From trailblazing beauty and fashion tips to some of the weirdest food combos we’ve ever seen, TikTok has no shortage of helpful—and not-so-helpful—information. In the former camp, we love the upside-down shampooing method and this sultry reverse cat-eye look.
But a new skincare trend circulating on the app recently caught our eye: skin cycling. We contacted a few dermatologists to verify (or refute) TikTok’s claims, and every doctor’s response was essentially the same.
While this simple beauty routine can offer ample benefits, there are a few caveats to consider for menopausal skin specifically.
So, What Is Skin Cycling?
To put it simply, skin cycling involves switching between retinol, exfoliant, and moisturizing treatments throughout the week. “Splitting up the ‘active’ nights with recovery nights gives the skin extra rest, no matter what your skin type is, and delivers all the active ingredients needed in the routine,” explained Dr. Simran Sethi, founder of skin by Dr. Simran Sethi.
“Skin cycling can be considered an introduction to using higher concentrations of retinol, chemical exfoliants, at-home peels, and other potent, medical-grade ingredients,” Sethi continued. “This helps the skin become accustomed to a new, medical-grade routine without compromising the skin.”
A typical skin cycling routine involves a four-day cycle and three main products.
Night One: Exfoliate
On the first night, begin with a gentle cleanser like CeraVe’s Hydrating Facial Cleanser. This everyday face wash cleans off makeup, dirt, and excess oil. But thanks to its formula of hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and glycerin, your skin isn’t left stripped and dry.
Next, exfoliate the skin. As our skin gets older, cell turnover slows down. Exfoliants help slough off dead skin cells, leaving skin smoother, clearer, and brighter. We love Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant for its effective but gentle formula of 2% beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid, and green tea extract.
Finally, follow up with a lipid- and antioxidant-rich moisturizer like La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer. Even on nights one and two, it’s important to moisturize after placing active ingredients on the skin.
Night Two: Retinol
Whereas exfoliants promote brighter, smoother skin from the outside, retinol helps achieve the same look from beneath the skin’s surface. It’s an active ingredient that catalyzes cell turnover, increases collagen production, and gives the skin a fresher, plumper appearance.
First, start with your daily face wash. Then, apply a pea-sized amount of CeraVe’s Skin Renewing Retinol Serum all over the face. Wait until fully absorbed before applying your lipid-rich moisturizer.
Nights Three & Four: Soothe
Finally, the last two nights of a skin cycling routine should be dedicated to letting the skin rest. Even high-quality exfoliants and retinol can be harsh on menopausal skin (more on that later), so it’s essential to allow adequate time for the skin to recuperate.
Your “soothe” days should be all about rich moisture and luxurious ingredients in addition to your normal cleanser and moisturizer. As we’ve mentioned in a previous article, we love the ultra-hydrating formula of the COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence.
You can also follow this up with a lavish face oil such as Kate Blanc’s Rosehip Seed Oil. This 100% pure, cold-pressed rosehip oil is anti-inflammatory and contains rich fatty acids. It may help reduce the appearance of wrinkles, scarring, and uneven skin tone.
The Caveat For Menopausal Skin
Of course, a quick scroll through the “skin cycling” hashtag will reveal that many of the women trying out this trend are young—like, born-in-the-new-millennia young. And as great as their skin looks, it probably isn’t just the skin cycling that makes it look different from the women born, say, 30 years before them.
“As women experience menopause, the skin can begin to thin, become translucent, and increase in fragility,” explained Jennifer Tran, BscN, RN, founder of Monaco Medical Aesthetics. “This makes the skin more susceptible to broken capillaries, redness, and dryness. The hyaluronic acid content in the skin reduces, creating a more sallow, dull, and deflated texture.”
“Retinol promotes cell turnover, which is expected to cause more dryness, so a rich moisturizer is essential,” Tran continued. “The importance of a moisturizer becomes even more so when working with thinner and sensitive skin related to hormonal changes.”
Additionally, she said, “Exfoliants should be used at lower strengths.” Tran recommended AHA-class exfoliants that are typically safer for menopausal skin. (BHA-class exfoliants should only be used in small quantities—around 2% at most.)
One of our favorite AHA exfoliants is The Ordinary’s AHA 30% + BHA 2%, which has become an internet phenomenon for its ability to potentially improve skin radiance and texture (just be sure not to leave it on for more than 10 minutes). As a bonus, this two-pack also includes a hyaluronic acid serum perfect to use on your “soothe” nights!
Generally speaking, skin cycling is an easy-to-follow, uncluttered wellness routine, and dermatologists back its benefits. However, it’s important to consider how to implement this routine in the most effective (and safest) way possible: Don’t skimp out on the moisturizer, and keep your exfoliants on the softer side.