WHAT IS SKIN CYCLING?
The latest skincare trend to gain popularity is skin cycling, a term coined by dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe. The hashtag has garnered significant attention on TikTok, with many skincare enthusiasts altering their routines to incorporate skin cycling. However, is this trend worth the hype? Here, I unpack the concept and examine the potential benefits and side effects of skin cycling.
So, what exactly is skin cycling and how can you incorporate it into your skincare routine?
Skin cycling is a method of rotating your skincare products to give your skin a break and allow it to repair itself. This approach is presented as beneficial for those with sensitive skin in helping prevent irritation and inflammation, supposedly.
To start skin cycling, you'll need to follow a 4-day routine. On the first night, you'll focus on exfoliating your skin. The second night is for applying retinoids, and the third and fourth nights are for recovery, focusing on hydration and repairing the skin's barrier. Once you've completed the cycle, you can repeat it.
The Skin Cycling Method
On the first night of skin cycling, it's time to focus on exfoliation. There are two main types of exfoliation: chemical and physical. Chemical exfoliation uses substances like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) to break down the bonds between dead skin cells, while physical exfoliation uses physical abrasives like microcrystals to scrub away the dead cells.
On the second night of skin cycling, it's time to incorporate retinol into your routine. Retinoids, which include retinol, are a type of vitamin A derivative that can help to improve the appearance of fine lines, uneven skin tone, and acne.
On the third and fourth nights of skin cycling, it's time to focus on recovery. This means avoiding exfoliating acids and retinoids and instead focusing on nourishing your skin's microbiome and repairing your moisture barrier with hydrating and moisturizing products.
Once you've completed the first round of skin cycling, it's time to start the cycle again.
So, is skin cycling worth the hype? The Beauty Doctrine Viewpoint
While it does have some proven benefits, it's important to remember that this shouldn't be recommended to everyone. Let's break it down. keep in mind that the cycle repeats every fifth day.
I'm gonna cut to the chase here. Here is my commentary on the 3 steps:
1- Day one (and again day 5)- Exfoliation: Using chemical exfoliation every 5 days is a too high frequency for most people, which may lead to sensitivity and an impaired skin barrier, which will lead to faster aging and irritation. The only instance where I see this as a sustainable frequency is if the exfoliant used is a gentle one such as Mandelic Acid or a low-concentration Lactic Acid.
A good example of a gentle exfoliant you can try is the Agent Nateur Resurfacing Face Mask. It is a gentle lactic acid mask that is deeply hydrating, calming, and soothing and actively and gently resurfaces and refines the texture of your skin.
The moral of the story here, exfoliation should be less frequent and the actual exfoliant used and its concentration matter. That is if you are interested in maintaining great skin for the long term, and not just after a quick glow, regardless of potential side effects.
2- Day Two - Retinoids: I am not really sure why in this cycle, Retinoids are viewed differently from exfoliants. Sure, they are different in many aspects. But the innate function of retinoids is to increase cellular turnover via exfoliating the skin. Retinol & Retinoids essentially promote collagen production by promoting cell proliferation and peeling, ie; exfoliating.
So, this leads to the obvious conclusion, this is a bit much for the skin. I am still just talking about the cycle, I will get into more detail (below) about why you shouldn't be using synthetic retinoids & retinol in the first place.
3- Day Three & Four - Recovery: This step is described as the time when the skin barrier repairs itself. If all it took, after two consecutive days of aggressive treatments, for the skin to repair, was nourishing your skin’s microbiome and lipid barrier by hydration and moisturizing, all of us would have perfect skin. A compromised skin barrier surely takes far longer than two days to recover and repair.
My final thoughts
Following this assessment, you guessed it - I think the trending Skin Cycling method is just that; a trend! A genius marketing tactic to introduce a novel twist on the use of the heavily promoted and overly used damaging ingredient; Retinol.
