Even if you’re not relying on beauty influencers to get up to speed on the latest skincare and makeup trends, there’s no denying that TikTok has proven to have a powerful influence on consumers’ buying habits — especially Gen Z. The latest craze poised to break the internet is skin cycling, a calculated method of using your skincare products to achieve a healthy, glowing complexion. As proof positive, Dr. Whitney Bowe’s TikTok video describing this newfound sensation has 3.5 billion views and counting.
The New York dermatologist has garnered the support of other derms and media worldwide. Why? It’s not out there like other Gen Z trends, such as “dolphin skin” or “facial icing.” It’s a simple concept inspired by her patients and considered a game-changer for your skin’s health. It’s also super simple and easy to follow.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that a skin pro adept enough to come up with such an approach would develop her own line of products to make it even easier to jump on the skin cycling bandwagon. Let’s dive deeper into how skin cycling works and review Bowe’s coveted initial product launches.
Why Skin Cycling?
A show of hands for all beauty product junkies, with a medicine cabinet and drawers bursting at the seams with copious lotions and potions. While it’s fun to experiment with new formulas, there’s no denying that the beauty product market has become oversaturated — which has inadvertently caused consumers to overcomplicate their skincare routine. Unfortunately, this can exacerbate skin concerns instead of treating them.
The Foundation of Skin Cycling: To Protect Skin Barrier Function
The purpose of skin cycling is simple: It’s a streamlined nighttime skincare routine adopting a less-is-more approach to improve one’s complexion while effectively addressing issues associated with all skin types and ages. The products are meant to work harmoniously — not against — one another to help protect the skin’s natural barrier versus disrupting it.
Numerous biochemical changes (or reactions) occur to and in the skin cells as they migrate from the bottom layer of your epidermis (stratum basale) to the top layer for this barrier to function appropriately.
Additionally, external and internal factors, such as irritants (think cleansing products, certain skincare ingredients, environmental pollutants), certain skin conditions, some medications, and health-related problems, can potentially disrupt your moisture barrier.
When the moisture barrier is intact, your complexion is smooth, clear, plump, well-balanced (not too dry, not too oily), and has a healthy glow. The lipids in the natural moisture barrier are made up of about 50% ceramides, 35% cholesterol, and 15% fatty acids, all of which contribute to why our skin looks and feels the way it does when it’s in a healthy state.
However, a damaged skin barrier has small, microscopic skin cracks, making it easier for moisture to escape and irritants to enter. Essentially, your skin has lost its primary source of protection. Common signs of a broken skin barrier include dryness, dehydration, irritation, itchiness, flakiness, cracks or fissures, rough texture, increased sensitivity, and advanced (or new) breakouts.
Skin Cycling Steps
According to her blog Derm Scribbles, Bowe describes the approach to skin cycling much like a solid exercise routine. Just as you shouldn’t work on the same muscle groups two days in a row, you should also avoid using powerhouse ingredients like retinol or exfoliating acids one day to the next without taking a short break.
Of course, don’t forgo products not mentioned, such as cleanser, toner (or essence), and eye cream. Remember, this is a P.M. routine incorporating ingredients that make your skin more sun sensitive, so don’t forget to use SPF during the day.
Night 1: Exfoliate
Bowe prefers chemical exfoliants versus abrasive physical scrubs. In short, chemical exfoliants dissolve dead skin cells, whereas physical exfoliants slough them off. Available as a cream, lotion, mask, gel, pads, or even a cleanser, chemical exfoliants are sometimes labeled as a “peel” because they have a slight chemical peel effect.
Bowe developed a chemical exfoliating serum, Exfoliation Night Resurfacing + Brightening Serum, to encourage an immediate glow while prepping the skin for night two.
Night 2: Use a Retinoid
Retinoids are considered a gold-star skincare ingredient because they help soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and lessen the appearance of acne and hyperpigmentation. On the flip side, some people find the ingredient highly irritating and difficult to tolerate.
