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What is Skin Cycling?

What is Skin Cycling?

The big buzz in skincare is Skin Cycling.

If you haven’t heard of it and are a skincare enthusiast like me, keep reading.

Skin Cycling is a term and system created by Dr. Whitney Bowe, an award-winning, board-certified dermatologist and scientist based in New York.

It’s a system that takes the guesswork out of when to apply active products, so you get the absolute most out of them, eliminate irritation and build healthy, youthful-looking skin. 

Please note that this post is in no way sponsored.

What is Skin Cycling?

A Collection of Skincare Products

Maintaining healthy skin as we age is easier than ever, but with so many products at our fingertips, it’s also overwhelming.

We know what works: exfoliation, retinoids, hydration, and sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen.

For the most part, I spend on skincare products. This is because I have incredibly sensitive skin, and I can honestly say, since becoming diligent and investing in my routine a few years ago, my skin has never looked better.

Last year, I researched the best order to apply your nighttime skincare and shared my routine here.  

Learning the correct way to layer products made a big difference. 

But I still had one question: when should you apply certain products? 

I knew I didn’t want to exfoliate every night, and retinoid is too strong for nightly use, at least for me. So like a lot of women, I was randomly alternating nights with no understanding of what worked.

That’s where Skin Cycling comes in to clear things up. 

I discovered Dr. Bowe on TikTok. She is also on Instagram. I encourage you to follow her on either platform as her content is wonderfully helpful.

She created the concept of Skin Cycling to allow the active ingredients in your products to work better and give your skin barrier time to heal by purposefully staggering your usage out over four days.

Below, I’m sharing my favorite products and more affordable options when appropriate.

But use what you already have if you love it. 

Dr. Bowe’s Four Night Skin Cycling Routine: 

4 night skin cycling schedule

I’ve been doing this for a month now and see such a remarkable difference without changing my products. 

You’ll start with a clean face every night, and I am a big proponent of double cleansing

On your first night, you exfoliate.

Dr. Bowe recommends a leave-on chemical exfoliator instead of a physical exfoliant that you would rinse off because physical exfoliants can be too tough on the skin.

Currently, I’m using the new GOOPGLOW Exfoliating Dark Spot Sleep Serum.

I’m not too fond of the price, but I do like that it’s gentle on my sensitive skin. I’m trying it out because I LOVED their original exfoliant that was recently discontinued. So we’ll see if I keep going after I finish this bottle. 

The Paula’s Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant is a lower-price option. Many women use this in this process, with excellent results. 

Let this sit for a moment, and you can layer on a little moisturizer before bed. 

On night two, you’ll use your retinoid product

On a clean, DRY face, you’ll apply your retinoid.

For prescription retinoids, you only want to use a pea size amount—one on your face, one on your neck, and two on your chest area. Rub any leftovers on the top of your hands. 

I’m using an easy-to-buy, non-prescription retinol serum by Farmacy. It’s non-irritating and doesn’t dry out my skin. 

I’ve also used the Roc Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Anti-Aging Night Cream, which is super affordable and has many loyal users. 

Add a little moisturizer on top after it settles before bed. 

Nights three and four are my favorite, focused on recovery. 

Dr. Bowe’s research shows that our skin benefits from using active ingredients and giving the skin barrier time to process and heal. And this is when I started to see the most significant difference. 

On recovery nights, we focus on healing and hydrating. 

After a double cleanse, you can use a hydrating sheet mask, then apply a hyaluronic serum on damp skin. I like this affordable one from La Rouche Posey. 

Once that sets, I gently press in a small amount of Vintner’s Daughter.

This isn’t necessary, but I have used Vintner’s Daughter for years. It is my holy grail product, filled with nutrient-rich botanicals that nourish and moisturize. It’s changed my skin. 

Then add in your favorite nighttime moisturizer.

I like anything from Tatcha. Either their Dewy Skin Cream or The Silk Cream is just beautiful. I flip back and forth because one is always sold out. 

I also ordered Dr. Bowe’s Bowe Glow Microbiome Nourishing Cream, and I only just received it this weekend. However, it gets many excellent reviews, so I’ll report back. 

Finally, if you want to, you can “slug.”

Slugging is simply coating your face in an occlusive moisturizer, like Vaseline or any petrolatum-based formula, to “lock” in moisture. It sounds ridiculous, and you look like a glazed donut, but you wake up looking plump and glowy.

For this, I use CeraVe Healing Ointment. It’s inexpensive (you don’t have to spend here) and doesn’t clog my pores. 

Then repeat the process; you’ll start to see your skin respond immediately. 

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What is Skin Cycling?

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Friday 30th of September 2022

Im interested in the slugging! How do you cleanse your face on the morning after?

Lianne MacGregor

Tuesday 13th of September 2022

I love this idea and already have most of the products needed - just need to use them differently. With respect to the slog idea...since I always end up with my face planted in my pillow, I guess I'd better switch to inexpensive pillowcases!

Megan Kristel

Wednesday 14th of September 2022

Yes! I had to, too!

Lianne MacGregor

Tuesday 13th of September 2022



Monday 12th of September 2022

Super article! I have a bunch of these products but never used them consistently. I think this schedule is totally doable. The only one I had to buy was a retinol product and the slug. Pro Tip (or at least a newbie's tip): Put a face towel on your pillow on slug nights!

Megan Kristel

Monday 12th of September 2022

Thanks, Jennifer! And yes, great tip. I actually purchased very inexpensive silk pillowcases just for slugging nights!


Friday 9th of September 2022

Thank you Meg. I've never heard of this, but like you. have super sensitive skin. I use the entire Tatcha line. I'm always confused my the application sequence of the products, so this is very helpful.

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