I know, I can already feel the wrath of the TikTok Dermatologist and supporters of Big Pharma, citing the hundreds of studies on the efficacy of retinoids/retinols. So, let me clarify, the issue at hand is not the efficacy of Retinoids, but rather the dangerous side effects associated with it, and the fact that gorgeous, firm, and plump skin can easily be attained without the pain and dangerous side effects of Retinoids. More on this further into this article.
While I think Dr. Whitney Bowe deserves a lot of credit for her marketing genius in creating a method that sounds innovative and novice, grabbing the attention of consumers and influencers alike, I have to share my potentially (surely rather) controversial opinion. Here we go...
Short of sounding conspiratorial, I'm just gonna go ahead and say it: Nearly everyone is stuck in this mode of thinking perpetuated by Dermatologists and mainstream skincare brands, promoting all modes of exfoliation as a means to get glowing skin. And while, in theory, it seems to make sense; the thought that exfoliation (including the use of retinoids) reveals glowing, firmer, and even skin, what is missed here is the cost most consumers pay by pursuing such methods. The cost is often irritated, sensitized skin in the long term, not to mention serious health issues, in some instances.
Skin cycling seems, in theory, to give your skin a break but the break is too short for the skin to actually recover. Additionally, retinols and exfoliants are two versions of the same thing. You are essentially exfoliating 2 days in a row.
Your skin might benefit from this if you are getting it ready for a special occasion, like a wedding, graduation, or any event where you want to look your best in photos. But, in real life, this isn't a sustainable routine for a healthy skin barrier, long-term. It takes months to rebuild a damaged skin barrier, not two days.
How Does The Skin Barrier Get Damaged?
A compromised skin barrier can be caused by a number of factors, including:
- Environmental factors, such as exposure to extreme temperatures, pollution, and wind.
- Physical factors, such as the use of abrasive exfoliating scrubs and facial brushes.
- Chemical factors, such as the use of harsh soaps and cleansers or exposure to chemicals, retinoids, alcohol-based products, essential oils, fragrances, and low PH ingredients such as L-Ascorbic Acid.
- Medical conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis
- Genetic factors, such as inherited conditions that affect the skin
- Lifestyle factors, such as a poor diet, lack of sleep, and stress
- Aging, which can cause the skin's natural protective barrier to become weaker over time.
The skin's barrier function can be impaired by various factors. It can take some time for the skin barrier to repair itself, usually a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks, with the use of a gentle skincare routine. But the exact amount of time will depend on the severity of the damage and the overall health of the skin, and body.
How do I know if I have a damaged skin barrier?
A damaged skin barrier can manifest in a variety of ways, including:
- Dryness: When your skin barrier is damaged, it's less able to retain moisture, leading to dry, flaky skin.
- Itchiness: A damaged skin barrier can cause itchiness, as the skin's protective barrier is not functioning properly and is unable to provide adequate protection against irritants.
- Scaliness: A damaged skin barrier can cause the skin to become scaly, as the skin is not properly moisturized and is unable to retain its natural oils.
- Redness: A damaged skin barrier can cause redness, as the skin is more susceptible to irritation and inflammation.
- Rashes: A damaged skin barrier can lead to the development of rashes, as the skin is more prone to irritation and inflammation.
- Rough patches: A damaged skin barrier can cause rough, uneven patches on the skin, as the skin is not properly moisturized and is unable to retain its natural oils.
- Acne breakouts: A damaged skin barrier can lead to acne breakouts, as the skin is more susceptible to bacteria and other irritants.
- Infections: A damaged skin barrier can make you more prone to skin infections, as the skin's protective barrier is not functioning properly and is unable to provide adequate protection against bacteria and other irritants.
How Long Does it Take to Repair the Skin Barrier?
There have been several studies that have looked at the time it takes for the skin barrier to repair itself after it has been damaged. The results of these studies have varied, as the rate of skin barrier repair can be affected by a number of different factors, including the severity of the damage, the overall health of the skin, and the presence of any underlying skin conditions.