Retinol and retinoid are sometimes used interchangeably, but it’s important to note that they are not precisely the same. Even though they are both vitamin A derivatives that become converted into retinoic acid, they work a little differently.
The main difference between a retinol and a retinoid is that a retinol works a little less efficiently. Moreover, retinol is available over the counter in various serums and other skin care products, while a potent retinoid can only be obtained with a doctor’s prescription. For this reason, you would have to visit a dermatologist to get a true retinoid for night two. Alternatively, you can use a retinol product such as a serum or cream.
Nights 3 and 4: Recovery Mode
You should pull back on products with overly stimulating ingredients for two consecutive nights. This measure will help repair your skin microbiome and barrier by providing it with ample hydration and moisture. Bowe developed Bowe Glowe Microbiome Nourishing Cream for recovery nights and nights one and two.
Next, repeat steps (nights) one through four.
Key Ingredients in Dr. Bowe’s Skin Cycling Products
Dr. Bowe makes a point to showcase what ingredients her Skin Cycling products don’t contain, including:
- Essential Oils
- Drying Alcohols
- Animal Derivatives
Key Research-Backed Ingredients You Will Find:
- Glycolic Acid: Glycolic acid increases collagen production, refines texture, brightens and refreshes skin tone, reduces wrinkles, and is a particularly excellent chemical peel for acne scars — especially stubborn marks left behind from old breakouts. GA also helps treat discoloration and acne — though less effectively than salicylic acid.
- Salicylic Acid: Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid commonly used in skincare products to help visibly improve the skin’s texture, reduce the signs of aging and increase skin cell turnover, reducing blemishes. Salicylic acid is mainly used in anti-aging and acne products.
- Lactobionic Acid: Otherwise known as LA, lactobionic acid is touted as the next-generation alpha hydroxy acid. It’s a polyhydroxy acid boasting similar results to alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid but less irritating.
- Gluconolactone: Gluconolactone — one of the buzziest skincare ingredients of 2022 — is a naturally occurring polyhydroxy acid (PHA) with moisturizing and antioxidant properties. It is one of the most common PHAs (polyhydroxy acids) used in skincare. As with LA, this powerhouse ingredient works correspondingly to AHAs and BHAs, but with less irritation due to its large molecular structure that prohibits it from penetrating the skin on a deep level.
- Prebiotics and Postbiotics: Both ingredients address the health of the skin’s microbiome.
- Squalane: Squalane is a lighter-weight derivative of squalene that is better for acne and congestion — it makes up 10-12% of your skin’s natural oils or sebum. Squalane is one of the natural lipids that help to keep the skin hydrated and the oil levels balanced. It helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, reduces flakiness and dryness, and is non-comedogenic, making it great for congested or oily skin types.
- Ceramides: Ceramides act similar to mortar between bricks; they help seal in moisture in conjunction with the skin cells in the uppermost layers of the skin. This is incredibly important to the skin’s health as they are part of the skin’s natural barrier. Ceramides may help replace lipids lost due to chronic dryness, environmental factors, aging, and skin damage caused by certain skin conditions.
- Hyaluronic Acid: Just one gram of hyaluronic acid can hold up to six liters of water, which is an astonishing feat. It’s also a humectant, which means it attracts moisture to the skin – so think of it as a sponge or a moisture magnet. So, when you apply a skincare product with HA, it can help keep skin continuously smooth and hydrated all day long.
DWB skincare is committed to providing efficacious, high-quality formulas that are also sustainable and eco-conscious.
- The brand meticulously vets its supplier to ensure that results-driven ingredients are harvested ethically and sustainably.
- Eco-conscious packaging includes airless technology, recyclable shippers, FSC-certified cartons, post-industrial recycled glass components, and refillable products.
Dr. Whitney Bowe Skin Cycling Product Review
Sure, skin cycling is a concept you can try out with other exfoliating, hydrating, and reparative products — but we can’t help but review the targeted line of products developed by the derm who practically broke the internet by putting the concept out there in the first place.
