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The Complete Guide to Skin Cycling

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

If you dedicate any time whatsoever to #BeautyTok, you’ve definitely come across the concept of skin rotation. Beauty enthusiasts and professionals alike swear by this technique, which involves altering your daily skincare routine every night, typically following a four-day pattern, in order to maximize the benefits of each product. The idea behind this method is to prevent irritation caused by the continuous use of harsh active ingredients and to ensure that your skin doesn’t build up “immunity” to specific components. But is skin rotation just a passing trend? Or is it a truly advantageous approach that you should definitely give a try? In the following sections, dermatologists offer their insights on what skin rotation entails and how to get started. Spoiler alert: The professionals we consulted are generally enthusiastic supporters of this technique.

Understanding Skin Rotation

Skin rotation involves establishing a schedule for incorporating different skincare products into your routine. While the general consensus is to follow a four-day cycle, dermatologists emphasize that this schedule can be adjusted according to your skin’s specific needs. It is also possible to rotate products every few days or weeks, instead of changing them daily for four consecutive days. “Skin rotation refers to a skincare routine that incorporates active ingredients on specific days, followed by ‘rest days,'” explains Michele Green, M.D., a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist. “The aim is to maximize the benefits of active ingredients while minimizing irritation.”

For Dr. Green, “Skin rotation consists of a four-day cycle and is centered around nighttime skincare routines.” The expert proceeds to outline a typical skin rotation plan: “On the first night, a chemical exfoliant is utilized to eliminate the buildup of dead skin cells and deeply cleanse the pores,” she states. “On the second night, a retinoid is applied to promote collagen production and skin cell turnover for anti-aging advantages. Nights three and four are considered ‘rest days,’ during which the skin can recover using gentle products focused on hydration, nourishment, and repair.”

By practicing skin rotation, you can also target different skin concerns and derive greater benefits from each product you use. “Skin rotation may involve alternating between products containing different active ingredients, such as AHAs, BHAs, vitamin C, and retinol,” notes Aanand Geria, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist.

By alternating amidst items with diverse components, you can assist in thwarting your epidermis from growing a tolerance to a specific component, which may decrease its efficacy over time.

How to Cycle Your Skin

There is a specific regimen that advocates of skin cycling commonly suggest, which Hope Mitchell, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Mitchell Dermatology, explains for Shape. “To start, ensure that your nightly routine involves cleansing your face with a mild cleanser that does not contain any potentially irritating ingredients like salicylic acid,” the expert states. “The subsequent step, which varies depending on the time of day, is to apply retinol (retinoid), an exfoliant, or a product that moisturizes the skin. After applying the active components, it is crucial to follow up with a moisturizer to hydrate the skin.” For this stage, Dr. Geria advises to “select a moisturizer that offers ample hydration and is suitable for your skin type. Seek a non-comedogenic moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid or ceramides to help retain moisture.”

Below, we delve into detail about what to do on each evening of a typical four-day cycle, but remember that you should tailor your regimen to address your specific skin concerns (Dr. Geria mentions dryness, oiliness, acne, or dullness, for instance), and establish a routine that aligns with your schedule and habits. It is also important to incorporate more rest days if you notice any irritation on your skin at any point, as noted by Dr. Green.

Night 1: Shed Dead Skin

“Night one involves exfoliation, as it is the initial step in removing the buildup of dead skin cells and enabling subsequent products to penetrate deeper,” explains Dr. Green. “Chemical exfoliants such as AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs are preferred over physical exfoliants (such as sugar scrubs) since chemical exfoliants are gentler on the skin.”

For this stage, Dr. Mitchell suggests the following products as a reference: Neutrogena Skin Perfecting Daily Liquid Facial Exfoliant ($12), La Roche-Posay Glycolic B5 Dark Spot Corrector ($47), Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant ($34), and Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant ($34).

Night 2: Retinoids

“Evening two incorporates retinoids, a variation of vitamin A that includes retinol, which is gentler and is accessible without a prescription, and prescription medication like tretinoin, which is more potent,” Dr. Green states. “Retinoids are advantageous for combating aging and reducing discoloration and sun spots. Retinol is a prevalent component utilized in skincare products formulated to combat aging in order to soften the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, sun spots, and age spots.”

