How Long Does It Take Skincare Products To Work?

by Gio

how long does it take skincare products to work

How long does it take skincare products to work?!

Like, it’s been a week and my fine lines are still there. Did I fall for another antiaging serum that doesn’t work or should I stick it out and give it more time?

It’a s hard choice. You don’t want to be too impatient and throw away something that could work (even if not as fast as you’d like), but how long can you wait before admitting the damn thing could never do the job in the first place?

As a general rule, you need to give it at least 28 days. That’s how long skin takes to renew itself.

But rules have exception. Often, the full benefits will be visible after a month, but you can start seeing results already within a few short days.

Other times, it takes frustratingly long – I’m talking months and years here – to reap the full benefits. That’s when you need to take a leap of faith and trust the science behind skincare.

Here’s how long it takes every skincare product to work:

Cleansers: Straight Away

You’ll see straight away if a cleanser takes off all your makeup, dirt and whatever other gunk’s on your face.

If it leaves a few impurities behind, it’s a dud. Don’t bother with double cleansing or toner cleansing. Just get yourself a cleanser that works.

If it takes everything off in one go but leaves your skin tight and dry, that’s not good either. The cleanser’s disrupting your skin’s protective barrier and drying out your skin. Ditch it!

You know a cleanser is right for your skin type when it takes everything off quickly AND leaves your skin soft and supple.

Related: How To Choose The Best Cleanser For Your Skin Type

Exfoliants: Straight Away To A Month

It depends on what type of exfoliant you’re using: physical or chemical.

Physical exfoliants use small particles like salt, apricot kernels and either silicone brushes (think Foreo Luna) to manually remove dead cells off your skin and reveal the smoother and brighter skin that was hiding underneath. They work straight away.

Chemical exfoliants are a different story. They use exfoliating acids, like glycolic and salicylic, that dissolve the glue that holds skin cells together. They don’t remove dead cells immediately. They just make it easier for cells to bugger off when it’s time.

That’s why you need to wait around a month to reap the full benefits of a chemical exfoliant. Having said, you’ll start to see a small improvement within a day or two.

Related: Physical VS Chemical Exfoliant: Which One Is Right For You?

Moisturizers: 1-2 Days

FYI, I’m using the word moisturiser as an umbrella for every product that promises to moisturise and hydrate your skin: moisturising creams, hyaluronic acid serums, hydrating toners and essences… You get the drill.

Adding moisture to the skin is the QUICKEST way to improve its appearance.

When your skin has all the moisture it needs (and then some), it becomes softer. It plumps up so your fine lines and wrinkles look smaller. And the whole complexion glows as if lit-from-within.

If an antiaging moisturiser makes your wrinkles disappear straight away,  chances are it’s using the moisture trick to mask them. Nothing wrong with that – your skin needs moisture.

Related: How Antiaging Moisturisers REALLY Work

Acne Products: 1 Week To 1.5 Months

If there’s one skincare product you want to work fast, it’s this. Those pimples are the worst. They ruin your skin and make you want to hide inside the house until the ordeal is over.

Hang in there! How fast anti-acne products work depends on how bad your acne is. Got only a pimple or two? A spot treatment will make your pimples disappear within a week.

Got the nasty kind of cystic acne that hurts like hell? Go to a dermatologist for a prescription treatment. You should be able to see a small improvement within a few short days, but it’ll take a month (or more) for your skin to clear up completely.

Related: 4 DIY Anti-Acne Treatments That Don’t Work (And What To Use Instead)

Skin-Lightening Products: 2 Months

Dark spots. Sun spots. Melasma. Freckles… They all happen when your skin produces too much melanin (the pigment that gives skin its colour).

To reverse the darkening process and bring skin back to its natural hue, you need to inhibit the production of melanin.  As that gets back under control, the excess pigment slowly fades away.

How slowly? If you use the product every morning and every night, it should take you at least 2 months to results.

Related: The Battle Of The Skin-Lighteners: What’s The Best Alternative To Hydroquinone?

Antiaging Products: 3 Months To Years

Most antiaging products use antioxidants to prevent wrinkles. They’re probably the most frustrating skincare product to use because you can’t tell if they work. Not anytime soon anyway.

Here’s the deal: antioxidants destroy free radicals BEFORE they can wreak their damage and give you wrinkles.  In other words, they prevent the damage.

It’s like working out so you won’t get a heart attack when you’re 50. It’s once you get there and realise you’re in a better shape than your friends, you’re happy you didn’t quit.

Some antiaging products take a different approach. They use powerful actives like retinol and vitamin C to boost collagen (the protein that keeps your skin firm and elastic).

Collagen metabolism is a complicated process. You can’t give your skin a bit of retinol once and expect it to increase your collagen production straight away. Nope, you need to wait at least 3 months before you can results.

Related: 8 Science-Backed Ways To Rebuild Lost Collagen

Sunscreen: Years

Like antioxidants, sunscreen PREVENTS rather than treat damage.

That’s why you won’t see results straight away. That’s why a lot of you skip it because “I can’t see the sun and does it do anything anyway?”