Exfoliation Night Resurfacing + Brightening Serum
DWB’s exfoliating serum provides an instant glow while reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and improving skin texture and tone over time. It also helps to enhance the absorption and efficacy of other skincare products used in the cycle and your daily routine. It was developed to be used on night one of the skin cycling process.
- Key ingredients include a potent yet gentle 12% glycolic acid, salicylic acid, PHA (lactobionic acid and gluconolactone), and soothing postbiotics to help counteract any potential irritation.
- You won’t find parabens, essential oils, fragrances, animal derivatives, formaldehyde releasers, drying alcohols, phthalates, petrolatum, PEGs, or silicones.
- Despite being a results-driven product, it won’t disrupt the skin barrier.
- The formula is suitable for all skin types — even sensitive ones.
- Exfoliation Night Resurfacing + Brightening Serum is fragrance-free, cruelty-free, gluten-free, vegan, and refillable.
Bowe Glow Microbiome Nourishing Cream
Formulated for every night (and day) of the skin cycling routine (especially recovery nights), this clinically-proven cream deeply hydrates, promotes radiance (immediately and over time), helps balance the skin microbiome, and strengthens the skin barrier. Fines lines become visibly reduced with regular use.
- Key ingredients include squalane, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and a powerful proprietary blend of prebiotics and postbiotics.
- The formula is suitable for all skin types and is fragrance-free, cruelty-free, gluten-free, vegan, and refillable.
Dr. Whitney Bowe Inner Beauty Review
While supplements aren’t the core of the skin cycling routine (though they do support it), it’s no surprise Bowe added them to her product lineup.
According to a recent study from the Global “Beauty Supplements Market” Report, the growth of the Beauty Supplements Market is projected to reach Multimillion USD by 2029. Over the next seven years, the Beauty Supplements Market will register a profound spike in CAGR (compound annual growth rate) in revenue.
Night Mode Restorative Sleep + Skin Capsules
This clinically-proven oral supplement is most effective in conjunction with your nightly skin cycling routine and particularly effective on recovery nights. The capsules help promote better sleep (sans grogginess) while keeping stress at bay — both of which are vital for the skin’s health. When either is compromised, the skin’s barrier can become disrupted, and accelerated aging and breakouts can ensue.
- Key ingredients include a proprietary vegan blend of vitamin D3, L-theanine, and lemon balm.
- The capsules are melatonin-free, non-habit-forming, and non-sedating.
Bowe Growe Pomegranate Microbiome Water-Enhancing Elixir
If you find getting your daily water quota challenging, try adding a few clinically-proven, H20-enhancing drops to your class or a refillable bottle. Along with enhancing taste (think notes of pomegranate, lemon, and berries), the formula helps nourish the gut microbiome, which is vital for a healthy, glowing complexion.
- Key ingredients include a proprietary blend of potent polyphenols (pomegranate, blackberry, blueberry, black currant, cranberry, concord grape), lemon juice, coconut water, and monk fruit.
- A simple yet powerful way to help boost your intake of plant-powered bionutrients while promoting inner balance for optimal skin health.
While the brand is still relatively new and the trend is fresh, we believe DWB Skin Cycling is living up to its philosophy of choosing ingredients that protect the skin’s moisture barrier. We also appreciate the clean and clinical approach, including using ingredients harvested ethically and sustainably while relying on sustainable packaging.
- We can’t argue with the brand’s philosophy or the integrity of the ingredients these derm-formulated products contain.
- We love that DWB products are void of parabens, essential oils, fragrances, animal derivatives, formaldehyde-releasers, drying alcohols, phthalates, petrolatum, PEGs, or silicones.
- The brand stays relevant and conscious of consumers’ concerns by formulating fragrance-free, cruelty-free, gluten-free, and vegan formulas. DWB skincare is also committed to providing efficacious, high-quality products that are also sustainable and eco-conscious.