For this stage, Dr. Mitchell suggests: CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum ($20), No7 Pure Retinol 1% ($44), RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Daily Serum ($24), and Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Peptide Night Face Moisturizer Cream ($24).

Nights 3 and 4: Rest

“Nights three and four concentrate on recuperation, utilizing hydrating and nourishing moisturizers and serums to facilitate skin healing and repair,” states Dr. Green. “Components such as ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin are beneficial during the days of rest.”

In this case, Dr. Mitchell suggests the following: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Face Moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid ($19), CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion ($17), and La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer ($22).

The Advantages of Skin Rotation

Undoubtedly, skin rotation entails a bit more effort on your part to maintain than your typical nightly routine, so you likely want to understand why it might prove beneficial.

Could Enhance Product Efficiency

Firstly, Dr. Geria explains that skin rotation could potentially enhance the efficiency of products. “By alternating various products or ingredients, you might be able to boost their effectiveness and achieve better results compared to consistent usage,” he states.

Might Prevent Irritation

Secondly, skin rotation might help in preventing potential irritation. “If you possess sensitive skin or react to specific products, skin rotation could aid in reducing the risk of irritation by allowing your skin to take a break from a particular ingredient or product,” says Dr. Geria.

Promotes Optimal Hydration

Thirdly, Dr. Geria mentions that skin rotation can assist in “maintaining a moisture balance in the skin.” The alternation between harsher products and gentle cleansing and moisturizing enables the skin to adequately absorb and retain moisture.

Optimizes Exfoliation Benefits

Dr. Geria further elaborates, “By alternating between different types of exfoliants or adjusting the intervals of their usage, you can optimize their exfoliating benefits without going overboard.” Some individuals attempt to increase the frequency of exfoliation to regularly eliminate dry skin. However, excessive exfoliation can harm the skin barrier, stripping away the protective layer that seals in moisture.

Ideal for Temperature or Seasonal Shifts

Moreover, skin rotation may be particularly beneficial “when transitioning from warm to cold weather, which causes dry skin,” explains Dr. Green, as exfoliation and the use of retinoids can further irritate the skin. Spacing out product usage can help retain moisture during the transition from warmer, humid environments to harsher, colder, and drier weather.

Who Should Consider Skin Rotation?

Every individual’s skin is unique, so while skin rotation may address certain concerns, it may not be suitable for everyone. “This type of routine can be especially advantageous for individuals with acne-prone skin, as it can help reduce existing breakouts and prevent future ones,” says Dr. Mitchell. This is because many chemical exfoliants like glycolic and salicylic acid are beneficial for skin prone to acne.

However, the expert does not recommend this method for all of her patients and clients. “The truth is that not everyone can benefit from this routine,” she states. “Thoughtful product selection is particularly crucial for individuals with sensitive skin in order to avoid irritation, rashes, and other adverse reactions. On the other hand, with careful product selection, individuals with sensitive skin can reduce the risk of retinol irritation.” Dr. Green adds that skin rotation could be a great option for those aiming to combat “dullness and indications of aging.”

While skin rotation is generally safe for a significant portion of individuals, there are still some who should refrain from using this method. “Skin rotation is not recommended for individuals with active acne, rosacea, and eczema, as acids and retinoids can irritate and damage the skin,” says Dr.


Those utilizing prescription medicine should consult with a dermatologist before attempting skin cycling.

For individuals with delicate skin, skin cycling may be a matter of trial and error; however, there are methods to minimize potential irritation. “If you possess sensitive skin or have not utilized acids or retinoids in the past, execute a small patch test to ensure there is no allergic response, and allow a couple of days to observe a delayed reaction,” Dr. Green recommends. “Ensure to introduce each active component individually and let your skin become accustomed to it before commencing another active component.”

If you are unsure whether skin cycling is suitable for you, it is always a good notion to seek a consultation with a dermatologist beforehand — but as long as you take a few precautions and pay attention to how your skin responds to specific products, it is also entirely acceptable to try it on your own initially. Who knows? You may conclude by adoring it.

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