Yes, yes, yes, it does everything! Science is clear on this: UV rays are responsible for up to 90% of premature wrinkles and dark spots. Those fine lines you like to blame on genes? The sun gave them to you.

The worst part? UVA rays are sneaky: they penetrate through dark clouds and windows and can even be reflected on snow. Just because you can’t see the sun, it doesn’t mean it’s not wreaking havoc on your skin.

Trust me on this: if you want to keep those nasty wrinkles off your face, use sunscreen. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Related: Should You Wear Sunscreen While Driving?

The Bottom Line

Be patient! I know, easier said than done. But your skin didn’t get acne/wrinkles/whatever in a day, so you can’t expect them to go away in a day. Give your skincare products time to do the job – your skin will thank you.

Are you surprised by how long skincare products take to work? Share your experience in the comments below.

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30 comments

Eli February 28, 2012 - 1:47 pm

I use a product for 2 weeks at least before reviewing it. Unless it drives me mad right after application 1…

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beautifulwithbrains February 28, 2012 - 5:40 pm

Eli, I think after two weeks you have a good indication of how the product is going to work, if it’s gonna irritate your skin or cause a breakout. But I still prefer to wait four weeks before writing a review to make sure a product does what it promises. 🙂

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Beauty Box February 28, 2012 - 4:54 pm

I would actually use up the whole tube even if I don’t see any improvement but would stop if I get a reaction. If a product improves my skin within two weeks I would think it is a great product. But I’ve been using a vitamin e oil as my night moisturizer for two months and I think I’m only seeing the incredible benefits now. Much clearer skin n fewer clogged pores n generally smoother skin. I feel like i need to exfoliate less often.

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beautifulwithbrains February 28, 2012 - 6:59 pm

Beauty Box, I use up most products too even if they don’t do much for my skin cos I wouldn’t wanna waste them. But if you’re using a product for a particular skin condition such as acne or rosacea I don’t think it’s worth finishing it if you don’t see any improvements.

I’m glad Vitamin E oil is working so well for. Like all antioxidants, it takes months to see some some incredible results but it’s worth it.

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DAYANA April 29, 2018 - 1:20 pm

Where can I found really good vitamin E for my face I really need it

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Gio May 19, 2018 - 9:27 am

Dayana, have you tried iHerb?

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Trisha February 28, 2012 - 7:01 pm

Yeah, the longer the better. Although, if it gives a bad reaction, then you generally know right away. I tried something for the first time today and seemed to burn my face. No good.

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beautifulwithbrains February 28, 2012 - 7:20 pm

Trisha, oh no! I’m sorry to hear that! I agree that if you have a negative reaction to a product you should stop using it straight away. Otherwise, you need to give it time to work properly before deciding whether it works for you or not.

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Lily February 29, 2012 - 1:41 am

Thx for this informative post! I hv been testing out a whitening serum. It’s been 2 weeks and I can already see great improvement! Taking your advice into consideration, I will definitely use it for another 2 weeks before writing the review.
I’d like to thank you again for your posts (been reading but first time commenting) because I find them to be very well researched and informative, and I’m learning from you!

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beautifulwithbrains February 29, 2012 - 6:30 pm

Lily, you’re welcome and thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you find my posts useful and helpful. 🙂

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Makeup Morsels February 29, 2012 - 4:22 am

I always test out skincare products for at least 28 days 🙂 Unless, of course, my skin reacts within that time period, in which case I stop immediately and try to nurse it back to health! I didn’t know it could take years to see the results of antioxidants, although that’s not one of my concerns right now. But good to know!

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beautifulwithbrains February 29, 2012 - 7:19 am

Makeup Morsels, that’s what I do too. And antioxidanst may seem like they’re not doing much apart from making skin softer and brighter at the beginning, but after a few years you can definitely see that you’re aging better and are keeping the wrinkles at bay for longer.

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xin February 29, 2012 - 8:28 am

i think the longest it will take is just a month for me to find out a certain product works or not. but if it still irritates my skin after a week, i will just put it aside =/

Reply
beautifulwithbrains February 29, 2012 - 6:37 pm

Xin, me too. It’s not good to keep using a product that irritates your skin.

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Annabella Freeman March 3, 2012 - 4:34 pm

I’ve learned to wait at least that long, even products that say you will see results in two weeks. Unless I’m bathing my face in acid then I think a month is reasonable.

The only time I stop using them before is if my skin breaks out into a rash or it just doesn’t feel right.

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beautifulwithbrains March 4, 2012 - 8:25 pm

Annabella, I think with some products like acne treatments you may be able to see a slight improvement in two weeks, but even then it will take longer for the product to work properly. A month is reasonable time to see how a products work for you, I agree.

