How Long Should It Take For Skincare To Work?
When it comes to new skincare products, patience is a virtue. So, don’t get mad when your vitamin C serum doesn’t give you instantly glowing skin. Just get real and give it a chance.
We bet you’ve all been there: invested in a fancy, new overnight glow-getting serum that’s promised to give you radiant skin just like the advertising campaign portrays. You’ve smoothed it lovingly over your face with nervous excitement and anticipation of the miracle results you ‘know’ you’re going to be faced with after just one application… Then you’ve been sorely disappointed when you wake up with the same, average-looking complexion the next morning. Sigh.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Even the most seasoned beauty editor has put their every hope on a new product being ‘the one.’ But unlike your favorite red lipstick or those sexy black Manolos, skincare rarely offers such instant gratification.
So, how long should it really take before you see results from your new whizz-bang skincare product? Well, it all depends on the job that product is trying to accomplish. Is it a basic moisturizer simply there to relieve surface dryness? Then, yes, it should do that straight away. But if it's a retinol cream you’re hoping will help reduce enlarged pores and fine lines, it’s all about the long game, or more specifically working with your skin’s natural life cycle.
Here’s the deal. Your skin is constantly regenerating itself. Skin cells form within the deepest layers of your epidermis, then as they mature they work their way up to the surface of your skin where they die and shed. (Fun fact: you lose about 50 million skin cells every day. Yes, that's a lot.)
The life cycle of your skin takes around 28 days in an average adult, but it's much quicker when you’re younger and continually slows down as you age – no surprise there. This means any skincare product that works on a deeper, cellular level will also take at least 28 days to take effect and work on every cell that’s reached the surface of your skin. Makes sense? We hope so.
If you’re not sure what to expect from a new skincare product, the general rule of thumb is to give it about a month to do its best work. But let’s break it down a little more, shall we?
The Instant Gratifiers
Products that don’t claim to work on a deeper, cellular level are quite capable of getting the job done instantly. Most cleansers, for example, are simply there to remove dirt, oil and makeup from the surface of your skin so they're able to take care of business without requiring weeks of waiting. Similarly, toners, exfoliators and face masks all offer instant results because they work primarily on the uppermost levels of your skin. And we’re not saying this is a bad thing. Far from it. You just need to know that instant results rarely offer long-term advantages.
There are two main exceptions to this rule, however. Namely chemical exfoliation and moisturizer.
Chemical exfoliators such as those containing glycolic acid, lactic acid and salicylic acid offer both short and long-term benefits. A chemical exfoliator’s main job is to help accelerate sluggish cell turnover by loosening the bonds between dead skin cells so they’re able to shed more easily. This not only gives you instantly more radiant skin, but helps improve the strength, thickness, texture and tone of your skin in the long-term. Some may also help prevent congestion and pimples with continued use.
Depending on what you were using before, a new moisturizer might also give you both immediate and long-term benefits. Most moisturizers contain a combination of humectants, emollients and/or occlusives to draw moisture into your skin and hold it there. This offers all manner of instant relief such as immediate hydration and skin softening benefits. But you’ll also reap enhanced results over time (usually between two and six weeks) as all these ingredients work hard to maintain moisture and improve your skin’s barrier function.
Moisturizers (and in some cases, cleansers) may also contain other active ingredients such as retinol or vitamin C, so if this is the case you should always play the slightly longer waiting game for the best results.
Speaking of which…
The Long Game Players
Any formulation that works on a deep, cellular level and causes semi-permanent changes to the biological makeup of your skin will need at least four weeks of patience and continued use. This will allow the active ingredients to work on a whole cycle of skin cells, by which point those cells will be visible on the surface to give you an indication of how effective (or not) the product has been.
Long game players include the likes of retinoids, growth factors, peptides, antioxidants like vitamin C and any ingredient that claims to treat acne. And while we said that 28 days is the sweet spot for the tortoises in this skincare race, sometimes six or seven weeks is required before you’ll see the best results. In fact retinol often only reaps true rewards after two months of continued use. We repeat, patience is a virtue.
When it comes to treating discolorations, be extra sensible with your expectations – especially during summer when those evil rays from the sun will be fighting hard to combat any good you’re doing with your active skincare routine. Give all brightening products (yes, even hydroquinone) two or three months to do their best work and wear a broad-spectrum SPF daily to ensure the sun doesn’t win the pigmentation war.
Finally, Don’t Forget
Introducing new products into your skincare routine should never be rushed. Always perform a patch test first to help reduce irritation, and only ever introduce new products one at a time, giving yourself two weeks before trying another. This will help you understand if there are certain products and ingredients your skin might not tolerate.
Any new product that makes your skin itchy, sore, red, peel or break out means it might not be the right fit for your routine. Granted, some ingredients such as retinol have this kind of ‘purging’ effect in the short-term, but if symptoms persist or get worse, stop using it and visit a board-certified expert for advice.
About Georgia Gould
Georgia is an award-winning beauty writer who has been in the business for over 20 years. British-born, she began her career as a magazine beauty editor in London before moving to San Francisco, CA in 2012 where she now continues her love as a freelance writer and editor. As well as her editorial work, Georgia has created content for many high-profile beauty brands, including Clarins, L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, Simple and TRESemmé. Her passions include retinol (obviously), golfing, skiing and walking her beloved Schnauzer, Dave.