One study found that it can take about 4-6 weeks for the skin barrier to fully repair itself after it has been damaged. However, this time frame can vary depending on the specific circumstances. For example, if the skin is severely damaged or if there are underlying skin conditions present, it may take longer for the skin barrier to repair itself.
It is important to note that the skin's barrier function can be supported and enhanced through the use of moisturizers and other skincare products that are formulated to help maintain the health of the skin. Using these types of products can help to support the skin's natural repair process and may help to speed up the time it takes for the skin barrier to fully recover.
If you are suffering from irritated skin and you're looking for the ultimate serum that will help you repair and strengthen your lipid barrier in no time, look no further! Barrier Repair Serum was formulated with superstar ingredients including Jojoba oil, Hemp Seed Oil, and Rosehip oil. This all-in-one product also helps to address wrinkles and hyperpigmentation and protects the skin from free radicals! To find out a fully curated skincare routine for every skin type, including damaged skin, check out our FREE guide here.
Retinoids and how they affect the Skin Barrier
Retinoids, which are derivatives of vitamin A, are a type of medication that is often used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including acne, fine lines and wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. While retinoids can be effective in treating these conditions, they can also have some potential side effects, including dryness and irritation of the skin. There have been several studies that have investigated the effects of retinoids on the skin barrier.
One study found that high concentrations of retinoids can disrupt the skin barrier and lead to dryness and irritation Another study found that long-term use of retinoids can lead to a reduction in the skin's natural moisturizing factors, leading to a compromised skin barrier.
What are the Natural Alternatives to retinoids?
The first place I always look is diet. There are natural alternatives to retinoids present in foods that we can add to our diet that will provide the same benefits as synthetic retinoids without their side effects.
Carotenoids are the safest source of vitamin A. They are a precursor to vitamin A and are pigments found in plants, algae, and photosynthetic microorganisms. These pigments are responsible for the rich yellow, red, and orange colors found in plants, vegetables, and fruits.
Carotenoids are fat-soluble chemicals, which means they are best absorbed when combined with fat. Cooking and chopping carotenoid-rich foods, unlike other protein-rich foods and vegetables, increases the potency of the nutrients when they enter the bloodstream. This means that carotenoids must be consumed through diet.
Some examples of carotenoids are leafy green vegetables, carrots, red bell peppers, milk, fish oils, mango, watermelon, oranges, beef liver, eggs, and yams.
I’ll suggest that you eat more of these foods if you want to get the same benefits of retinoids but through a safer method.
I am an avid user of supplements as they help you get the nutrients you need without the hassle of constantly making sure you’re including them in your diet. When it comes to taking supplements you must make sure it’s made from high-quality ingredients. Supplements that contain Vitamin A usually are derived from Retinyl Palmitate, which is what we want to avoid. The best source of Vitamin A, as previously stated, is derived from carotene.
My personal favorite supplement that I have been loving for months is Hush & Hush DeeplyRooted, which has beta carotene as its Vitamin A source. Aside from this it also has a host of amazing ingredients that will leave you with glowing skin, luscious hair, and strong nails! It features pumpkin seed oil which has been proven to increase hair growth in 8 weeks and it contains resveratrol which is one of the most powerful antioxidants. In case you didn't know antioxidants are key to preventing premature aging, to learn more about this topic check out our blog here.
What are the Natural Skincare Alternatives to retinoids?
Retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A, are a class of compounds that are commonly used in skin care products to improve the appearance of aging skin. Synthetic retinoids are very irritating and come with a host of side effects which is why I don’t condone them. If you want to learn more about why I don’t use retinoids, check out our blog here.
There are several natural alternatives to retinoids that may help to improve the appearance of aging skin, including:
- Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs): AHAs are water-soluble acids that are derived from fruit and milk sugars. They work by exfoliating the top layer of skin, which can help to improve the appearance of fine lines and uneven skin tone.
- Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs): BHAs are oil-soluble acids that are derived from salicylic acid. They work by penetrating deep into the pores to exfoliate the skin and unclog pores, which can help to improve the appearance of acne and uneven skin tone.
- Plant-based oils: Some plant-based oils, such as rosehip oil and argan oil, contain high levels of antioxidants and fatty acids that may help to improve the appearance of aging skin.
- Niacinamide: Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that has been shown to improve the appearance of aging skin by increasing the production of ceramides, which are a type of lipid that helps to keep the skin moisturized and plump. It also helps reduce hyper-pigmentation, according to studies.
Versine Gentle Actives Clarity Serum is formulated with a plethora of moisturizing ingredients such as niacinamide, squalane, and hyaluronic acid. This gentle formulation is ideal for those with sensitive skin or those looking to treat hyperpigmentation without the drying effects of harsher brightening serums.
5. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): CoQ10 is an antioxidant that is found naturally in the body. It may help to improve the appearance of aging skin by reducing the appearance of fine lines and protecting the skin from damaging free radicals.
6. Bakuchiol: Bakuchiol is extracted from the Indian plant Psoralea Corylifolia, which has been found to activate skin cells, boost collagen production and increase elasticity while helping to reduce pigmentation and even acne! Bakuchiol also contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Bloomeffects Black Tulip Overnight Retinoid Serum is one of my favorites as it not only has Bakuchiol as its main ingredient but it’s gentle enough for those with sensitive skin thanks to other ingredients such as niacinamide and hemp seed oil.
The toxic effects of Vitamin A? What your dermatologist doesn't tell you!
Retinoids are a type of compound that includes both natural and synthetic forms of vitamin A, such as retinal, retinoic acid (also known as tretinoin), and retinol. These compounds are involved in regulating normal cell growth, differentiation, and death during development and in certain tissues throughout life. They act through nuclear receptors in the nucleus of cells. Retinoids can be obtained through the diet, with retinyl esters found in animal sources and carotenoids found in plant sources. Tretinoin is available in the prescription cream form under the brand name Retinova.
Excessive consumption of preformed vitamin A can lead to a condition called hypervitaminosis A, but this is not caused by carotenoids. Tretinoin, in particular, has known toxic effects and has been studied extensively in cancer patients and pregnant animals, particularly in relation to oral and topical doses. Because of the risk of systemic absorption, tretinoin is not recommended for use during pregnancy.
Retinoids, including tretinoin, are sometimes used as a last resort for cancer treatment when other therapies have failed. However, their use is limited due to the potential for toxicity, as noted by the US Institutes of Health.
A deep Dive into Retinoids and cellular Toxicity
Excessive use of retinoids, including retinol, can lead to cellular toxicity in a number of ways.
One potential mechanism is the activation of nuclear receptors, which can lead to abnormal or uncontrolled cell growth, differentiation, and death. This can potentially lead to the development of cancer or other diseases. In addition, retinoids can affect the metabolism and function of other molecules within cells, potentially leading to toxicity.
Another potential mechanism of retinoid toxicity is the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS are highly reactive molecules that can damage DNA, proteins, and other cellular components, leading to cell death or dysfunction. Retinoids can increase the production of ROS within cells, potentially contributing to their toxic effects.
A study on three different topical retinoids found that all of them were toxic to skin cells called fibroblasts and epithelial cells at concentrations between 0.6 and 3 x 10^-5 M. Additionally, a 6-year clinical trial involving over 1,000 participants evaluated the use of Tretinoin, a prescription form of vitamin A, to treat skin cancer. However, the trial was stopped early due to a higher number of deaths in the group receiving tretinoin compared to the control group. The tretinoin concentration used in the trial was 0.1%. The authors of the study concluded that the increased mortality in the tretinoin group may be related to the tretinoin treatment.
