How Long Does it REALLY Take for Skincare Products to Work?

good skincare
Photo: Saba/Getty
One of the most common beauty questions that we field here at Daily Makeover is “How long does it take skincare products to work?” And honestly, we understand the confusion: skincare, like wandlore, is a deep branch and complex branch of magic. Should you expect an entirely new face after two weeks, or more subtle results over three months? Labels seldom tell you, and there’s an awful lot of misinformation out there.
We’re here to cut through all that. The general rule of thumb is that medical procedures (like injectables or professionally-administered peels) will give you the fastest results. They are also the most expensive. Products from your doctor—prescriptions or office-only products—will give you the second fastest results, depending on what they are. Skincare products that you get at the drug or department store take the longest to work.
If you don’t see improvements, though, odds are that the product just isn’t right for you. And here’s our comprehensive, no-BS guide to exactly how long it takes for skincare products to work.
Cleanser: 3o days.
The truth about cleanser is that, even though you use it multiple times a day, it doesn’t really stay on your skin long enough to have any major transformative effects—it’ll get your skin clean and that’s about it. But if you’ve been suffering from dryness, dullness or blemishes associated with not washing your face enough, it’ll take about a month of vigilant adherence to a new routine before you start seeing an improvement.
Serum: 6 to 8 weeks.
Serums are skincare miracles in teeny tiny bottles—but finding one that gives you the results you want can be tough, and it’s made even tougher by the fact that it takes a hot minute for those results to show up. Depending on the formula and what you’re expecting it to do, you’ll start to see results after six to eight weeks of regular use.
Retinols and retinoids: 10 weeks for over-the-counter products, 4-6 weeks for prescription.
By now you know that retinol is your skin’s best friend when it comes to busting acne, reducing scarring and eliminating signs of aging—and one of the things we love most about it is that it doesn’t take long to see results. Though you may start peeling and getting red after the first week, you’ll start seeing positive effects relatively soon. When we tried over-the-counter retinols, we saw smoother skin after two months of use—prescription retinoids gave even faster results, revealing clearer, smoother, younger skin after only four weeks. Your results will obviously vary; make sure you talk to your dermatologist before starting (or stopping) a retinol regimen!
Eye cream: 6-8 weeks (if at all).
Your skin is thinner under your eyes than anywhere else on your body, which means it’s often the first place to show wrinkles, puffiness and dryness. While certain eye creams can re-hydrate dehydrated skin and increase firmness, beware of anything you get without a prescription that says it will get rid of dark circles or erase wrinkles forever—those are promises that no over-the-counter product can keep. If you use an eye cream as directed for eight weeks and you don’t see more moisturized under-eye skin, it’s time to ditch that specific product.
Moisturizer: Instantly, with full results after two weeks.
Everyone needs a moisturizer—yes, even if you have oily or acne-prone skin. And while you’ll feel the results of a good moisturizer as soon as it absorbs, you’ll begin seeing the results in your skin after using it consistently for one to two weeks. Goodbye to flaky, overly-shiny skin—hello to a naturally plumped, soft-feeling complexion!
Dark spot treatments: 3-4 weeks.
Over-the-counter products that lighten scarring and sunspots usually contain pretty hardcore ingredients like hydroquinone (or one of its many derivatives)—which means it should start working pretty quickly. If you don’t see results after four weeks of assiduous use, the product isn’t going to work and you should try something else.
Acne treatments: Anywhere from 24 hours to 12 weeks.
There’s a lot of variation here, depending on the severity of your acne and the regimen you’re following. On the whole, over-the-counter acne products can take up to three months of dedicated use to show any improvement, if they do at all. Topical medications prescribed by your dermatologist can take up to six weeks to build up enough in your system to work, and oral medications can take two to three weeks (depending on the prescription). The only zit-zapping procedure that works right away are cortisone shots administered by your dermatologist—and even then, it can take up to 24 hours for the swelling and redness to go down.
Exfoliating brushes: 3 weeks.
We’re sorry to tell you this, but if you haven’t seen improvement in your skin after two to three weeks, your spinning exfoliating brush probably isn’t going to deliver you the complexion miracles you’re hoping for. And if your skin gets worse, this isn’t a “purge”—it’s a reaction to over-exfoliation, and you should stop using your brush immediately.
Body moisturizers: Between 1-4 weeks.
If you’re looking to reduce the effects of a skin disorder like Keratosis pilaris or to repair severely dry skin, you can expect to see results in as little as three to four weeks. If you’re looking from respite from just normally dry skin, or to up the radiance of your arms and legs, look for improvement after a week of regular use.

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