You Asked: How Long Does It Take A New Skincare Product To Work?

Answering the eternal question with logic and science. Oh, and chocolate.
Publish date:
October 9, 2013
advice, acne, cerave, dark circles, skincare, retinoids, skincare products, dark spots

Today’s question was submitted via Kik by my amazing soul-and-heart sister, Faz:

In case you’re on your phone and can’t read that, it says “Say I’m using a new skincare product. How long is it before I know the product works and is suited for my skin? Is there an adjustment period? Should I have to go through a whole bottle to find out?”

This is such a good question, and it’s something that I think we all wonder about. The answer is, OF COURSE, “It depends!”

First, let’s address the elephant in the room: A lot of skincare stuff flat-out doesn’t work. You guys know what my routine looks like now--basic beyond basic--but when I was in college, I spent a lot of time and money trying to get rid of the purplish-blueish circles under my eyes.

Seriously. Show me a lotion, potion or cream that promised to “erase” dark circles, and I’d show you an open wallet.

Do you know what worked? Nothing.

Now that I know more about how skin works, I understand WHY it was scientifically impossible for any of this stuff to have more than a temporary effect on my dark circles. It really taught me to be more mindful of advertising in general, especially when it comes to stuff that I’m already sensitive about--I’m way more likely to believe that a chocolate bar will make me fly if I feel vulnerable about not being able to fly in the first place.

So, keeping that in mind, how long until you know if a product works?

The general rule is to use something for at least one month. Something that I saw cited by reputable sources over and over was a quote from dermatologist Dr. Kenneth Beer: "The complete benefit of skin creams won't be visible until after a full cycle of skin-cell turnover to take place, at least a month."

He also says that you should avoid the sun and not smoke, because both things can interfere with how well--and how quickly--products work. But you guys already knew that.

So, OK. We try something for a month and then throw it away if it doesn’t work, right?

Nope! Because (say it with me), IT DEPENDS! It depends on the product or procedure, the results you expect and your own individual body. Allow me to break down The Quickness And Effectiveness Of Skincare Treatments:

  • Medical procedures give the fastest results. By this I mean “Instantly, or thereabouts.” It can take a few days for botox, fillers or injections to settle, your skin to de-puff and any minor bruising or redness to go away, but you’ll see results very quickly.

  • Products from your doctor will work the next fastest. USUALLY. Topicals to clear up things like acne may give visible results in as little as a week, whereas pills for the same thing could take a month. Prescription retinoids require several months (my GP said maybe even four) before you see any reductions in wrinkles.
  • Products from a cosmetics counter or at a drugstore take the longest to give results. That’s because there aren’t prescription-level amounts of Stuff That Works in them (if there were, they would be considered drugs). A lot of times you’ll see instructions like “Use three times a day for twelve weeks for best results,” which--coincidentally, I’m sure--means that you’ll run out halfway through and need to buy a new bottle, whether or not you see any changes.

Also, you guys have no idea how hard it was to NOT make a graph of that information. NONE.

The takeaway here is that nothing except actual medical procedures will give you instant results. Stuff takes time! You might feel like your skin is softer right away if you try a new moisturiser, or like your face is cleaner if you try a new cleanser, but you should still use it for at least four weeks to really test it.

If you’re trying a brand new skincare routine, you may have to wait quite some time. When I was clearing up my post-illness cystic acne, it took around twelve weeks for the CeraVe to REALLY have a visible effect on my skin. It was clearing up some pretty bad damage, though. I was mega-impatient to have my nice skin back, but I’m glad I didn’t get frustrated and quit, because my skin is lovely now.

Every source I consulted on the internet agreed that products that lighten dark spots or acne marks (ie: stuff with hydroquinone in it) tend to start working pretty quickly, if they’re going to work at all. You should begin to see improvement within three to four weeks, and if you don’t, pitch it.

As for whether there’s an adjustment period, that’s a matter for debate. I’ve heard a lot of people say that when they switched to a new product, their skin “purged” a lot of gross stuff and got really bad before it got better. Some dermatologists say that’s not at all what was going on and skin’s odd behaviour can be attributed to other sources, rather than purging toxins. But generally, I think of an “adjustment period” as more of the time it takes a new product to get in and start working. If something ever made my skin worse with the vague promise of eventually making it better, I would stop using it.

In conclusion: Some products work really quickly, and others take longer. Use everything for at least four weeks before making decisions (possibly longer, depending on your doctor’s advice), have reasonable expectations for products, and be patient.

I hope that this is helpful! As always, if you have any beauty questions for me, hit me up in the comments or on twitter!