According to Chemocare.com, Tretinoin can cause a range of side effects in patients who take it. These side effects can be common (occurring in more than 30% of patients) or less common (occurring in 10-29% of patients).
Common side effects of tretinoin can include symptoms similar to those seen in patients taking high doses of vitamin A, such as headache, fever, dry skin and mucous membranes, bone pain, nausea and vomiting, rash, mouth sores, itching, sweating, and vision changes. Other common side effects of tretinoin can include flu-like symptoms, bleeding problems, infections, swelling of the feet or ankles, and various types of pain, including bone and joint pain and chest discomfort.
Less common side effects of tretinoin can include weight changes, heart rate irregularities (arrhythmias), flushing, changes in appetite, diarrhea, dizziness, constipation, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, anxiety, heartburn, low or high blood pressure, insomnia, depression, and confusion.
It is important to note that the toxic effects of retinoids can vary depending on the specific compound, the dose, and the duration of use. It is important to use retinoids carefully, should you decide to go that route. Use as directed by a healthcare professional to minimize the risk of toxicity.
Negative effects of Retinoids on vision
Excessive use of retinoids, particularly in the form of oral vitamin A supplements, can potentially lead to negative effects on vision. Vitamin A is essential for the maintenance of healthy vision, and deficiency can lead to vision problems such as night blindness. However, excessive intake of preformed vitamin A, as found in animal sources or supplements, can lead to hypervitaminosis A, which can cause a range of symptoms including vision changes.
One potential mechanism by which retinoids can affect vision is through the accumulation of retinoids in the retina, a layer of cells at the back of the eye that is responsible for converting light into neural signals that can be interpreted by the brain. High levels of retinoids in the retina can interfere with the normal functioning of these cells and lead to vision changes.
Negative effects of Retinoids on insulin
Retinoids, including vitamin A and its analogs, can have adverse effects on insulin and blood sugar control. Some studies have suggested that high levels of vitamin A or retinoids may impair insulin secretion and/or insulin sensitivity, leading to elevated blood sugar levels.
One study found that high levels of retinol, a form of vitamin A, were associated with impaired insulin secretion and increased risk of type 2 diabetes in men. Similarly, a review published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology concluded that high levels of vitamin A may impair insulin secretion and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, although the exact mechanisms are not fully understood.
It is important to note that these findings are from observational studies and do not necessarily prove a causal relationship between retinoids and insulin/blood sugar problems. More research is needed to fully understand the potential effects of retinoids on insulin and blood sugar control.
Negative effects of Retinoids on fetal development
Retinoids, including vitamin A and its analogs, can potentially have negative effects on fetal development. Some studies have suggested that high levels of vitamin A or retinoids during pregnancy may increase the risk of birth defects.
One review found that high levels of vitamin A during pregnancy were associated with an increased risk of birth defects, including abnormalities of the brain, spine, and heart. Similarly, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that women who took high doses of vitamin A supplements during early pregnancy had a significantly increased risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect, a type of birth defect that affects the brain and spine.
It is important to note that these findings are from observational studies and do not necessarily prove a causal relationship between retinoids and birth defects. More research is needed to fully understand the potential effects of retinoids on fetal development.
It is generally recommended that women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant avoid taking high doses of vitamin A supplements and limit their intake of vitamin A from animal sources. Tretinoin, a prescription form of vitamin A, is not recommended for use during pregnancy due to the risk of absorption and potential effects on fetal development.
More information and references:
- “The acute and chronic toxic effects of vitamin A.” The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, 2 Feb. 2006, https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/83/2/191/4649798.
- “Vitamin A.” Linus Pauling Institute, 25 Feb. 2021, https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-A.
- "Retinoids." National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, 6 Jan. 2021, www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/drugs/retinoids.
- "Retinoids." Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Jan. 2021, www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/retinoids/safety/hrb-20059695.
- A study on pregnant rats showing high abortion rates when given high doses of retinol: https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(97)70061-6/fulltext.