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Dr. Whitney Bowe has been a dermatologist for over 15 years. But to many on social media, she’s best known for popularizing “skin cycling,” a term she coined for an alternating skin-care regimen of using exfoliating acids, using retinols and taking “recovery nights.” She elaborated on the practice in a September issue of the Glossy Pop Newsletter.
Dr. Bowe launched her namesake brand in June with one topical product: a $96 everyday moisturizer called Bowe Glow Microbiome Nourishing Cream. In October, she followed that up with the Exfoliation Night Resurfacing + Brightening Serum, for $79. And Wednesday marked the launch of the Retinal Night Advanced 0.1% Retinal Firming Treatment, $99. With retinol being a crucial step in any skin-cycling regimen, Dr. Bowe said the product has been the most requested, thus far. The serum contains retinal — spelled with an “a” — which Dr. Bowe said is more bioavailable than the more commonly used retinol, with an “o.” “It’s the closest thing you can get to a prescription,” she said. The product took the longest to launch because the brand went to great lengths to stabilize the notoriously finicky, unstable retinol ingredient, she said. Meanwhile, to combat the “retinol uglies,” including peeling or stinging, the formula also contains a blend of ceramides and other skin-nourishing ingredients.
The product was also extensively tested. “We tested it on over 30 subjects,” she said. “At an independent, third-party testing facility, we do both subjective and objective analyses … to see what’s statistically significant, in terms of how it’s actually benefiting the skin. We look at people ranging from the fairest of the fair to the deepest Black skin, as well as people with normal, oily, dry and combination skin. But 50% of my subjects are always people with sensitive skin, because I want to make sure my products are really well-tolerated.”
In anticipation of the launch, Dr. Bowe and her team invited her community to participate in a testing opportunity. Dr. Bowe has 180,000 Instagram followers and 1.1 million TikTok followers.
“I was hearing that people wanted to have one-on-one interaction with me,” she said. “So I said, ‘If you want this opportunity, you can apply. Within hours, we got thousands of applicants.” The brand called for applications via email, Instagram and TikTok, and launched a landing page to collect them. In them, applicants stated why they wanted to be chosen. “My team spent days going through the applications, and we narrowed it down to 50 people,” she said. Among them were people from Canada, Mexico and Australia, including “a chef, a comedian, a celebrity makeup artist, a functional medicine doctor, a traditionally trained doctor, a nurse injector, an esthetician and a sleep expert,” Dr. Bowe said. She clarified that the aim was people representing “different demographics, different ages and different skin concerns.”
All participants were gifted the brand’s new skin cycling kit, which bundles the three products together. It will retail for $199, a 27% savings. They then embarked on a “two-month journey” centered on meeting with Dr. Bowe both as a group and individually. First, the whole group met, then participants took part in one-on-one Zoom sessions with Dr. Bowe.
As Dr. Bowe’s practice has been capped for the past six years, the experience allowed her to interact with new “incredibly skin-curious” individuals for the first time in a while, she said. In those meetings, the skin cyclers received personalized advice on tailoring their routines to their own skin concerns and support in selecting products not yet available in Dr. Bowe’s own range. Some of the 50 participants will fly to New York City for a party celebrating the new serum’s official launch this week.
“Dr. Bowe’s expertise and authority on all things skin was what drew me to the project,” said one of the participants, Allan Aponte, a celebrity makeup artist who counts Lea Michele as a frequent client. Of the experience, he said, “I learned to listen to my skin, look at it closely and give it what it needs in order to thrive.”
Naturopathic doctor Crystal Chanderbhan said she applied because she “was interested to see if Dr. Bowe’s thoughtfully curated approach to her skin-cycling program would translate to her skin-care line.” Being chosen to participate was “like winning the skin-care lottery,” she said.
Dr. Bowe stressed that her social following and positioning as an expert have allowed her brand to build a community and market itself organically, in a way that many other brands struggle to do. The new retinal serum has been under embargo, but Dr. Bowe said that the skin cyclers have been eager to share their experiences testing it and that the brand will likely repurpose some of that content to promote the new launch.
Retinal is the perfect ingredient to test with a large pool of people, Dr. Bowe said, given that it has such a wide range of benefits and gives transformational effects. “It helps with fine lines, wrinkles, tone, texture, hyperpigmentation, elasticity, breakouts, pore size — What doesn’t retinol do?” she said.