When starting any new skincare product or routine, it can be really easy to get swept up in the hope that finally, this product will be the one to cure all of your skin problems – only to be swiftly disappointed when you don’t see results right away.
Unfortunately, skin care products take considerably more time, patience, and consistent use to see the benefits.
How long it takes the most popular skin care products to work
A good general rule of thumb is that unless a product or ingredient is causing you serious irritation, you should stick with any new skin care routine for at least 28 days so you can really see how it performs. It may take a while for your skin to get used to new ingredients, such as retinol or acids.
With this in mind, you should avoid starting a whole new skin care routine all at once, because if something is causing irritation or break-outs it will be much harder to pick out the culprit. Introduce new products gradually so you can easily identify if it doesn’t suit your skin type.
A derivative of vitamin A, retinol prompts your cell turnover to speed up and reveal newer healthier skin cells. As such, retinol is considered one of the best anti-ageing skin care ingredients, as well as being a popular acne treatment.
When using retinol, you should see improvements in the acne and the overall look of your skin in about one-to-two months. Deeper lines and wrinkles should see an improvement in four-to-six months.
You may see results faster with stronger prescription retinol like Tretinoin, however, these products can also be more volatile if not used correctly (in fact, Tretinoin is banned in the EU). While retinol is an amazing ingredient for oily and ageing skin , it can also dry out and irritate the skin if you go too hard too soon.
The best approach to introducing retinol in your routine is to go low and slow. Start off using a weaker strength retinol two times a week, and gradually increase this to every other night over a period of a few months.
If you experience any dryness, flaking or skin irritation, that’s a sign from your skin that you should scale things back and use it less often. Couple your retinol routine with a thick moisturiser and hyaluronic acid serum to combat surface dryness.
Acid exfoliants is a very broad term, but typically, the most common chemical exfoliants are glycolic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid. These ingredients work incredibly fast, and you’ll start seeing results almost immediately – but it is important to know how they work differently.
Glycolic acid and lactic acid are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which work by eating away dead skin cells on the surface of the skin. AHAs are too large to actually be absorbed fully into the pores, so they work best for jobs like reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation and sun damage, as well as reducing fine lines. Immediately you’ll notice the polished glow you get from using AHAs, and over time you’ll see a reduction in dark marks and surface blemishes.
Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), which are able to actually penetrate deep into skin pores to eat away dirt, grime and acne-causing bacteria. You’ll notice the acne-eating benefits of salicylic acid in a couple of hours, as your break-outs will start to shrink and spots will fade.
When experimenting with chemical exfoliants, be careful not to overdo it – because you could quite easily give yourself a chemical burn, which will do more damage to your skin in the long run. Experts recommend that drier skin types limit chemical exfoliation to one-to-two times a week, while oilier skin types can get away with using AHAs and BHAs every other day. You can also use BHAs as a spot treatment during a break-out.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a plant compound derived from hemp, which has gained serious attention in the last few years for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
The research behind CBD skin care is still in its infancy, so it’s hard to know how long it will take to see results. However, a 2017 review of research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology showed evidence that topically applied CBD could improve skin condition in just three weeks.
If you’re using a targeted CBD serum, you should see an improvement in any signs of inflammation in a few weeks – such as acne breakouts and redness. In the long term (2-4 months) you should notice an improvement in hyperpigmentation, as the antioxidant effects of CBD can give your SPF a boost of protection from UV rays.
Hyaluronic acid is a sugary compound that is naturally occurring within the skin, however, as we age the skin produces less and less. Hyaluronic acid works by pulling moisture out of the air and into the skin and can attract over 1,000 times its own weight in water.
After using a hyaluronic acid face serum or moisturiser, you should notice your skin feeling plumper and hydrated almost instantly. Over the course of a few weeks, hyaluronic acid may also help to fade fine lines that are exacerbated by dryness and dehydration.
Depending on how strong your vitamin C serum is, seeing an improvement in dark marks and hyperpigmentation could take anywhere from two weeks to four months.
While you might want to speed up this process by using a stronger vitamin C treatment or serum, a more potent formulation can actually irritate the skin. If you’re using other strong active ingredients in your routine (like AHAs) it might be a better option to pick a lower strength.
Ultimately, different skin types will react differently, and it’s up to you to decide whether you want to use a weaker strength vitamin C serum every day, or a stronger formulation two-to-three times a week.
When it comes to cleansers and face washes, you should know straight away whether a product has worked – which is simply by checking if your face is clean or not. After you wash your face, try swiping a cotton round soaked micellar water or makeup remover over your face. If the cotton round is clean, you’re good to go. If it’s still got a grimey grey-brown tint, your cleanser hasn’t left your face totally clean.
Now before you go throwing out an entire bottle of new cleanser, there are some other factors to consider. If you wear make-up and SPF every day, it is important to incorporate double-cleansing into your routine to leave your skin truly clean.
Double cleansing simply means washing your face twice – once to remove makeup and SPF, and then to actually clean your skin. Many people swear by an oil cleanser as a first step for dissolving makeup quickly and effectively without drying out your skin.
After cleansing, your skin should feel fresh, soft and supple. While many people like the feeling of “squeaky clean” skin after cleansing, this can actually be a sign that your cleanser is damaging your natural moisture barrier which will cause more problems in the long run (think acne, inflammation, and flaking).
If your skin feels overly dry, parched or tight, try switching to an oil-based cleanser, or a cleanser with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides and glycerin. Ironically, oil cleansers are also suitable for oilier skin types as they help to pull excess oil out of the skin better than water-based cleansers.
Much like your cleanser, moisturisers should work immediately to seal hydration into the skin – and you’ll know if a certain moisturiser will suit your skin more or less straight away.
If your skin still feels tight, flaky or just a bit thirsty after moisturising, you should swap to a thicker moisturiser or something with more occlusive ingredients. The best moisturisers for dry skin will contain ingredients like glycerin, lanolin and plant oils like castor oil, avocado oil and olive oil. Occlusives seal moisture into the skin to prevent dehydration and moisture loss.
If your skin feels oily or congested after moisturising, try switching to a lighter formula. The best moisturisers for oily skin are typically oil-free formulations and gel moisturisers.