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How long does it take skin care products to work?

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Making the decision to tackle non conformist, stressed out, unhappy skin can feel like a momentous task. Often, this means paring everything back and starting again with your skin care to gradually find a brand, products and skin care regime that works for your skin (which is as beautifully unique as you are).

This is a sensible step, especially for those with skin that’s reacting badly to certain products, is overly oily or dry or suffers the effects of skin conditions such as acne, eczema, rosacea or psoriasis. But it can be a minefield, knowing what skin care to use.

But adding to the complication, is how long to give each product, brand or regime? Some skin care products might promise instant results but do they? Can they? (Seriously though, slathering on an anti ageing cream at night isn’t going to make us wake up looking ten years younger, all our laughter lines erased, no matter what some skin care brands promise us.)

Does it take days, weeks or months for our skin to settle down and get used to a product? Will it be only then that we see actual results? Might we give up too soon and miss out on skin care that gives us fabulous skin? Or will we spend a fortune and waste it on skin care that we just keep persevering with?

Ever the investigators, we had a look to see what the experts say. How long should we give it to see if a skin care product works for us? Here’s what we found.

Skin renewal and skin care

Board certified dermatologist Dr Melanie Palm told the Independent newspaper that on the whole, a product needs around three months of regular use before you can gauge whether it’s right for you or not. But she also said that you may notice changes in your skin (good ones or bad ones) within a month.

This is because it takes around a month for the top layers of skin, called the epidermis, to renew. All cells renew, as the organs (of which the biggest is the skin) replace old, dead cells with new ones. In the skin, complete skin cell renewal takes about a month.

Allowing a product to work on your skin for three of these completely natural cycles gives it enough time to “have possible biological effects on the dermis - the second layer of skin, if this is part of the intended effects of an appropriate skin care product”, Dr Palm told the newspaper.

The same can be said for medicated skin care for skin complaints such as acne if you’re using them (although we always recommend a holistic approach to skin care before using medicated products that can be harsh on delicate facial skin).

If you’re using skin care products that help to target non problem skin types, but instead are designed for cosmetic improvements such as fine lines or areas of more or less augmentation, the same three month rule applies.

This is according to another board certified dermatologist, Dr Jennifer Chwalek, who told the same paper, “In the short term, one may notice their skin looks less dull, better hydrated, and smoother, but when it comes to improvement in fine lines and pigment, it may take much longer”.

Perhaps the only product that might give quicker results is a moisturiser. But beware. If you have parched, dry skin, then putting some moisturiser on will give instant results. Think of the last time you had really dry hands or chapped lips - as soon as you apply hand cream or a lip balm, you feel instant relief.

However, it may still not be the right moisturiser for you, even if you do get instant relief. A moisturiser that’s too heavy or too harsh for your skin will eventually cause problems with oiliness or pore blockages that might lead to spots and acne breakouts.

Changes at a cellular level

Because not all products are created equal. A simple moisturiser will make your skin feel less taut straight away. But it’s unlikely to do much more and certainly won’t do much in the long term.

A moisturiser that contains hyaluronic acid for example, an ingredient that helps to hydrate and plump the skin, will have an effect on dryness and dehydration within a week or so. But using a product that contains retinol, a vitamin A derivative that can help to even out hypo- or hyperpigmentation problems will need at least three months before you see any benefits.

This is because fixing something like pigmentation problems for example, needs to happen at a cellular level. That is, the product needs to change the behaviour of the skin cells, which isn’t going to happen in a few weeks.

This is according to aesthetic doctor, Dr David Jack who also recommends giving cleanser and face washes a few weeks too, whilst they adjust the pH of the skin ever so slightly, helping to improve its texture and appearance.

Dr Jack also says that products that promise to give instant results such as brightening or black head removal, may well do that instantly. But it’s unlikely to be a long lasting effect and will usually disappear after a day or two.

For example, an exfoliating scrub will help to revive dull skin by removing dead skin cells. But the process of skin renewal is constant, and dead skin cells will begin to build up again the very next day, dulling the skin again.

The process of skin purging

Some products may make your skin appear worse before it gets better, which may have you throwing them away quicker than you can say “this product is rubbish!”.

But stand firm and persevere, because the best may be yet to come. Products such as those containing retinoids can cause the skin to renew too quickly, causing the pores to become blocked with cellular debris, potentially leading to outbreaks.

This will be short lived, and after a few weeks your skin should start to improve, but if it doesn’t it’s time to ditch that product.

A testing time!

To summarise, products promising instant results probably won’t provide long term results. So whilst an instant radiant mask might be good for a big night out, most other skin care products will need around three months of regular use before you know if you’re going to get good results.

Hang in there, you’ve totally got this!


Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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