During the height of the COVID lockdown, dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe had an epiphany that is known today as the most essential way to achieve the skin of your dreams: ‘skin cycling’. She recounts, “I was big into my Peloton bike, but eventually began switching up my routine, adding different workouts like pilates and yoga to my weekly schedule to optimize my fitness benefits. I started noticing the positive results of cycling different workouts and that is how my two worlds collided.”
At the time, some of Dr. Bowe’s patients weren’t getting the skin-perfect results they desired, despite using high-end exfoliants up to twice a day. They were only irritating their skin and not getting the benefits of these powerful active ingredients. Dr. Bowe explains, “You can use a nourishing moisturizer twice a day, but when you try to push the workhorses like acids and retinoids, you can actually do more harm than good — including damaging the skin barrier, experiencing low-grade chronic inflammation, increasing free radical damage, accelerating the aging process and worsening hyperpigmentation. I started realizing, as we dove into patients’ actual routines, that, despite the instructed method of use on the bottle, we needed to build in recovery days to let the skin repair.” Enter: Skin cycling.
What Is Skin Cycling?
Skin cycling is Dr. Bowe’s method of achieving healthy glassy skin through the perfect balance of exfoliation, treatment, and recovery. Here’s how it works:
“I don’t skin cycle in the morning,” says Dr. Bowe. “I keep my morning skincare routine predictable: cleanse, pat dry, use a vitamin C product, apply an antioxidant, moisturize and use SPF — this all protects your skin from the stressors of the day.”
The evening is when things change.
“Skin cycling is for nighttime,” she says. “I have sensitive skin, so I choose a four-day cycle (oily skin can opt for the 3-day routine). Night #1 is ‘exfoliation night’ of the skin cycle, I cleanse, pat dry, and use an exfoliating product — I prefer a chemical exfoliant, like an AHA/BHA, over a physical one since scrubs can cause trauma. The next step is a moisturizer. This day is all about priming your skin and fluffing away that dead surface layer of cells inhibiting your products’ ingredients from truly penetrating the skin.”
Night #2, use a cleanser, pat dry, apply retinol or retinoid, and use moisturizer.
From there, it’s all about hydration, nourishment, and re-balancing on night(s) #3/4. “Avoid products with active ingredients and focus more on moisturizing with a prebiotic, squalane oil, jojoba oil, glycerin, or hyaluronic, it’s up to you,” says Dr. Bowe. These recovery nights will restore the skin’s barrier, priming it for the next cycle.
What Are the Effects of Skin Cycling?
Though skin cycling is not in accordance with the methods on most exfoliants’ bottles, Dr. Bowe believes it’s key to accomplishing long-term skin goals. “Patients not only tolerate active ingredients better, but also, they come back reaching skin milestones they didn’t believe possible,” says Dr. Bowe “When I introduced this concept, both those experiencing irritation and those hitting plateaus reported their skin health felt optimized and they were seeing changes.” In a world of immediate results and aggressive exfoliation, Dr. Bowe says rest can be best.
One more thing: patience is key. “Most effective skincare products take time to really deliver; immediate results may be Insta-worthy, but that’s not the key to long-term results,” says Dr. Bowe, adding: “It’s hard for people to go against what brands have been telling them, but it’s important to reconcile what the bottle or a commercial says with what’s best for your skin. We all need to slow down and think of the long-term outcome, not the superficial quick fix.”
Well, I have been doing skin cycling for a couple weeks now, and, as difficult as it has been to cut back on my large collection of active ingredients, I am trusting the process and slowly seeing results that are keeping me steady on the skin cycling course. I’m committed to sticking to it and am excited to see what the next few weeks will bring!