Skin cycling has to be one of the biggest skin care trends to trend on TikTok over the past year. The #skincycling hashtag has over 3.5 billion views on the Gen Z-led platform and unlike many skin care trends, this is one experts can get behind. Until now, it has always referred to a skin care routine for your face. But now, our bodies are getting in on the action.
The coin “skin cycling” was termed by New-York based dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, whose now-viral TikTok video has amassed more than 2.4 million views to date.
“Skin cycling seems to have resonated with so many people around the world because it’s a very intuitive, flexible framework that serves as a blueprint to teach you to listen to your skin,” Bowe told HuffPost. “You have a a guide which provides structure, organization and dials down the guesswork and stress when it comes to optimizing your skin care routine.”
Let’s talk about why skin cycling is a practice that can be applied to the skin on your body, not just your face.
What is skin cycling, anyway?
Skin cycling promotes the idea of using fewer skin care products per day. Many followers adopt a four-day cycle (see details here), changing the skin care products they use each night, rather than piling them all on at once. This not only offers a more balanced routine but also a much-needed break from acids and strong active ingredients. It looks something like this:
- Night one, exfoliation
- Night two, retinol
- Nights three and four, recovery
“People were adding layer after layer onto their skin care routines and experimenting with ingredient combinations that were irritating and damaging,” Bowe said. “It was a recipe for destroying your skin barrier.”
Esthetician and product developer Alicia Lartey said that skin cycling works almost like a doctor’s prescription, whereby you use actives to combat a condition and then focus on hydration and recovery of the skin. This easy-to-follow routine is something that resonated with many people.
So what is body cycling?
The classic four-night skin cycling routine is suitable for the body, too, Bowe said. “Based on your skin’s needs, you can adjust the framework to meet your skin where it is. However, I recommend thicker, richer moisturizers for the body as compared to the face on recovery nights.”
The skin on the body is thicker, which means it can withstand stronger ingredients than the face. On the body, heavier creams normally work really well, but on the face they could clog pores.
Extra care should be taken if you are prone to eczema, psoriasis or other similar conditions and consult your doctor before following any new routine.
“The skin on the body tends to have fewer oil glands compared to facial skin, so moisturizing is very important, particularly for dry skin and in dry conditions,” said New York-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King.
Bowe explained that the face ages faster, as a result of facial expression and contracting muscles, but some areas of the body (like the knees or upper arms) are still prone to thinning. “We can see some similar skin concerns on the body as we see on the face: like breakouts on our chest and back, where oil glands are more concentrated. We see clogged pores on our upper outer arms and thighs,” Bowe said.
There are some ways to enhance this body cycling routine even further, explained board-certified dermatologist Dr. Anar Mikailov. “The key is to apply your body emollient when your skin is still slightly damp, within two to three minutes after getting out of the shower or bath.”
“For normal skin types, exfoliate two to three times a week, either in the shower with a gentle exfoliating wash, or with a gentle body serum or lotion. Look for low-dose AHA or PHA formulas. If you’re using an exfoliating wash, use your normal moisturizer after showering,” Mikailov said. For dryer skin, you might even benefit from moisturizing twice a day.
The benefits of body cycling
Exfoliation not only helps with the skin’s texture, but also with dark spots and pigmentation, as well as minimizing ingrown hair. Peptides and retinoids can help with the skin’s texture, while also preventing thinning skin, often seen on the hands, chest, upper arms and above the knees. “Retinoids also help to increase cell turnover, increase production of collagen and elastin, and decrease discoloration,” King said.
“Recovery nights are especially important, in my opinion — the skin barrier is just as important to support on the body as on the face,” Bowe said. The products used on recovery nights will strengthen the skin barrier and promote skin repair.
“Use ingredients like squalene, peptides, centella and all other skin conditioning agents like glycerine, hyaluronic acid, fatty acids and sometimes certain butters depending on your skin type (eg. petroleum jelly to act as a barrier),” Lartey explained.
The best products for body skin cycling
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KP Away skin polish
“Jojoba oil and squalane have fatty acids in ratios similar to our skin’s natural sebum, making it ideal for the skin. This body wash is fragrance-free and very gently exfoliates the skin.” — Mikailov
Kate Somerville ExfoliKate resurfacing body scrub
“I love it as it’s quite a complex scrub, you have the physical exfoliating element and also the chemical too like AHA [glycolic] and BHA [salicylic].” — Lartey
Dove gentle exfoliating sea minerals body wash
“This is a very gentle physical exfoliation option that I'm particularly liking, as it gently exfoliates and moisturizes the skin, leaving it soft and smooth. Dove's body washes are great because they contain gentle soap substitutes, and they don't contain harsh detergents that can strip moisture from the skin.” — King
Glytone exfoliating body lotion
“A great option if you prefer a chemical exfoliation option. It contains 17.5% free acid value glycolic acid to exfoliate while soothing the skin with allantoin and locking in moisture with petrolatum.” — King
SheaMoisture firming hand and body scrub
“I like this scrub, as it contains organic shea and mango butter to support the skin barrier while it gently physically exfoliates.” — King
Naturium The Perfector salicylic acid skin smoothing body wash
“All of the Naturium body washes are amazing. It’s affordable, comes in large sizes and has great ingredients like glycolic acid, salicylic acid and an enzyme and oil body wash.” — Lartey
Versed Press Restart gentle retinol body lotion
"This contains cocoa butter and squalane to support the skin barrier and lock in moisture, as well as retinol for anti-aging results. It’s a lightweight formulation that absorbs quickly.” — King
“Retinol can be so irritating. Encapsulated retinol helps reduce some of that irritation. This retinol body lotion utilizes encapsulated retinol along with cocoa butter and squalane to moisturize the skin.” — Mikailov
Paula's Choice retinol skin-smoothing body treatment
“It contains 0.1% retinol (for anti-aging), as well as antioxidants to help protect the skin from damage from free radicals, plus humectants to hydrate the skin, emollients to support the skin barrier and occlusives to lock in moisture.” — King
Skintensive sea buckthorn butter
“It’s a gentle, skin-barrier-strengthening body moisturizer that absorbs really quickly and is ideal for dry, sensitive skin. The sea buckthorn extract not only has hydrating and anti-inflammatory fatty acids, it also stimulates collagen for firmer skin.” — Mikailov
KP Away keratosis pilaris treatment emollient
“This coconut oil-based moisturizer is made for those with eczema, keratosis pilaris, and very sensitive skin. It focuses on repairing the lipid barrier of the skin.” — Mikailov
Eucerin UreaRepair Plus
“Using a keratolytic agent such as urea can help with really stubborn cases. These high-strength exfoliating creams can sting.” — Mikailov
Dove Body Love sensitive care body lotion for sensitive skin
“A rich moisturizing formula that supports the skin barrier with ceramides. It contains the ideal combination of humectants, emollients and occlusives. Their studies show that it provides moisturizing benefits for 48 hours. This is a great choice for sensitive skin because it hydrates, supports the skin barrier and locks in moisture, and it doesn't contain any ingredients that are likely to be irritating or drying.” — King
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