What Is Hair Cycling? Dermatologists Weigh in on This Viral Beauty Trend That Promises Healthier Hair

Back view of a woman washing her hair with a shampoo in bathroom.

Back view of a woman washing her hair with a shampoo in bathroom.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. On This Page

    • What Is Hair Cycling?

    • How to Hair Cycle

    • Pros of Hair Cycling

    • Cons of Hair Cycling 

These days, it seems like all of the latest beauty trends emerge on TikTok. Skin cycling, a several-day schedule focused on active ingredients and intense hydrators, made the rounds on social media last year. A similar method for our hair has just emerged: Hair cycling is the newest viral trend follow and try, according to the experts.

Similar to skin cycling, this technique involves rotating your hair products to meet the changing needs of your scalp and hair—so it might be something to test if you find that your hair looks dull or frizzy after using the same products every wash day. To better understand this trend, we asked dermatologists to share everything we need to know about hair cycling—and how to effectively implement it in your routine.

Related: How Much Hair Is Normal to Lose Every Day?

What Is Hair Cycling?

Hair cycling is likely trending because of its connection to skin cycling, says Nazanin Saedi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical associate professor at Thomas Jefferson University. While the skin technique involves retinol, exfoliants, and hydrators, the hair-based method calls on rotating gentle, hydrating shampoos, conditioners, and masks with clarifying formulas.

Ultimately, hair cycling is just another term for an intentional hair and scalp routine. “The practice really means creating a specific routine to support your hair type and texture while being aware of your scalp needs,” says Stefani Kappel, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and MDAiRE owner. “It usually incorporates rest days into an alternating product routine to allow your hair and scalp to get the most benefit from a variety of products.”

How to Hair Cycle

Your hair cycle routine should be personalized. And while it may feel confusing to set a regimen based on social media recommendations, all you need to do is make swaps to either moisturize or clarify your scalp, says Kseniya Kobets, MD, director of cosmetic dermatology at Montefiore Einstein Advanced Care. “I think one of the more common additions to the scalp routine would be the addition of clarifying ingredients, such as salicylic acid, tea tree oil, or ketoconazole,” says Dr. Kobets. “It can be just as simple as adding an anti-dandruff shampoo to your regimen if you start to notice a more oily scalp and scalp flaking.”

An important part of hair cycling involves rest days between washes, says Dr. Kappel. This is when you don’t wash your hair at all to give your hair and scalp a breather. If you wash your hair twice a week, consider this sample hair cycling routine:

Wash Day One

  1. Wash your hair with a paraben-free, sulfate-free, and fragrance-free shampoo to balance out your scalp pH and support the scalp microbiome, says Dr. Kobets.

  2. Use a hydrating conditioner to nourish your hair and scalp.

  3. Apply a moisturizing hair oil, like jojoba oil, to lock in moisture.

Wash Day Two

  1. Wash your hair with an over-the-counter clarifying shampoo, like Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo or Neutrogena T/Sal Shampoo, depending on your needs, and lather at the scalp to help prevent yeast overgrowth, says Dr. Kobets.

  2. Instead of conditioner, apply a hair mask after shampooing for an extra dose of hydration. If you have fine hair and cannot tolerate heavy products regularly, use the hair mask once a week on the ends, avoiding the scalp area, says Dr. Kobets.

Pros of Hair Cycling

Wondering if hair cycling is right for you? Good news: All hair types can benefit from this routine, since it provides hydration and gentle exfoliation on an as-needed basis. “The benefits are changing your products as your hair changes—or if your scalp is more dry at certain times of the year,” says Dr. Saedi.

Reduced Irritation

Hair cycling can also minimize scalp and hair irritation. “Many of the hair products we use (shampoo, conditioner, and masks) have the potential risk of inflammation from various active ingredients,” says Dr. Kappel. “Additionally, many products contain sulfates, which can be drying to the hair and scalp, or silicones, which can build up on the scalp and hair.”

By creating a rotating routine, you will be able to keep overuse to a minimum, eliminate product buildup before it becomes a problem, and continue to boost the health of your hair and scalp.

Scalp Conditions

This technique can also help you control certain scalp concerns. “I always recommend this for patients who have eczema or seborrheic dermatitis (the medical term for dandruff),” says Dr. Saedi.

If you experience dry scalps or dandruff, use a medicated shampoo two to three times a week—then use a hydrating shampoo on other wash days, says Dr. Saedi. “For patients who have dry, brittle hair, I do recommend using a leave-in hydrating mask once a week to seal in the moisture,” she says. “You can swap out the conditioner for it.”

Cons of Hair Cycling

If your scalp starts feeling excessively oily or your hair looks dull and frizzy after hair cycling, it might be a sign that your regimen isn’t working. To troubleshoot, assess the ingredients you’re using (or overusing). “For example, overusing hair products with keratin, which is a protein that can initially protect and smooth the cuticle, can eventually build up on the hair and make it harder and more brittle, causing breakage,” she says. The same goes for hair products with silicones. These give hair a silky and glossy look—but they can weight hair down and clog the scalp, says Dr. Kobets.

Make sure you monitor your hair and scalp as you hair cycle, since what works for one person may not work for another. Someone with fine hair may notice decreased volume and limp hair after using more hair oil in their routine; use less or lean on a clarifying shampoo to rid the scalp of buildup, Dr. Kobets says. And if you notice any adverse reactions to your hair cycling routine? Contact your dermatologist, our experts say.

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