“Serum cycling” can help you use multiple active skin-care ingredients with less irritation


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If your skin is temperamental and likes to flare up with a dramatic outbreak of redness or irritation, serum cycling may be your new flex. What is it, you ask? The idea is that if you alternate the active serum that you’re using each night, your skin will have an easier time working with the powerhouse ingredients, so you’ll get the effect you’re looking for without any negative side effects that might come with overusing a single ingredient.

“Rotating serums is helpful when using ones that can be slightly irritating, such as chemical exfoliators like salicylic acid,” says Robert Anolik, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist. Though he recommends using retinol nightly, it’s “perfect for rotation” if yours is irritating to your skin (you’ll know because it will feel extra dry and might even get a bit red and itchy). If you find yourself dealing with this, rotate in calming ingredients to help mitigate irritation. “Alternating serums is a good idea, especially if you have sensitive skin,” echoes Shirley Chi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist. “You still want to use a retinol because it’s going to promote collagen production, but you can use it three times a week and alternate with something else like hyaluronic acid on the others.” It’s also a smart skin-care practice if you’ve got dry skin (which might as well be everyone this winter season).

Looking for the best serums to use at night in your cycling regimen? Keep scrolling for derm-approved combos to try

Retinol + hyaluronic acid: For a healthy glow, stimulated cellular turnover, and plenty of moisture, which Dr. Chi recommends as a power couple.

Glycolic acid + hyaluronic acid: If you’re not on the retinol train but want exfoliation minus the dryness, try this combo. “If you’re working on dark spots, you can use something exfoliating like a salicylic acid or glycolic acid,” says Dr. Chi. Switch off between one of those and a moisturizing hyaluronic acid serum.

Retinol + niacinamide: This is the ideal skin care pair, especially if you’re looking for anti-aging benefits, according to Howard Sobel, MD, cosmetic dermatologist and director of Sobel Skin. “Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that works to reduce inflammation, minimize the look of pores, and revitalize, firm, and smooth the skin,” he says. “That and retinol are two anti-aging powerhouses, and when used in conjunction with each other, they provide the skin with transformative results.”

Retinol + vitamin C: For moisture and brightness, “alternate your retinol with a vitamin C serum, which isn’t drying,” says Dr. Chi, noting that this will help to diminish dark spots and lead to a healthy complexion sans the drama.

To help you out as you shop, here’s a roundup of the best night serums you can choose from. And don’t forget about a body serum so that your skin’s covered from head to toe. 

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