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Does skin cycling live up to the hype?

While this viral TikTok skin care method, coined by New York-based dermatologist Dr Whitney Bowe has its benefits, not everyone really needs to try it out

Skincare is personal and it is best not to hop onto viral trends
Skincare is personal and it is best not to hop onto viral trends (Pexels)

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Skincare is personal. It has been around for ages with our grandmothers, using various herbs and kitchen ingredients to beautify their skin. With international brands flooding the market and Indian brands stepping up their skincare game, today, the consumer is spoilt for choice and this excess is proving tricky. This is where the viral TikTok skin care method, skin cycling, a term coined by New York-based dermatologist Dr Whitney Bowe comes in.

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Skin cycling refers to the cyclical order in which products are applied to the skin. Instead of applying multiple products every day, this method involves using products tactically in a way which complements one another. It includes ‘rest days’ during the week wherein no active products are used, allowing the skin to repair itself after using certain products. Mumbai-based dermatologist, Dr Manasi Shirolikar, who goes by on Instagram, has been recommending this method to her patients long before this routine had a name or became popular. “It is a commonly incorporated protocol and comes in handy when using potent formulations of retinoids or exfoliants”, she says.

So how does skin cycling work? According to Shirolikar, “The most common method is using the 'four-day cycle', wherein you use active ingredient serums or creams for two nights followed by two nights of rest; the same is then repeated. The rest days are supposed to give your skin barrier time to heal and repair," she says. 

A step-by-step breakdown of skin cycling would look something like this:

Day One: Exfoliator

After cleansing, an exfoliator like glycolic or salicylic acid is used which takes off the dead skin cells from the surface layer of your skin. This is followed by a moisturizer.

Day Two: Retinoid

On the second day of the routine, retinol or retinoid is used. Dr Shirolikar appears to be a strong advocate of retinoids.  “They do it all - from acne prevention to decreasing pigmentation to anti-ageing.” She also recommends beginners use the “sandwich technique” where one uses a layer of moisturiser before as well as after using retinol.

Day Three and Four: Recovery

On these two days, no exfoliators or retinoids. Instead, the focus is on hydrating serums and soothing moisturisers to repair the skin’s natural barrier.

This is a typical four-day cycle but one can adjust it as per their skin’s needs. Pune-based dermatologist, Dr Hitasha Patil from Kaya Skin Clinic recommends going easy on rest days. “It takes time for the skin to adjust to skin cycling," she points out. Although it doesn’t happen with everyone, some people experience redness, irritation and burning sensation because of the active ingredients incorporated into the routine. "The rest days are designed to tackle just this. So slather your skin with moisturisers containing ceramides or skin-repairing serums”, says Patil. 

Dr Bowe’s method accounts for different sorts of sensitivity. According to her, if one is experiencing sensitivity and irritation, they can increase their recovery nights, or if one is well adjusted to retinoid, one we can omit recovery night in a three-night cycle.

Aleena Darwesh, 26, from Mumbai, a skincare content creator, has been using the skin cycling technique long before it became viral and is quite happy with it. “As an advanced skincare user, alternating between retinol and exfoliators always gave me the best results for my skin. This later went on to become the trend we know today. I think it works great as a pre-made template for beginners who don’t know how to set a routine for themselves,” says Darwesh.

Also read: How the beauty industry exploits our fear of ageing

Having said that, every skin type is different and skin cycling is a technique which can benefit some people more than others. Shirolikar believes that anyone who has sensitive skin would benefit most from this. "If you are someone who doesn't have time for elaborate skincare routines you would be a good candidate for skin cycling as well”, she adds, something Dr Patil agrees on. “We are a generation that is over-exfoliated. Giving breaks to your skin to recover would be the right answer to clear, glowing skin. It keeps the skin barrier happy which in turn results in healthy skin.”

However, there are sceptics in the skincare space. Dr Sonal Bansal, Consultant - Dermatology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram is one of them. “People who have sensitive skin will definitely benefit from skin cycling,” she agrees, adding that skincare trends need to be adapted to various cultures. Indian skin, in general, is a bit more resistant to allergies or irritation, especially to a product, she points out, adding that one must consult a qualified dermatologist before trying out any new trend. "Why would we want to restrict the beneficial effects of any active/ retinol when we get away just fine by using it daily?”

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