a whole new suite of active products quickly may send it into overdrive, wreaking havoc on its barrier.
“One thing at a time is always best,” said Dr Purusothaman.
She recommends starting slowly and always including skincare ‘rest days’. Just like it’s essential to take days off the gym for your muscles to repair and grow, your skin needs time to restore its barrier and regenerate in between using active ingredients.
For example, you may use retinol-based products one evening, then let your skin rest and focus on restorative products like niacinamide and moisturising the skin.
For your morning routine, Dr Purusothaman said you might use vitamin C one day before moisturising, alternate with a different active serum containing vitamin B3, then take a rest day where you stick to the basics – cleanser, moisturiser, and sunscreen – and take a break from active ingredients.
Always remember that no single skincare approach works for everyone and individualised advice that factors in your personal history, skin type, and medical conditions is critical.
However, one example of a weekly skin cycling regime could resemble the following:
AM: Gentle cleanser, vitamin C serum for skin brightening, a moisturiser suitable for your skin type, and broad-spectrum SPF sunscreen.
PM: Cleanser to remove the day’s impurities, make-up, and air pollution particles. Follow this with a restorative niacinamide serum and a hydrating moisturiser.
AM: Cleanse, active serum containing vitamin B3, moisturise, broad-spectrum SPF sunscreen.
PM: Cleanse, take a rest from active serums, and moisturise.
AM: Cleanse, moisturise, and apply a broad-spectrum SPF sunscreen.
PM: Cleanse, restorative niacinamide serum, moisturise.
AM: Cleanse, use a serum for dark spots, or take a rest day from active ingredients, moisturise, and use broad-spectrum SPF sunscreen.
PM: Cleanser, apply a vitamin B3 serum or rest, moisturiser.
AM: Cleanse, vitamin C serum, moisturiser, broad-spectrum SPF sunscreen.
PM: Cleanser, niacinamide serum, moisturiser.
Saturday (rest day)
AM: Cleanse and moisturise. Apply a broad-spectrum SPF sunscreen.
PM: Cleanse and moisturise.
AM: Cleanser, vitamin C serum, moisturiser. Apply a broad-spectrum SPF sunscreen.
PM: Cleanser, use a restorative serum, followed by moisturiser.
Skin cycling should be tailored to your skin’s needs
It’s essential always to ensure your skincare regime is tailored to you. What works well for one person may have no impact or even negative consequences for the complexion of another. Always check with a doctor or skincare professional before introducing new active ingredients to prevent irritation.
Remember, less is more, and it’s essential to introduce new active ingredients slowly. Give your skin at least six weeks to adjust before considering any additional changes to your routine. Not everyone needs every active skincare ingredient, so seek support to customise your skincare regimen based on your specific skin concerns and goals.
Some components should be included for everyone: a gentle cleanser, a suitable moisturiser, and always using sunscreen during the day to protect your skin from UV damage.
A radiant complexion is not just skin-deep
Good quality products that align with your needs are a great place to start, but all the skincare in the world can’t do much if your overall health is poor.
The skin does so much more than just look good; it also serves a vital function in our overall wellbeing. But like any organ, you need to focus more on how it feels and protect its function over aesthetics.
“I think people are very hasty with wanting results and can overdo it with active [ingredients], so the principle takeaway is that rest is [equally] as important,” said Dr Purusothaman.
She also stresses remembering staples like the humble moisturiser amidst all the new and trendy products because the skin is, first and foremost, a barrier.
Honouring and respecting its primary function is vital to keeping a healthy relationship with your skin and achieving a radiant complexion from the inside out.