- Suppose we were to list one potential red flag. The skin barrier conversation is not a new one — especially from a dermatologist’s perspective, but the advice to adopt a less is more approach when using actives such as retinoids and exfoliating may be new intel to some consumers and beauty enthusiasts.
- Still, suppose skin cycling aims to protect the skin’s natural barrier. In that case, it begs the question: Is this concept genuinely new, or is the brand (and others who quickly followed suit) simply capitalizing on the engagement of a popular social media platform like TikTok? After all, TikTok is available in over 150 countries, has over 1 billion users, and has been downloaded over 200 million times in the United States alone. Furthermore, the platform’s target audience includes anyone between the age of 13 and 60 – a fairly wide range.
- So, is skin cycling worth the hype? The only solution is to try the method out for yourself.
What are some alternatives to DWB Skin Cycling products?
While we strive to provide accurate reviews, the reality is that only some products or brands are for everyone. The good news is that you have options.
The Derm Review is affiliated with Carrot & Stick and Formulyst. While we stand behind our brands, we’re not here to tell you what to put on your skin — that’s up to you. However, we still believe it’s worth sharing a few alternative products from our lines and a few other top-rated brands.
- Carrot & Stick is another clean brand that harnesses the power of evidence-based ingredients backed by science. Like DWB, the brand never formulates any of its products with ingredients from the “Nix List,” such as sulfates, parabens, formaldehydes, phthalates, mineral oil, retinyl palmitate, oxybenzone, coal tar, hydroquinone, triclosan, triclocarban, synthetic fragrances or animal-based ingredients. With products like The Brightening Pads and The Repair Cream. For Dry Skin, it’s easy to mimic the skin cycling concept.
- Another skincare line that’s aligned with DWB’s vision is Formulyst. The brand’s philosophy is to create the right products that will help treat skin issues rather than cover them up. Formulyst believes in long-term solutions and prevention rather than quick fixes. The focus is on gold-standard ingredients that work, such as hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, rather than creating products that simply feel good and smell good. The brand’s Anti-Aging Cream with Retinol is an excellent alternative for those who can’t tolerate retinoids or don’t wish to visit a dermatologist.
- Like DWB, Murad has set a new standard in clean, results-driven skincare because the products are void of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, mineral oil, formaldehyde, oxybenzone, and even animal-derived ingredients. Also, the core ingredient in most of Murad’s products is retinol, the gentler alternative to a prescription-based retinoid. There are also products such as the best-selling AHA/BHA Retinoid (not prescription-strength, of course) Clarifying Peel and Replenishing Multi-Acid Peel.
RoC Retinol was among the first to discover a method for stabilizing retinol, so we can’t leave this famous drugstore brand off the list as a night three alternative. The brand’s Multi Correxion Even Tone + Lift Resurfacing Serum and Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Serum are just a couple of many products that fit the bill.
Google this one, and you’ll see answers ranging from just eight days (Dr. Bowe) to anywhere from three to six months. Here’s the thing: The timing of the results you can achieve from any skincare routine — even the trendy ones — depend upon multiple factors. We’re talking about current skin health, age, lifestyle habits, sun exposure, health issues, etc.
In short, no one-size-fits-all routine will magically produce the same results for everyone in the same amount of time. However, one thing most pros will agree on is that consistency is vital to see optimal results.
According to Bowe, everyone can get on board with her coveted routine regardless of skin type, concern, or product knowledge. Its simplicity catalyzes understanding one’s skin health, including how certain ingredients can have an advantageous or adverse effect.
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Plasencia I, Norlén L, Bagatolli LA.“Direct visualization of lipid domains in human skin stratum corneum’s lipid membranes: effect of pH and temperature.” Biophys J. 2007 Nov 1;93(9):3142-55. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.106.096164. Epub 2007 Jul 13. PMID: 17631535; PMCID: PMC2025644.
MarketWatch“Beauty Supplements Market 2022 Statistics, Share Price, Growth Prospects, Industry Trends till 2029,” October 2022.