How long Does It Take for Skincare Products to Actually Work?

March 13, 2021 6 min read 0 Comments

women holding skincare products

by Kali Kushner

Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to waiting on your skincare routine to begin showing results. When struggling with a breakout, dull skin, or fine lines we start a new product or regimen and expect to see results immediately, or at least within two weeks. If we don't see results? We stop using it or return it. Could it be possible that we're hindering results by not giving our products a fighting chance and giving up too quickly?
Today I want to talk about how long it actually takes for skincare products to work, how soon you should be seeing results, and when it's time to call it quits.

How Long Does It Take For Products To Work?

In general, skincare products for skin issues like acne, hyperpigmentation, or fine lines can take on average anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks to really work and see noticeable results.  
A full skin cycle takes about 6 weeks, from baby cells being born at the deepest layer to mature surface skin cells that eventually shed off.  As we age, a full skin cycle can take a bit longer. So, at the bare minimum give your skin a month and a half at least before deciding whether or not a new routine is working for you.
At three months a new routine should level itself out and you should be seeing the results. It all depends on the individual, the skin concern, the type of skincare products, and how your skin functions specifically.   Would you be surprised if I told you that different products have different time tables on when you should be seeing results?

Here's How Long It Takes For Different Products To Work

Cleansers

You should be able to tell if a cleanser is right or wrong for you after the first use. If it leaves your skin feeling tight, irritated, red, itchy, or dry go ahead and ditch it. When looking for a balanced cleanser be sure to test its pH level, making sure it's around a 5.5 or slightly acidic. 
Alkaline cleansers can strip the acid mantle and leave your skin vulnerable to acne causing bacteria and other environmental damage.  If it's still not working, try a cleanser with a different texture or consistency- such as an oil, cream, or gel.  Note that oil or balm based cleansers are typically designed as a first cleanse to be followed up with a more clarifying foaming cleanser.  

Toners

Toners take 1-2 weeks of consistent use to see results with pore size and redness. Like cleansers, you should be seeing results fairly quickly.  If you notice redness, irritation, or small clogged pores after using your toner, immediately discontinue use! Many toners are not properly formulated, containing sensitizing fragrances, irritating essential oils, or drying isopropyl alcohol. 
Some toners are designed to exfoliate skin, which should be used no more than 3 times a week - you may expect some purging if it is an exfoliating toning. 

Moisturizers

With a moisturizer, is possible to see overnight improvement in terms of skin moisture depending on your previous regimen. Typically, moisturizers take 2 weeks to 2 months to see lasting results (which will continue and improve over time). If your skin feels too dry, or too oily by the middle of the day it may be time to switch formulas.  Tip: If it's too dry try adding a lightweight oil to your moisturizer!  Use the right moisturizer for your skin type.  Oily skin types need moisture too, and may fare better with a water based or oil free moisturizer compared to dry skin.  Look for humectant ingredients like glycerin in your moisturizer.

Exfoliators

Exfoliators are the trickiest skincare product to pin down (in my opinion). If you're using things like AHA's and BHA's then they can cause a purging phase in the beginning, eventually evening themselves out after about 2 months. If chemical exfoliants make you nervous, you may start with a gentle physical one if your skin isn't currently going through acne breakouts. You can also ease into chemical exfoliants with a once a week (or once every two weeks) treatment. If an exfoliant is right for you, you should start to see results with smoother skin and reduced hyperpigmentation after about 3 weeks. Continuous use is required to maintain results.  Tip: Make sure not to over exfoliate!  If skin feels sensitive, red, irritated - it's a sign that you are over exfoliating so cut back! 

Acne Targeted Products:

Acne targeted products, unfortunately, take the longest to produce results. If you're using benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid you may see immediate improvement but consistent results should be seen after 4 to 12 weeks. If your skin hasn’t improved after 12 weeks of consistent use it may be time to seek out a different treatment.


A good rule of thumb is that surgical or cosmetic procedures such as laser treatment will work the most immediate, prescription creams like Retin A or Epiduo will be the next effective, and over the counter treatments will take the most amount of time.

Being Consistent With Your Skincare Routine Matters

I know the situation all too well. You've got a big presentation, date, or another important (yet stressful) event and a big cyst rears its ugly head. You'll do anything to get rid of it fast. However, if that spot treatment or anti-inflammatory serum isn't working you probably ditch it after about a week or so.

I don't blame you, it's hard to have patience when basically everything gives us instant gratification these days. We can watch our favorite shows (Netflix), or even date at the click of a button.  So, waiting for your spots to disappear after using a product for a week feels like forever.

Don't Switch Out Products Too Often

Unfortunately, when it comes to skincare, constantly switching it up can do way more harm than good.  It can be hard to tell which products are working and which are making your acne worse. That's why consistency is key and as we mentioned above, it can take 6 weeks on average to know if a product works for you since the skin cycle takes a full month.   For some, it takes around three months for their skin issues to completely resolve. It's just how our skin biologically works, it’s a process that can't be rushed.

Constantly switching between one product for another can create issues with your skin, because if you don't know what kind of ingredients or product your skin is actually reacting to, you may be doing the same mistake with your skincare by exposing your skin to a product or ingredient it doesn't sit well with over and over. This can lead to more sensitive and irritated skin down the line that makes it harder to repair.

When to stop a new skincare routine?

According to expert esthetician Renee Rouleau, you should stop a new skincare product or routine if you experience any of the following:

  • Excess redness and irritation
  • Excessive oiliness
  • Excessive dryness
  • Breakouts that last longer than 3-4 weeks
  • Stinging (when it shouldn’t be)

My Personal Experience With Skincare Routines

I can only speak based on my skin type (sensitive, acne prone) but to tell a difference in new routines I typically have to wait anywhere from a month and a half to two months. Here's typically how it goes down for me. During the first week or two I experience a honeymoon period, I think "this is awesome, this is the best product I've ever used, I love it". My breakouts typically improve or go away completely.

During the third and fourth week the honeymoon period starts to wear off, and I typically experience some purging or blemishes if I'm using a new product targeted towards acne or exfoliation.

Purging can also occur with AHA'S/BHA'S. The fifth and sixth week are where things start to level out, after this stage if my skin isn't clear or at least normalized it's probably not going to be.

If it's been three months and I haven't seen changes or my skin has gotten worse, it's probably time to move on. Even with diet changes to see a difference in my skin I've noticed it takes about two to three months.

What's your experience with switching up skincare routines? 



Also in The Acne Battle Book

people on beach in summer
Summer Skincare Tips To Have On Hand

July 07, 2021 3 min read 0 Comments

chemical peel
Microneedling VS. Chemical Peels for Acne Scars

June 19, 2021 2 min read 0 Comments

what is microneedling
What Is Microneedling? How It Works And All Your Questions Answered

June 18, 2021 10 min read 0 Comments