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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 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. 

I shared this back in December, and I heard from so many readers that after implementing these steps, they saw a noticeable difference in their skin.

I’ve been doing this for almost a year now, and I will never look back.

What’s great about this is that you don’t have to change or buy new skin care products.

This is simply a system that makes what you already have work better.

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.

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 retinoids are 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 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

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. It’s 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. 

As I update this I’m actually trying Dr. Bowe’s Rential Treatement.

So far, I like it. It’s light and not irritating but I haven’t used it enough to give a full review.

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 improvement. 

On recovery nights, we focus on healing and hydrating. 

After a double cleanse, you can use a hydrating sheet mask, I like this one from Amazon, or apply a hyaluronic serum on damp skin. 

I like this affordable one from La Rouche Posey. or this splurgy one from Caudalie.

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. 

Then I had very thin layer of a night cream.

I love anything from Tatcha.

Either their Dewy Skin Cream or The Silk Cream is just beautiful.

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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MEET THE AUTHOR

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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Virginia Flynn

Tuesday 8th of August 2023

Megan, thank you for this and the posts on morning and night skin care, as well. At age 67, I have tried skin care and routines so numerous, it's hard to remember them all. Lately I've been feeling my skin was looking dull and am so thankful for this post coming at the right time. I started Skin Cycling and my skin as well as my entire being feels so much better: skin for obvious reasons of better care and my being because I'm doing something good for my skin and myself. At first glance, I thought the number of products would leave my skin feeling very greasy, sweaty and slick, but it doesn't, and Slugging is fabulous! I like how you always inspire us to use what we already have, too, in products (and wardrobe). One requirement I have is the product must be cruelty free and I'm glad that more and more companies are going that route. I didn't see it in any of the posts but it's important NOT ignore the neck. The number one sign of aging is the skin on the neck and so often it is ignored. (notice any celebrities faces and necks! Face great, neck not so much!) I used to use a specific neck cream but found the Skin Cycling and face care extended down my neck is just as beneficial. A tip I have to offer is to use a Japanese folding fan (dollar store?) to dry any product such as toner, moisturizer or a makeup setting spray. It's quick and works great! Thanks again, Megan. You provide a valuable service and I look forward to more of your posts.

JenN

Sunday 6th of August 2023

Thank you for encapsulating the routine and explaining "slug". I also like that you included a product used for the routine's steps. Whether I use what I have/like or try something new is a choice I can make, like you provide pretty universally across your material. Keep up the good work Megan!! You are appreciated!

Marybeth

Saturday 5th of August 2023

Hi! I love skin cycling. Thanks to your previous post! I recently started using this product by Tatcha https://www.tatcha.com/product/violet-c-brightening-serum/CF05010T.html

Could you tell me how to use it with the cycling? 😃

Megan Kristel

Monday 7th of August 2023

Any kind of vitamin C product works best in the morning, and must be worn with an SPF.

Judy

Friday 4th of August 2023

Thanks for sharing and thanks for the reminder!

Teresa

Friday 4th of August 2023

Thanks for sharing your evening skin care routine. I'd love to know the morning routine as well.

debi

Friday 4th of August 2023

Hi Megan,

I am a subscriber and very interested in all that you publish...very informative! Am, too, very keen on taking care of my skin and the article on skin cycling was very interesting. I am wondering how to receive your outfit formulas on a weekly basis....the last one I received was mid-July. thank you and have a nice day! Sincerely,

Debi

Megan Kristel

Friday 4th of August 2023

We take a break from Outfit Formulas for a few weeks in the summer but it picks back up in the fall.

sharon

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.

Bird

Friday 16th of December 2022

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

Jayne

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

I

Jennifer

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!

Karen

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.

Jenn

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!