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How Long Will It Take to See Results? A Breakdown of Timelines by Active Ingredient

Updated: Jan 23, 2023

Clients often ask how long it will take for them to see results when starting to use new skincare products, so I thought to address some top active ingredients and approximate time ranges. I understand the struggle and hopefully, this will encourage you to stick with your skincare routines!


Vitamin C

  • Approximately 3-4 weeks.

  • The skin’s protection from free radical damage starts immediately upon application, however improvements in skin’s texture and overall brightening will start to become apparent at around 3-4 weeks, with maximum improvement requiring up to 12 weeks of consistent use.

My top picks for a Vitamin C serum are all from the antioxidant authority SkinCeuticals because they specifically formulate their antioxidants (powerful molecules that neutralize free radicals) to best penetrate the skin, providing advanced environmental protection with corrective benefits for your specific skin concerns. Their formulas contain pure stable molecules, are delivered at the right concentration, and are in the most effective combinations. I recommend CE Ferulic for sensitive, normal, and/or dry skin types with fine lines/wrinkles and loss of elasticity being their primary concerns. I recommend Phloretin CF for normal to combination skin types & those with aging and discoloration/uneven tone as primary concerns. I recommend Silymarin CF for blemish-prone & oily skin types with uneven texture and clarifying as primary concerns.


Salicylic Acid

  • Peak improvement at approximately 12 weeks.

  • In the interim, purging will take place and breakouts (chronic acne and blackheads) should begin to lessen, also pores tend to tighten up and overall texture improves.

My top picks for a Salicylic Acid product include:


I’ve been an aesthetician for nearly two decades and yet never consistently used a toner in my skincare regimen. I support pH balancing the skin and I can get behind the notion of a second cleanse, I just haven’t found many "toners" to be all that memorable. However, I’ve taken a step back with this exceptional product, and I can confidently say that it’s a workhorse that deserves a place in many skincare routines. I’d consider this to be a treatment toner, as it doesn't merely balance the skin, but it effectively exfoliates the skin using both AHA and BHA acids to really brighten and resurface. The result is a smoother, refined texture to the skin and a more even-toned complexion. If you have sensitive or reactive skin this product would not be a good AHA to adopt, instead opt for one of the aforementioned Lactic Acid formulations. And if you’re already using other mechanical or chemical exfoliants, it would be wise to apply this product sparingly and/or sporadically rather than daily, as I’ve found it to be potent when combined with other formulations that encourage cellular turnover (think Retinoids, etc.). Overall, a great option for someone with combination or oily skin, particularly blemish-prone, as the addition of Azelaic Acid is very effective at tackling a lot of issues that these skin types often experience.


This affordable BHA acne treatment is readily available at most mass merchants. Alcohol-free, and at a 2% Salicylic Acid concentration, it’s non-irritating and helps clear up existing breakouts while also helping to prevent future flare-ups. And Salicylic Acid does a great job of clearing out and minimizing pores. I love the addition of AHA acids in this product, specifically: Glycolic and Lactic Acids, as they help to brighten, soften, and smooth the skin as well. So it is perfect for someone looking to address both pimples and wrinkles! Enriched with Niacinamide, and a medley of Ceramides to reinforce the skin’s protective barrier, this lightweight gel is both gentle and hydrating, unlike many acne topicals, making it ideal for anyone suffering from acne.


I’ve found this mask to be spot-on for those occasions when I’m experiencing mild breakouts and want a gentle exfoliating option that purifies my skin while also leaving me glowing! I’m always pleased with how bright and smooth my skin looks after using this product and how beautifully my makeup goes on after usage. This clarifying mask very gently removes dead skin cells using a combination of Betaine Salicylate (a surprisingly gentle BHA, that is very similar molecularly to Salicylic Acid), combined with 10% Mandelic Acid and 10% Niacinamide. Those seeking an at-home treatment mask that is gentle enough for even sensitive skin types to use will really fall for this product. The balancing combination of active ingredients makes for a just-right glow on those days when my skin seems a bit dull and needs a pick-me-up.


