Skin care can be hard to get right. With so many beauty trends and new products to follow, just taking care of your skin can be a bit daunting. A handful of dermatologists on social media try to make it easier, including Whitney BoweMD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Whitney Bowe Beautywith a little practice she likes to call “the skin cycle”.
Dr. Bowe often preaches the benefits of the skin cycle to his 366,800 subscribers, prompting many to try the method for themselves and even take notes to help better understand the process. So what is it? At its most basic, the skin cycle helps you get the most out of your nighttime skincare routine (not your morning) by being strategic about how and when to use certain products. If you’re new to the skin cycle or need a little help figuring it out, we got the scoop straight from Dr. Bowe herself. Keep reading to find out what the skin cycle is, how to do it at home, and why it’s beneficial.
What is the skin cycle?
Dr. Bowe explains that the skin cycle takes your nighttime skincare routine “to the next level” to achieve great results by being strategic and deliberate about what products you use and when. “It’s a simple yet incredibly effective skincare variation that has been a huge hit for my patients and now for thousands of my social media followers,” she says. “It lets you get all the benefits of your powerful assets, without the downsides, [such as] irritation and sensitivity.”
The skin cycle is a four-night process that goes something like this:
Night 1: Exfoliation
On the first evening, you exfoliate. “I choose chemical exfoliants over harsh physical scrubs,” says Dr. Bowe. “This type of exfoliation gives your skin an immediate glow, but also sets you up to get the most out of the second night.” Great chemical exfoliating ingredients include alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHA). One of our favorites is the Shani Darden AHA Lactic Acid Exfoliating Serum ($88).
Night 2: Retinol
The next night you use retinol. “Retinoids are one of the most powerful ingredients to include in your skin cycle routine,” says Dr. Bowe. “However, if you try to use them too frequently or layer them on other potentially irritating ingredients, you end up with inflammation rather than results.” For this reason, it is preferable to use retinol alone as the only exfoliating or resurfacing ingredient in your routine. We like it Inkey List Anti-Aging Retinol Serum ($11) or the Medik8 Crystal Retinal 3 Serum ($62).
Nights 3 and 4: Recovery
Nights three and four are all about letting your skin rest, which is important for protect your barrier against moisture. “Hold back the exfoliating acids and retinoids and give your skin a chance to recover,” says Dr. Bowe. “On recovery nights, you want to focus on nourishing your skin microbiome and repairing your skin barrier, so think hydration and moisture.” Use ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramidesand glycerine when your recovery nights are the best. Some of our favorite moisturizers to use on your recovery night are the Dr. Whitney Bowe Beauty Bowe Glow Microbiome Nourishing Cream ($95) and the Isla Beauty Whipped Dream Cream ($56).
After the fourth night, you return to the start of the cycle and repeat.
The benefits of the skin cycle
This practice allows you to reap the benefits of your exfoliants and retinoids without overdoing it and causing irritation. “There are two groups of people who will benefit the most from the Skin Cycle: those who are overwhelmed by all the products and don’t know where to start, and those who are already using great products but are plateauing in results” , says Dr. Bowe says.
The cadence at which you use the products is important because too much of a good thing — like strong acids and retinoids — can actually be bad. One of the telltale signs of excess is a damaged skin barrier, which drives the skin into a “state of chronic, low-grade inflammation,” says Dr. Bowe. “This leads to free radical damage and oxidative stress, accelerating the aging process, predisposing to sensitive skin and breakouts, and even worsening hyperpigmentation.”
Every skin type can benefit from trying the skin cycle. “You can make small changes depending on your skin type and your goals,” says Dr. Bowe. For example, if you have sensitive or dry skin, you can use a lower quality retinol or acid or add a third night of recovery to the rotation. Those with acne-prone skin, on the other hand, can benefit from testing their skincare routine on a three-day cycle: exfoliation, retinoid, recovery, repeat. It’s all about finding what’s right for you.
How fast does the skin cycle work?
According to Dr. Bowe, you can start seeing results on your skin after just eight days, or two full cycles. “You can expect to see a healthier glow and overall glow in your skin,” she says. “Overall skin should look and feel more hydrated and softer to the touch.”
The longer your skin cycle, the more difference you will notice in your skin tone.