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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 real 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 use  Paula’s Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant is an affordable product I discovered thanks to readers recommending it in our comments.

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 then 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 religiously for years. It is my holy grail product, filled with nutrient-rich botanicals that nourish and moisturize. It’s changed my skin. 

Then you moisturizer.

I started using  Dr. Bowe’s Bowe Glow Microbiome Nourishing Cream, as a first layer. This is what helps rebuild your skin barrier. 

This time of year, I need a rich extra layer of moisture. I love 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. 

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. 

What is Skin Cycling?

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Megan Kristel

Megan Kristel is an entrepreneur, working mom, and former personal stylist. Tired of the one-dimensional portrayal of women online, she founded The Well Dressed Life as a resource for other professional women.

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Monday 19th of December 2022

I watched Dr Bowe's videos and printed your checklist (extremely helpful), I mark my calendar 1-4 so I know what # day it is, I'm stocked up with most of your recommendations and I have religiously used this system for 3 months now. I have never been more consistent with any other skin care before. It is easy and quick. My skin has changed. It always feels hydrated and healthy--and I live in the high desert (cold, dry winters). Total convert to Skin Cycling. Thx for promoting this system and for making it most concise.


Friday 16th of December 2022

Any tips for keeping your hair out of the "slug" during that process at night?


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.


Wednesday 7th of September 2022

This is a great system to simplify the product rotation I have been attempting for so long - thank you! One thing I’d add for consideration - my aesthetician suggested that adding an AHA or similar on the night after the retinoid was helpful, because the AHA acted to slough away what the retinoid did (I’m probably not saying that right but it’s the crux of it). I’ve never heard of slugging but I like the idea - similar to my occasional overnight mask I guess but this seem simpler!

Megan Kristel

Wednesday 7th of September 2022

This is a great point. I actually use the REN Daily Tonic with AHA in my morning routine!