Hyaluronic Acid

  • A few minutes.

  • Almost instant gratification, like a drink of water for your skin, plumping, hydrating benefits should be evident right upon application!

My top picks for a Hyaluronic Acid serum are the following:


This product features 3 superstar humectants: Hyaluronic Acid, Snow Mushroom Extract, and Polyglutamic Acid - so it fits the bill in terms of addressing skin moisture. The texture has a nice slip to it and easily glides on and across the skin, and serves as a great "base", on which to apply your morning and evening moisturizer. The price point is extremely affordable, and the line is carried at a mass merchant retailer, Target, so it makes it very accessible to most people, and I consider that to be a win-win.


This lightweight serum has a slightly creamy texture and thicker viscosity than most HA serums, so it’s a great option for someone with a drier skin type. It boosts hydration immediately upon application and boasts other powerhouse ingredients: Provitamin B5, Pineapple Ceramide, and Sodium Hyaluronate which all work synergistically to deliver consistent hydration all day long. The price point is very approachable, and the brand is available at many retailers, making it a top Hyaluronic Acid serum recommendation.


Retinol/Retinoids

  • 8-12 weeks

  • This powerhouse ingredient does so much to transform skin, but the collagen-boosting benefits manifest at around 3 months of consistent usage.

Retinoids are also the gold standard for improving dullness, wrinkles, laxity, breakouts, and discoloration. Meant to be used only in the evening on clean/dry skin as your first step after cleansing, be careful to avoid the eye and lip areas. Whichever brand you choose, allow the product to absorb before applying other skincare products. And keep in mind that if you’re just starting to add this powerful ingredient to your nighttime regimen, easing slowly with the frequency, aiming for a minimum of 3x a week is a good starting point.


My top picks for a Retinol/Retinoid are the following:


I love this gentle and mostly well-tolerated product, as I find that even reactive and sensitive skin types typically find their skin remains happy with regular use. The Avocado Seed Oil base is lightweight and easily absorbs into the skin, while also being rich in antioxidants. The addition of Blue Tansy and German Chamomile help to soothe and calm any irritation making it a favorite of mine.


This elevated drugstore brand is affordable and formulates using pure Retinol – an awesome pick for those seeking a true retinol option. The product’s texture is creamy and easily melts into the skin, and it also manages to be hydrating, which is an added benefit as retinol is known to cause dryness and flaking for many users. RoC RETINOL CORREXION Line Smoothing Eye Cream is another top pick, as it harnesses the power of pure retinol while being formulated specifically to be gentle enough for the delicate eye area. Improvement in discoloration/dark circles, fine lines/wrinkles, crepiness, and puffiness are to be expected with regular use. I often recommend this affordable antiaging eye treatment to my clients.


This medical-grade eye treatment effectively marries both a Retinoid and Alpha Hydroxy Acid to really tackle advanced aging concerns. The moisture barrier maintains its integrity due to the addition of a hydrating complex that provides comfort and moisture, and the addition of a medley of antioxidants provides free radical protection making this eye cream a super-star for anyone desiring skin rejuvenation for their eye area.


AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids)

  • Right away, several weeks, AND 8-12 weeks

  • Exfoliating, the sloughing off of dead skin cells is immediate, but achieving the desired glow can take one to two weeks, finally if your goal is to correct pigmentation you should expect to wait a lot longer, as this outcome requires at least 8-12 weeks.


There is a wide variety of AHAs (Lactic, Malic, Glycolic, Tartaric, Mandelic, etc) and countless product options; here are some of my favorites:


Oh how I love an easy-to-use fool-proof peel that is gentle enough for anyone to use safely, while still being effective! For that very reason, I’m always on the hunt for a product like this, that I can confidently recommend for at-home use. I really love Lactic Acid-based peels because that large molecule is non-irritating to even the most sensitive skin types and it hydrates and brightens beautifully, as does the addition of Phytic Acid. My skin responds well to this combination of gentle exfoliants, and after discovering this, I was eager to share my findings with my clients who could benefit from more radiance and hydration (so basically everyone), minus the chance of irritation. Ready for your glow-up? I recommend using it once a week with just that goal in mind!


