Skin Cycling 101

Skin Cycling 101

Skin cycling is the latest beauty trend taking over platforms like TikTok, but if you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know that skin cycling – the process of rotating active and exfoliating ingredients in your skincare regime – is something we’ve been talking about here at Alpha-H for over 20 years.

What is skin cycling?

Skin cycling is about incorporating ingredients into your routine that encourage skin turnover – like exfoliating acids, retinol and manual exfoliants – and then alternating them with ingredients that work to hydrate and fortify the skin barrier like occlusives, emollients, ceramides and lipids.

In the same way that an intense workout at the gym one day is best followed by a rest day the next to avoid overdoing it, alternating the days you exfoliate (giving your skin a workout) with days that allow the skin to “rest” and repair, allows the skin to be temporarily manipulated without resulting in a compromised barrier and subsequent irritation.

Twenty+ years of skin cycling

In the year 2000, our late founder, Michelle Doherty launched Alpha H’s hero exfoliating acid formulation - Liquid Gold Exfoliating Treatment. A “first of its kind” take home progressive resurfacing treatment utilising the king of chemical exfoliants Glycolic Acid. With its uniquely low pH formulation to ensure maximum exfoliating capacity, Liquid Gold works best applied to the skin on three alternate evenings a week. Embodying the principal of skin cycling, Liquid Gold users are then encouraged to apply products that nourish the skin and contribute to barrier repair such as Golden Haze Face Oil or a non-active moisturiser like Essential Hydration Cream on the other nights.

How does skin cycling help to achieve better results?

Exfoliation is the cornerstone to every great skincare regime, providing both instant as well as long term benefits. When a chemical exfoliant is applied to the skin it can penetrate the skin’s protective barrier causing what is known in dermal therapy as a “micro wound”. In addition to the immediate action of sloughing away dead skin build up, this temporary trauma to the skin barrier encourages the skin to “self-heal”. This wound healing process brings with it the formation of new collagen and elastin and increases the skins own moisturising factor, Hyaluronic Acid, working to smooth and plump the skin, visibly improving the appearance.

Positive results from exfoliating however hinge on the skins ability to heal itself between application of these active exfoliating ingredients. Over exfoliating keeps the skin in a constant state of inflammation, hindering the wound healing process and potentially causing unfavourable skin conditions like impaired barrier function and hyperpigmentation. Cycling actives allows the skin to renew itself in between providing a stronger healthier barrier and positive results.

What about Retinol?

In addition to exfoliating acids, Retinol (topical vitamin A) is another ingredient where skin cycling is beneficial. Although not technically an exfoliant, Retinol binds with the skins retinol receptors and promotes cell turnover, causing the skin to shed, helping to fade hyperpigmentation, smooth uneven texture and help minimise the appearance of fine lines. Due to this physiological process, Retinol is best cycled into a regime to avoid potential irritation.

When starting out, we recommend Vitamin A Serum with 0.5% Retinol it is the perfect entry-level Retinol and can be applied on alternate evenings. If you are an active acid user, for best results cycle your actives so you have two active nights followed by two rest nights.

Is skin cycling for me?

Skin cycling is recommended for most skin types when using ingredients that accelerate skin turnover however some skin conditions such as acne or acne rosacea may benefit from daily application of treatment products typically those on prescription, so always check first with your doctor or dermatologist.