The short answer is “it depends”. It really depends on different factors. The first one is what kind of product is it? The second is what ingredients? Next, is in what concentration? And then it depends on your skin type, your age, your ethnicity. And then it can depend on which area you’re treating, is it your face, neck, or another part of your body? Further, it even depends on the season.

Photo by Sora Shimazaki


In the ideal case, you actually only need 3 kinds of products for your basic skincare:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Moisturiser
  3. SPF

The cleanser removes dirt and impurities and it will clean your skin immediately. The moisturiser prevents your skin from drying out and it provides instant hydration. The SPF protects your skin from UV rays.

With only these 3 products, you can maintain healthy skin – in the ideal case and when you’re not wearing makeup that is. Other kinds of products are optional and/or go beyond basic skincare.

A toner softens your skin and prepares it for other skin care products. When your skin is slightly damp, it’s more absorbent so that the following products can more easily penetrate into the skin.

Essences or serums tackle specific skin concerns and therefore contain different actives. Of course, there are moisturisers and eye creams that were formulated specially to address different concerns.


When you read beauty magazines or blogs, you probably saw the word “active” – for example just in the previous passage. Put simply, a skin care active is an ingredient that addresses a skin concern for which the product was developed. It has been proven in the lab that it changes the skin in a specific way.

The most widely known actives include

  • AHA
  • BHA
  • Ceramides
  • Niacinamide
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C

These will target skin problems like acne, blemishes, fine lines, dry skin, and hyper-pigmentation. But to understand how long it takes to see results such as cleared spots or reduced fine lines, we need to take a look at the biology of the skin.

Skin Cell Turn Over

The skin cell turnover is the process in which a new skin cell is formed (in lay terms “born”) and then makes its way to the surface of the skin until it’s shed off to make place for a new cell.

This is how our skin renews itself. The skin cell turnover takes place in the epidermis. Generally speaking, this cycle takes 28 days, give or take.

In theory, after one cycle or about 28 days, every cell on the surface of your skin will have come into contact with the product that you’re trying and can attest to its efficacy. But in practice, there are many factors that can affect how long the cycle is.

What can shorten or lengthen the skin cell turnover

As with many things, age has an impact on the skin cell cycle and as you’d expect, the older you are, the longer it takes. The season, your ethnicity, and the area of skin on your body or face can also affect the turnover. Even your skin condition is a factor. If you have acne-prone skin, most likely, the skin cell cycle is longer.

To summarise, you may need to be more patient

  • The older you are
  • If you start using a new product in winter
  • The fairer your skin is
  • If you’re using it on your back or other parts of your body rather than your face
  • If you have acne-prone skin

How to get the results you

Now you know how the skin cell turnover has an impact on how long it takes for a skin care ingredient to have an effect. But deeper changes such as reducing acne for good or fading dark spots, take longer.

As a guideline, the more work needs to be done on a cellular level, the more time it takes until you’ll see results. This means several things:

There’s no silver bullet ingredient

In skin care as in your overall body health, there’s no such thing as the one miracle ingredient, fruit, vegetable, or product. Our bodies need a wide variety of all kinds of nutrients to stay fit and healthy – so does our skin.

Some claims may just be exaggerated or even pure fantasy

Sometimes, product labels are just marketing. It tells a good story.

Above all be consistent

Sometimes, people give up using a product far too early because they get frustrated when they don’t see an effect. But skin care is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to use your product regularly for a longer period of time. Consistency is key.

How to know a product isn’t for you on the first try

The most immediate sign is an intense sensation like burning or stinging, then your skin is really not happy. If you get a burning or stinging sensation, wash off the product immediately. The new product is definitively not for you.

Other signs may appear later and include a rash, redness, or itching.

How to introduce a new product

What works for one person may not necessarily work for you. We all have different skin that reacts differently. But you can try 3 tests to see if your skin is happy with a product before going full in and using it for more than one skin cell turnover cycle.

Test for allergies

Start with testing for contact allergy and apply the new product behind your year. If that patch starts to tingle or get bump and red or splotchy, stop using the product in question immediately. If there is no reaction, test for irritation.

Test for irritation

Use a small amount of the new product on a hidden portion of your neck. Should that part get irritated, be sure to note what kind of irritation it is. For example, it’s not necessarily a problem with products containing AHA or BHA. Again, if there’s no reaction, go to the last test.

Test for clogging

The last test checks if the product will cause your pores to be clogged, leading to zits and breakouts. For that, apply the new product to areas you usually get the most spots. If you see blocked pores and more zits, it’s not formulated for your skin type.

How to know if a product was effective

Your new product has passed all tests and you’re using it for a while now and you’re itching to see results.

As you know it takes about 28 takes for your skin to renew itself and so for you to see the first changes. But you should stick to your new skin care routine for at least another 8 weeks to really determine its efficacy on your skin.

It takes about a month for your skin to replace its top layer, but for the full results to appear, it takes 3 to 4 months. Then you’ll see positive changes in your skin like less dry and more supple skin. Your overall complexion is brighter, smoother and the overall pore size is reduced. Your skin feels hydrated, yet not oily.


No matter what skin problems you’re addressing, it’s important to have realistic expectations. If you’re constantly changing your routine and adding new products, you’re not giving your skin time to adjust. Maybe worse, you don’t even know which of the new products it was that made your skin glow.

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