The Organic Peeling Exfoliant by KADALYS is so versatile in terms of application, I feel like anyone, and everyone could benefit from adding this into their skincare mix. I’ve found myself reaching for this tube of French loveliness time and again - admittedly, I’m a sucker for a beautiful gommage. I’ve enjoyed the radiant results from applying it as a mask and then just rinsing it off, and I’ve also benefited from applying it as a scrub (the jojoba beads gently slough off any dead skin) and massaging it into my skin to reveal visibly cleaner and brighter skin. Finally, I‘ve most enjoyed experiencing both the mechanical and chemical exfoliation results simultaneously - my complexion appears smoother, perked up, and incredibly soft to the touch. This product is so gentle that it can be used a couple of times weekly. As mentioned above, Lactic acid is a milder AHA that my skin has always responded well to, the larger molecule size doesn't penetrate as deeply and quickly, as many other AHA's (think Glycolic Acid), so it tends to be very well-tolerated for even sensitive and reactive skin types. In short, I love this product and will be keeping it in my skincare rotation.


Literally glow to bed with this overnight treatment that exfoliates to promote skin clarity and brightness. It’s formulated with a true free acid value of 10% Glycolic Acid to break the bonds that hold dead cells on the skin’s surface and to promote cellular turnover. It’s synergistically blended with 2% Phytic Acid to promote skin clarity and brightness, and a triple-action soothing complex that fortifies the skin barrier. This spicy formula improves the appearance of skin texture and tone, enhances radiance, and reveals smoother, more polished, and youthful-looking skin. Proven tolerable for nightly use for those with thicker skin, however, if you’re using retinoid too, I recommend alternating nights. In other words, Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight one evening and your retinoid the following, and so forth.


Caffeine

  • A few hours.

  • This is a quick-fix solution for puffiness and increasing circulation!

Here are some of my favorite pick-me-up products featuring Caffeine as a star ingredient:


Kickstart your morning with this fast-working eye treatment! Formulated with Caffeine, and triple gold-standard antioxidants: Vitamin C, Phloretin, and Ferulic Acid, this innovative serum-in-a-gel helps to both prevent and combat visible signs of aging and fatigue around the delicate eye area, to restore a more rested and vibrant appearance. Say goodbye to undereye bags while correcting photodamage with consistent use. Now, who doesn’t need that kind of pick-me-up!? When applied with a massaging action, it also helps improve the appearance of puffiness caused by excess fluid accumulated around the eye area, making it my favorite AM eye treatment. I always apply eye cream atop for added moisture, as caffeine can be very dehydrating and my thin undereye skin is thirsty! This also helps with a smoother and more vibrant undereye-concealer application.


I’ve been trying a few new products recently, many of them containing acids and/or Retinol, so my skin has needed some babying! This comforting and nourishing cream has been instrumental in nursing my skin back to a balanced state. I’m particularly impressed by the thought that went into formulating this repair cream – in particular, the science-backed additions of the following ingredients: Caffeine, Cholesterol, Squalene, Ceramides, Sodium PCA, Hyaluronic Acid, Tetrapeptide-21, Resveratrol, Green Tea Polyphenols, Bisabolol, Niacinamide (Vitamin B3), and Apple Stem Cells. This cream is an excellent option for someone seeking a single product that features lots of beneficial ingredients while energizing the skin and addressing dehydration and overall irritation/imbalance. This cream has been instrumental in providing "therapy" to my stressed-out and confused skin. My skin feels more awake (thank you Caffeine) and bouncier since I’ve added this cream to my regimen, I also really love the made-to-measure pushdown dispenser – this design element makes for a super easy and sanitary application!


Save this post to remind yourself when you lose patience with your skin-care routine! And if you're looking for a personalized routine for your skin, contact me to set up a free 15-minute consultation and find out how I can help you achieve the best results.

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This post is so helpful!

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Sarah Tucker
Sarah Tucker
Jan 29, 2023
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I’m so glad to hear that!

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