I’m not going to lie: when I set out to write an article on how long it takes to see results from different skincare products, I didn’t foresee it being such a struggle. I mean, just stroll down the aisles of any given drug store and you’ll see countless products touting fixes for everything from blackheads and breakouts to dryness and dark spots. I imagined compiling a list of the active ingredients in these products along with an estimated time frame for how long they take to work would be a relatively straightforward process that would result in a useful resource for other women like me.
It turned out to be a bit more complicated than I expected.
After quizzing experts on the topic, it became evident that there are so many variables involved in skincare that generating a one-size-fits-all, super-specific timeline might not be the most realistic idea. (Womp womp.) But despite the fact there may not be a universal skincare timeline that works for every woman, there are plenty of expert-approved tips to guide us through the process. Read on for everything you need to know about getting results from your skincare.
What works for one person won’t necessarily work for you
When you’re trying to combat a skincare issue, it’s easy to get caught up in hoping that whatever worked for a friend, beauty guru, or random Amazon reviewer will work the exact same way for you. Unfortunately, skincare doesn’t operate like that. How quickly skin responds to treatment varies from person to person according to Shani Darden, an LA-based esthetician and the founder of Shani Darden Skin Care. “One of the most important things you can do for your skin is to take the time to find the right products for your skin type.”
Dermatologist and author of the Derm.Talk blog Dr. Jenny Liu agreed, noting in an email that age, skin color, type, and severity of condition, as well as which products and ingredients are used for treatment all work together to determine how soon you will see results.
Results take their sweet time
As much as it pains this impatient writer to tell you, patience really is a virtue when it comes to skincare. The good news is that, in this case, patience has a time frame — albeit a loose one. It generally takes from four to eight weeks to see measurable changes from a product, according to NYC-based dermatologic surgeon Dr. Dendy Engelman.
It’s also worth noting that certain skin conditions respond to treatment more efficiently than others. Treating dry skin may take a matter of weeks, while reducing wrinkles, fading dark spots, or tackling acne may take months — yes, that’s plural.
On top of that, certain active ingredients work faster than others. Take Shani Darden Skin Care’s signature Retinol Reform, for example. The product contains both retinol and lactic acid; the latter exfoliates and brightens skin in just a few uses, while the former requires about 12 weeks of consistent use before its benefits are noticeable, according to Darden. In other words, visible results from the same product can come at different times depending on the types of ingredients it includes.
As painful as it can be to wait it out, consistency and patience really are integral when it comes to seeing results. “This process in itself can take a little time, but the glowing, clear skin that can result from using the right products is worth it,” Darden said. “It takes time for your skin to turn over; it doesn’t happen overnight. Sticking with a consistent routine and using the right products will yield great results, so don’t give up.”
‘Hmm’ you may be thinking, ‘But I swear I’ve used products that have left me with super soft, undeniably glowing skin right away!’ And yes, you probably have. But according to Dr. Liu, those immediate results are hardly ever permanent. In fact, that instant glow? It’s mostly just light reflecting off your freshly-hydrated skin. Mind. Blown.
Dr. Engelman seconds that disappointing truth, referencing the age-old adage that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. “Anything that claims instant results is likely over-promising.”
Different skincare goals require different products
By now, we’ve established that it can take quite a while to start seeing measurable results from a skincare product, even when it’s working perfectly. And although there is no way to fast-forward through the process, you can get a major head start by identifying which type of product best meets your needs. Thankfully, the experts I spoke with provided general recommendations for which over-the-counter ingredients work for different skin concerns. And while the following list is in no way comprehensive, it’s a good place to start if you’re still pretty new to the wide, wild world of skincare.
- Acne: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), benzoyl peroxide, beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), retinoid, salicylic acid, sulfur
- Dark spots/hyperpigmentation: AHAs, hydroquinone, kojic acid, L-ascorbic acid, phytic acid, retinoid, sunscreen
- Dryness: ceramide, hyaluronic acid, squalane
- Redness/blotchiness: aloe, ceramide, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, oatmeal, peptides, rose oil
- Scarring: glycolic acid, salicylic acid
- Uneven texture: AHAs, BHAs, ceramide, hyaluronic acid
- Wrinkles/fine lines: retinol
Psst: Not sure whether to spring for the top-shelf product or go with a cheaper option? Dr. Engelman said that although more expensive products usually contain higher-quality or more highly-concentrated ingredients, what’s inside the bottle is more important than whatever brand is printed on the outside.
You can have the right products but the wrong routine
Once you’ve determined what type of product to use, it’s equally important to consider your routine as a whole. Think of it this way: you could have found the most perfect product, but if the rest of your routine is lacking, you might be missing out on the best possible results. Likewise, certain ingredients don’t play well together. Even the order you apply your products makes a difference!
Dr. Engelman recommended applying products to a clean, damp face starting with the ones that have the thinnest consistency and allowing each layer to fully absorb before moving on to the next. This might look like starting with a toner, moving on to serums, applying topical treatments, using lotions and creams, and finishing up with sunscreen.
Oh, and while we’re on the topic of sunscreen, this is a good time to note that what you aren’t doing can also make a difference in whether or not you are seeing results. “It’s incredibly important to make sure you’re wearing sunscreen every day to not only treat pigmentation, but also to prevent it,” Dardin noted.
On the other end of the spectrum, it is possible to be doing too much. For example, when it comes to treating acne, taking a gentler approach prevents over-drying the skin and worsening a breakout. A gentler approach is helpful in treating other skin conditions as well. If you notice your skin is irritated after your routine, experiment with alternating the days you use harsher products, such as peels, to avoid overwhelming your skin.
Professional help can speed up the process
But what if you’ve done all of the above — you’ve assessed your skin type, ensured you’re using the correct products in the correct order, and waited and waited and waited — and still haven’t seen the results you were hoping for? It might be time to seek out professional help. Certain conditions — including melasma and hyperpigmentation — see improvement faster when at-home treatment is combined with in-office treatment such as laser and chemical peels, Dr. Liu noted. Other concerns can be treated with a prescription from your dermatologist.
Of course, seeing a dermatologist doesn’t have to be a last resort. As a general rule, Dr. Liu recommended making a dermatology appointment for any skin condition that persists for more than a month. Another reason not to wait? According to Dr. Engelman, certain conditions like scarring respond better the earlier you begin treating them.
It will be worth the wait
If you’ve read this far, you have no doubt realized that skincare can be pretty complicated. It requires customization, trial and error, money, time, patience, knowledge … and the list goes on. But despite how frustrating the process can be, an investment in your skin is an investment in yourself. In the words of Dr. Liu, “You only get one skin for your entire life.” And that, my friends, makes the process worth every bit of effort.