From what it is to what products to try, here’s what you need to know about the skincare trend taking TikTok by storm

There’s no denying that TikTok is a major influence on the beauty world. Just a scroll through our feeds and we’re met with a whole array of trends and hacks that leave us reconsidering everything we’ve ever known about skincare and make-up. And while that may sound dramatic, the app is wholly responsible for the fact we tried 90s trends for a week and tested out some (rather kooky) TikTok concealer hacks in the name of beauty. Yup, it’s safe to say we’re pretty much hooked.

However, while we’re always up for a bit of fun, we’re very much beauty nerds, and are ever eager to dispel myth from magic. And when it comes to what’s trending on TikTok, it would appear that there’s always going to be a bit of both.

One trend reigning supreme at the moment? Skin cycling, which has nearly 110 million views on TikTok at the time of writing. Created by and coined by New York dermatologist Dr Whitney Bowe, it’s a method that followers and ‘Derm-Tok’ can’t get enough of.

Want to give it a try? We’ve enlisted the help of skincare experts to answer all your questions. Scroll on for everything you need to know…

What is skin cycling?

When Dr Bowe noticed that clients were coming into her office with irritated and inflamed skin as a result of overuse of powerhouse products like exfoliants and retinoids, she knew she needed to find a solution. And so skin cycling was born. Not to be confused with the natural renewal cycle of your skin (more on that another day), the practice can be described as the strategic cycling of your skincare products over different nights, incorporating active nights (one for exfoliation and one for a retinoid) and recovery nights.

"Skin cycling involves rotating your skincare products so you don’t over-exfoliate skin, done over four nights," clarifies Dr Elif Benar, dermatologist.

What are the benefits to skin cycling?

If you consider yourself a bit of a hoarder when it comes to your lotions and potions, then listen up, because skin cycling could be just for you. It’s all about using your products more strategically to help streamline your skincare routine and build in some much needed rest time for your skin barrier.

"Skin cycling is fast becoming a go-to skincare regime mostly because it allows you to balance your active and recovery nights," says Dr Benar. "With this process, you can get great results while minimising irritation and sensitising skin."

Dr Dev Patel, aesthetic doctor and dermatologist agrees. "Primarily, this strategy should prevent over-zealous users from excessive exfoliating, which can lead to dry and irritated skin," he explains. "And it essentially simplifies things – it can be confusing when you have multiple products on the bathroom shelf!"

What skin types can benefit from skin cycling?

"Skin cycling is suitable for pretty much all skin types," says Dr Patel. "With the combined use of retinoids and acids, you can see significant improvements in texture and a reduction in the appearance of pores." It all comes down to what products you use, and how you use them (more on that in a moment). 

Your skin cycling routine – the 4-night cycle, explained

Night 1

Night one is exfoliation night, where, after cleansing, we look to slough away dead skin cells using exfoliating products (specifically, acids). But where do we begin?

"There’s an array of acids in the AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) and BHA (beta hydroxy acids) families that you can reach for," says Dr Patel. "Glycolic acid is popular and effective and may help with hyperpigmentation caused by sun damage." If you’re congestion-prone, Dr Patel suggests trying pyruvic or salicylic acid, while mandelic acid can be a good all-rounder.

Sensitive skin type?

"For a gentler option, there’s lactic acid, which is also very good for hydrating. You could also choose a product with a PHA (poly-hydroxy acid), which is known to be mild and thus good for sensitive skin," suggests Dr Patel.

Lock in with a slick of moisturiser and head to bed.

Night 2

Night two involves applying a retinoid, a derivative of vitamin A that can help lessen the appearance of wrinkles. Apply a pea-sized amount to dry skin after cleansing and finish with a layer of moisturiser on top. But when retinoids can sometimes cause irritation (say, if you’re new to the family of ingredients or have particularly sensitive skin), how can you make an informed choice about what product might work best for your skin type?

"In terms of percentage, 1% is my personal ideal, but as it can cause sensitivity,  it may be too irritating for some," says Dr Patel. "You can always start with a lower concentration – there’s no rush."

Have a good scan of your ingredients label too. "It may sound obvious, but if you’re choosing a retinol product, make sure the ingredient list actually states retinol," he adds.

Start applying it once a week and gradually work your way up. You might even want to try applying a moisturiser underneath as well as on top (a technique called 'buffering') to help slow down the rate of absorption on tetchier areas, while your skin gets used to the ingredient.

Check out our guide to using retinol for more expert tips and tricks.

Nights 3 & 4

Two nights of skincare rest and relaxation? Coming right up!

"Just like you give your brain a break on the weekends, it’s also important to give your skin a break from active ingredients too," says Dr Benar. This way, it helps enable consistency and reduces the risk of irritation.

