Hair Cycling Is Not Just a TikTok Trend
It may be a popular hashtag right now, but it’s also a legit way to craft an effective hair-care routine.
If you’re someone who has always kept more than one type of shampoo in your shower — perhaps one for clarifying and another for a more moisturizing cleanse — congratulations. You were hip to hair cycling before it blew up on TikTok. Like its predecessor, the dermatologist-approved skin cycling, hair cycling involves alternating different products with different purposes — and it isn’t particularly new. “It’s a new trendy term for a concept that's been around for a long time,” says board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD.
But is hair cycling as legit as skin cycling? TikTok would have you believe so, with the hashtag #haircycling nearing 200,000 views as this is being written. But as we know — and have sometimes found out the hard way — TikTok’s opinion doesn’t always align with that of the experts. So we spoke to dermatologists and hairstylists to get their thoughts on hair cycling.
What is hair cycling?
The concept of hair cycling is very similar to that of skin cycling.
“Hair cycling is an attempt at achieving optimal hair health by regularly rotating hair products that you use on your scalp and hair,” says board-certified dermatologist Nava Greenfield, MD.
She goes on to say that as you hair cycle, you also incorporate “rest days,” where you skip cleansing and using products and let your natural oils accumulate.
According to hairstylist Glenn Ellis, the process is an opportunity to achieve a specific goal each time you wash your hair. “The first [part of the] cycle, for example, might be to remove product build-up,” he says. “Another might be geared toward restoring moisture. Yet another would include days of rest where hair wouldn’t be washed or conditioned.”
How do you start hair cycling?
Unlike skin cycling, there’s no universal protocol for hair cycling.
“It's very individual depending on your scalp, hair type, styling, etc.," says Dr. King. “And, of course, keep in mind that natural hair texture will be an important factor in what types of products work best.”
That said, most of the experts we spoke to were all about kicking things off with a clarifying shampoo. “Start with a clarifying shampoo before you start a new cycle of products,” says Dimitris Giannetos, a hairstylist based in Los Angeles. He recommends L'Oréal Paris Everpure Scalp Care + Detox Shampoo and Raw Sugar The Scalp Restore Shampoo.
Then, assess what you’re hoping to achieve with your hair.
“At each phase, you select a product based on what you need, and that selection may impact the next,” says Mark DeBolt, colorist, and cofounder of Mark Ryan Salon.
That might mean washing and conditioning with products aimed at restoring moisture the next time you’re in the shower, followed by a combo that increases volume.
And don’t forget treatments like pre-shampoo treatments and post-shampoo masks because they play a role in hair cycling, too. Every other week, “before washing your hair, apply an at-home treatment,” for an intensive repair session, says Ellis. He suggests Olaplex No. 3 Hair Perfector (he’s a spokesperson for the brand), but we also like using the Best of Beauty Award-winning Oribe Gold Lust Nourishing Hair Oil before hopping in the shower.
On your weeks off from pre-shampoo treatments, you may want to switch to a mask. For moisture and strength, DeBolt loves Shu Uemura Ashita Supreme Mask, and we’re big fans of Verb’s Hydrating Mask.
Still not sure where to start? Consider Dr. Greenfield’s cycling-routine recommendation of using products for your main concern and alternating it with products for secondary concerns. For example, if you have dandruff:
“Use a cleansing product like an anti-dandruff shampoo three to four days a week,” she says. “Counter it with only hydrating shampoos and conditioners on alternate days. Use a leave-in mask once a week to seal in the moisture.”
Our picks? Best of Beauty Award winners Nécessaire The Shampoo, Pantene Pro-V Daily Moisture Renewal Conditioner, and SheaMoisture Manuka Honey & Mafura Oil Intensive Hydration Leave-In Conditioner.
Is hair cycling legit or just a TikTok trend?
Dr. King says hair cycling can be particularly beneficial for people with hair that is significantly impacted by factors like environment, stress levels, and hormones. “The advantage is that the hair and scalp can benefit from different kinds of ingredients and formulations depending on their current state and needs,” she explains.
However, hair cycling shouldn’t involve product overload. “You don't want to switch it up too much, so I would be careful not to incorporate too many different types of products at a time,” advises Rita Hazan, a colorist, salon owner, and founder of an eponymous hair-care line.
You also don’t want to use any product that doesn’t make sense for you. For example, if your favorite TikToker has a very dry scalp and yours is very oily, it wouldn’t make sense to do exactly as they do.
“The only downfall of following a TikTok trend,” DeBolt says, “is not understanding your type of hair or your hair’s needs and just following a hair cycle because your favorite TikToker did it.”
Who should try hair cycling and who shouldn’t?
Across the board, our experts were comfortable recommending hair cycling to almost everyone, though it may not be sensible for those who don’t wash their hair frequently. “For those who wash once a week or less often, I do not recommend this type of cycling,” says Dr. Greenfield. “This process is for those who ordinarily wash their hair several times a week.” She also points out that anyone with a scalp condition, like eczema or seborrheic dermatitis, should consult a dermatologist before changing their hair-care routine.
“If you already have a hair routine that is working well and your hair feels soft, manageable, and you like how you are able to style it, you most likely don’t need to hair cycle,” says Ellis.
“If you have concerns about your hair, or find it is hard to style, hard to brush, or it feels dull and doesn’t have shine, trying hair cycling could be a way to help boost the overall health of your hair.”
Article written by Marci Robin for allure