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?

The General Rule: 28 Days

As a general rule, you need to give a skincare product at least 28 days before deciding if it works or not. 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:


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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 or 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?

mad hippie face cream review

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)

peter thomas roth retinol infusion pm night serum 01

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

bioderma photoderm max spf 50 aquafluid review

Sunscreen: Years

Like antioxidants, sunscreen PREVENTS rather than treat damage.

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.