But what skincare should we be seeking out and applying on recovery nights? 

On recovery nights, reach for replenishing, nourishing creams enriched with hydrating ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid to help support the skin barrier as it adjusts to your active nights. Formulations created with the needs of sensitive skin in mind could be a great starting point.

Are there any downsides to skin cycling?

While there are no obvious downsides to skin cycling, it’s important to be adaptable in your approach.

"Every single person is unique," reminds Dr Patel. "Our skin health fluctuates on a daily basis, influenced by diet, stress, sleep, menstrual cycle and more. It’s therefore important to know how to adjust one's regime based on changes that may occur."

"There’s no need to remain totally rigid, and it’s important to work out what works for you," he adds. For example, you might want to introduce more recovery nights into your routine if your skin’s feeling tight or uncomfortable while it gets used to your exfoliant and retinoid nights. "Don’t be afraid to speak to a professional if you want tailored advice," says Dr Patel.

Should we wear sunscreen while skin cycling?

The short answer? Yes!

"You must always wear sunscreen… full stop!" says Dr Patel. "Retinol and other exfoliators do potentially increase sun sensitivity but regardless, sunscreen is the first and most vital consideration when commencing a skincare regime. Always put it on as the final step of your morning skincare regime 365 days a year."

Need some help on sunscreens for darker skin tones? Check out seven of our favourites.

8 of the best skin cycling products at Boots

Whether you’re hoping to improve the look of your skin texture, would like a helping hand with pigmentation or are just dealing with dull or dry skin, here are eight of Team Health & Beauty’s favourite products to consider adding into your skin cycling routine. 

Shop more top skincare products in our full range.

For an alpha hydroxy acid exfoliator

Try: The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA

• Size: 30ml

• Alcohol-free

• Oil-free

• Silicone-free

• Suitable for vegans

• Cruelty-free

This formulation promises bright, glowing skin, and, after trying it for ourselves, we can say it delivers. It combines gentle lactic acid with hydrating hyaluronic acid to reveal a more radiant complexion.

For a beta hydroxy acid exfoliator

Try: Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid

• Size: 100ml

• Hypoallergenic

• Dermatologically tested

• Suitable for vegans

This exfoliating solution formulated with decongesting willow bark water and betaine salicylate makes it perfect for removing impurities and dead cells. Simply dispense onto a cotton pad and sweep over a freshly cleansed complexion for softer, smoother skin. If you’re new to AHAs or BHAs, patch test first to see how your skin reacts.

For a poly hydroxy acid

Try: Dr. Jart+ Pore Remedy PHA Exfoliating Serum

• Size: 30ml

• Dermatologically tested

Help refine skin texture with Dr. Jart’s pore exfoliating serum. It contains PHA, a chemical exfoliator known to be gentler than AHAs and BHAs. We’re hooked.

For a retinol serum

Try: Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Serum

• Size: 30ml

• Contains encapsulated retinol and retinol alternatives

A little worried about trying retinol? This serum’s formula containing encapsulated retinol and botanical retinol alternatives (like bakuchiol) could help you overcome your fear. Created to provide the benefits of the ingredient with a lower risk of irritation, it can help improve the appearance of everything from skin texture to uneven skin tone. If you’re new to retinoids, patch test for added peace of mind.

For a higher concentration retinol serum

Try: No7 Pure Retinol 1% Retinol Night Concentrate

• Size: 30ml

• Fragrance-free

• Dermatologist approved

Designed for more experienced retinol users, you’ll see fabulous results with this wonder product. It’s infused with pure retinol and seriously fancy collagen peptide-based technology to help improve the look of skin as you sleep.

For a moisturiser suited to sensitive skin

Try: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Sensitive Crème

• Size: 40ml

• Fragrance-free

• Alcohol-free

One of our favourite moisturisers for sensitive skin, just a sweep is enough to help reduce discomfort or tightness on recovery nights. It’s so gentle, it’s even suitable for babies!

For a post-retinol moisturiser

Try: Avène Tolérance Control Soothing Skin Recovery Cream

• Size: 40ml

• Fragrance-free

Hypersensitive skin? We got you. Apply this on nights three and four or after your retinol serum to provide instant relief and hydration. And don’t forget the neck and eye contour area – they’re just as important.

For a nourishing SPF

Try: Hello Sunday The Mineral One Mineral Face Sunscreen SPF 50

• Size: 50ml

• Contains mineral filters

• SPF 50

• Suitable for vegans

With retinol and exfoliating acids making skin more sensitive to UV rays, wearing sunscreen is more important than ever. Great for delicate skin types, it helps soothe and provide an extra hydration boost all without leaving a chalky, mask-like finish behind thanks to a non-cosmetic tint. Genius. 

Not sure on the right product for you? Try our skincare tool & find a personalised solution