How long it REALLY takes for your skincare products to start working

How long it REALLY takes for your favourite skincare products to start working – and why ‘instant’ results aren’t always realistic

  • An Australian expert has shared how long skincare products take to work 
  • Fiona Tuck said some ingredients work after 24 hours, while others take longer
  • Moisturisers work after one use, but must be used every day to maintain results 
  • Serums including retinol and AHA can take up to 12 weeks to clear the skin 
  • Fiona said these varied times depend on skin condition, age and expectation 

An Australian skin expert has revealed how long it takes for skincare ingredients to start working, and why it’s important to be patient when awaiting results.

Fiona Tuck (pictured) said some ingredients may work effectively after 24 hours while others take up to 12 weeks

Fiona Tuck, from Sydney, told FEMAIL some ingredients may work effectively after 24 hours while others take up to 12 weeks.

She said it’s important to consider age, the condition of the skin as well as the formulation of the product and quantity of each ingredient used.

‘Like weight loss, you can’t expect to see visual results instantly,’ Fiona said. 

She recommends taking photos to keep track of the treatment prior to using any products.  

Moisturisers and hyaluronic acid – after a few minutes for short-term results

Moisturisers are common products used to help treat dry skin. 

Typically moisturisers contain hyaluronic acid, which is a naturally present in the skin, but provides short-term effects at moistening the skin and must be used daily. 

‘Hyaluronic acid is used in topical skincare products to instantly hydrate the skin because it has a very powerful moisture-bind capacity – so you should see an improvement on the skin after one use,’ Fiona said.

‘If you apply a cream or a sheet mask, you will notice an instant plump and hydration of the skin.’

But this hydration is short lived and doesn’t last longer than 24 hours, and so it’s essential to moisturise every day to add moisture back into the skin.  

Serums – 3 to 12 weeks

Serums work in a similar way to moisturisers, but often contain higher quantities of active ingredients and provide long-term solutions.

‘Depending on the strength of the product will determine how fast it works,’ Fiona said.

‘Some spot treatments can reduce the appearance of acne and pimples after 24 hours, while weaker alternatives can take up to 12 weeks.’

Serums work in a similar way to moisturisers, but often contain higher quantities of active ingredients and provide long-term solutions

Vitamin C – 3 to 12 weeks

Fiona said the more chronic the skin condition is, the longer it will take to see results, but as a guide, vitamin C can take between three to 12 weeks to work effectively.

There are a number of reasons why vitamin C is used, including to brighten dark spots, to help protect against UV damage and assists with pigmentation.

‘When you apply vitamin C it will work straight away as an antioxidant benefit and protect the skin, but it will need to be used for a longer period of time to notice a visible change,’ Fiona said.

‘Within three weeks, you will start to notice a brightening of the skin but other effects on fine lines and collagen production, this will take up to 12 weeks.’ 

Fiona said the more chronic the skin condition is, the longer it will take to see results, but as a guide, vitamin C can take between three to 12 weeks to work effectively

Lactic acid – a few days 

Lactic acid is a common ingredient used in both moisturisers and serums as either a weaker or stronger product.

Fiona said when used as a serum or hydroxy acid, the customer will notice results quicker as the product often contains a higher percentage of the ingredient.

‘The stronger the amount of lactic acid, the more instant the results because it swiftly removes dead skin cells from the surface of the skin,’ she said.

‘You should start to see results after the first few days if the percentage of lactic acid is high enough.’

But Fiona said this also depends on the desired outcome the individual is seeking.  

How long does it take skincare ingredients to work? 

Hyaluronic acid and moisturisers = after a few minutes, but must be used daily to maintain results 

Vitamin C = 3 to 12 weeks

Lactic acid (serum) = 6 to 12 weeks

Retinol (serum) = 8 to 12 weeks

Benzoyl peroxide = 4 to 12 weeks

AHA = usually straight away 

The time varies depending on the strength of the ingredient and the desired outcome the individual is seeking 

Retinol and Vitamin A – 4 to 12 weeks

Fiona said there’s different types of vitamin A that is stronger than others, but usually results can be noticed after the first four weeks.

‘Retinol is a weaker form of vitamin A, and there are stronger prescription forms customers can purchase for faster results depending on their skin condition,’ she said.

‘The longer you use retinol or vitamin A, the better the skin is going to get.’

As a guide, Fiona said this ingredient works after the first four weeks but those with acne the retinol will work after 12 weeks.

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