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Viv March 6, 2012 - 9:39 am

I don’t really find that skincare makes much difference to my skin lol! Or maybe it’s more that I don’t pay enough attention. I tend to use whatever is in the bathroom – at the moment it’s something from the Body Shop that I LOVE – it’s a wash on, wash off cleanser. I’m usually just using something like Simple moisturiser, if/when I can be bothered. Gosh this sounds awful – should work on some proper, grown-up skincare 🙂 I HAVE just started trying some Clarins skin-care oil – just two or three drops over any moisturiser etc late at night. Will report back in a month, if I’ve stuck with it! Get very lazy with routines – though I DO always remove makeup 🙂

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beautifulwithbrains March 6, 2012 - 7:32 pm

Viv, you’re lucky that most skincare products work well for you. I used to only apply moisturizer every now and then when I was younger but then I started a proper daily skincare routine and my skin really benefited from it. You just need to get into the habit and then you’ll never look back. 😉 In any case, remember to use a good sunscreen daily as that’s the most important product everyone needs. 🙂

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Viv March 7, 2012 - 10:15 am

At least I AM good about sunscreen – always have been really. Strange, my mother was SO not into makeup, but always always made sure I had good sunscreen! Well, I went into Boots today with all the points that I never cash in, and bought some Clinique, after a consultation to find the right type for my skin – so watch this space, it only takes three minutes morning and evening, so should be able to report improvement next month!

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beautifulwithbrains March 7, 2012 - 3:19 pm

Viv, that’s great that your mother taught you the importance of sunscreen. That’s the most important product as it can prevent a lot of damage, plus some sunscreens on the market today also contain moisturizing and antioxidant ingredients too. And I can’t wait to hear how the Clinique products you bought work for you!

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Natalie Heather May 3, 2015 - 4:32 am

Thanks for this great post (even if I am reading it almost three years late). I’ve recently been trying a new skincare product (tamanu oil) that is said to be great for acne and acne scars since it has crazy generative properties. Within a day or two I started getting a number of white heads on my chin and forehead, and I believe it’s my skin purging and not just a regular breakout – usually my spots are big, red and painful as heck. I didn’t know how long I should go on for using this, so I really really appreciate this post! Fingers crossed it helps.

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Gio May 3, 2015 - 9:14 am

Natalie, I’m glad you found this post helpful. Sometimes skin needs to get worse before it gets better. I hope your skin will clear up soon.

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Alejandra October 19, 2015 - 3:53 am

Great post Gio, I havent had any luck with niacinamide (Cerave pm cream and Olay micro sculpting serum) and vitamin C products (Paula’s Choice Super Antioxidant concentrate serum, ASDM Beverly Hills, two serums with 15% MAP and 15% ascorbic acid). And Im very careful about sunscreen use and apply chemicals exfoliants from Paula’s Choice…..
I read somewhere that Vitamin C just doesnt work for 50% of people, but haven found any research to backup this claims. Do you have any information about it?
And I think that sometimes products dont work cause beauty companies lie about their formulas, nobody is going to verify if a product has 10% of vitamin C right? After trying so many products I became skeptical…

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Gio October 20, 2015 - 11:14 pm

Alejandra, sorry you had such bad luck with niacinamide and vitamin c. That’s the first time I hear vitamin c doesn’t work for everyone. Lots of brands definitely put too little vitamin c in their products for it to do anything. So that may definitely be why so many products let you down.

But there may also be another reason. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that prevents the signs of aging. That means it can take years to see some results. In the short term, you’ll only see brighter and smoother skin. But, if the concentration is high enough, in the long term, your skin will age much better.

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Sherry June 20, 2016 - 6:22 pm

I haven’t seen any results with Vitamin C either, no brighter, smoother skin. I definitely see that with my Paula’s Choice BHA and AHA.

I’ve tried a homemade Vitamin C serum for six weeks, Timeless Vitamin C Serum for two months, and the Paula’s Choice Vitamin C sample for two weeks. With the Timeless, my face looked worse. I think it was too oily for my combo skin.

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Gio June 25, 2016 - 4:25 pm

Sherry, what a shame! Usually, you can see results much quicker than that! Are you applying vitamin c on clear skin?

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Sherry June 25, 2016 - 6:58 pm

I was applying it on clean skin in the morning. I kept the Timeless in the refrigerator, and it seemed to be fresh. I have done some googling of studies, and one said there were no result if the subject was getting a lot of Vitamin C in their diet. I didn’t think I was, but perhaps I am! One NZ study stated that effective Vitamin C was very expensive to make, and that most cheaper versions were not effective. I have been using Paula’s Choice Resist Antioxidant Serum, which has a smaller amount of Vitamin C.

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Gio June 25, 2016 - 11:49 pm

That might very well be the reason. Vitamin C is in a lot of foods, not just oranges.

that’s true. For example, The Body Shop has a vitamin C range, but the amount of vitamin C is so tiny, it does nothing. I trust Paula to make an effective product, though. And, as a general rule, if vitamin C is listed near the top (first 3 or 4 ingredients) and the product has the right Ph, it should work.

Sherry June 26, 2016 - 4:30 pm

I do like the PC Resist Serum, and trust Paula’s products. I just wasn’t sure if it was enough Vitamin C. I think I’ll stick with it. Thanks for your help!

Gio July 2, 2016 - 1:17 am

Great. Glad I could help. 🙂

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