How long should you use beauty products before you know they're not working?
Instant gratification doesn’t exist in skincare. Be prepared to wait anything from one week to two months before you see results. Bad reactions, however, are another story.
You spent S$300 on a 10ml tub of serum-essence-something, and you want to believe that some magic is going to happen soon. So you continue to slap, slather, massage it on your face. Faithfully. Every day. Every night. But it’s still status quo after one week.
Or worse: Your face is now looking a little... bumpy.
So how long should you ride out a new beauty product before you know it's working – or not working – for you?
NO INSTANT GRATIFICATION
“I’m wary of skincare products that offer instant results,” said Nicolas Travis, founder of homegrown brand Allies of Skin. “With skincare, you see cumulative effects with daily use, the same way drinking a green juice daily will make you feel better over time.”
He suggests waiting anything from six to eight weeks before you decide if a product is working for you.
Dr SK Tan, chief scientific officer and co-founder of IDS Skincare, told CNA Lifestyle that the efficacy of even clinical grade beauty products depends on your skin condition and requires time. “Improvement may take about a month to be apparent, including a reduction in facial hyperpigmentation or fine lines and deep wrinkles.”
I’m wary of skincare products that offer instant results.
Whether a new skincare product works fast enough before you decide to bail, also depends on its function and ingredients.
Dr Georgia Lee of beauty brand DrGL says that a moisturiser, when applied on very dry, flaking skin, can offer results as quickly as after one week. But a sun protection formula that evens out skin tone can take as long as one month.
Even with the same product that is made for different skin types, the timeline can vary – almost immediate results with a brightening cleanser versus three to four weeks with an oil-control one specific for acne-prone skin.
Patience is a virtue, too, when it comes to time-proven, gold-standard ingredients. Dr Paul Chia, a specialist in dermatology and consultant at Raffles Skin & Aesthetics, says that a Vitamin C serum may help with hyperpigmentation in about two months, whereas adapalene gel, commonly used to treat acne, may start working within two weeks but will need a longer time to give “significant results”.
“No topical products work perfectly. There are products with good medical evidence like topical retinoids and antioxidants such as Vitamins C and E, and green tea extracts. Even then, their effects are gradual and are not ‘complete’,” he added.
WHAT'S WORSE THAN SLOW RESULTS? A BAD REACTION
If you are lucky, a prolonged waiting period is the worst thing that can happen when you use a new product. If you are unlucky, you will feel the product working immediately but not in a good way. Think skin tingling or, worse, breakouts, flaking and itching.
If there is excessive redness or an intense itch or breakouts, stop immediately.
Dr Lee says that mild tingling or redness can be common with some exfoliating and skin renewal formulas but for most people, skin will eventually acclimatise. “But if there is excessive redness or an intense itch or breakouts, stop immediately,” she added.
Dr Chia says skin reactions can be the result of irritant contact dermatitis, which affects dry, sensitive skin. What you’ll experience include burning, stinging and itching skin, as well as redness, swelling and blisters. The common culprit behind this is alpha-hydroxy acids.
There’s also allergic contact dermatitis, which does not take place immediately after you have applied the offending product (usually one with fragrances and preservatives). Instead, your immune system takes a few days to develop a reaction, which can result in redness, swelling and cracked skin.
The best thing you can do is listen to your skin. It will tell you when things are not right.
When you use a new product, Dr SK Tan suggests doing a patch test behind your ear or on the inner forearm before applying it on the face.
For Allies of Skin’s Travis, tingling is considered normal when you use products with retinol, salicylic acid and alpha-hydroxy acids.
“They can cause initial purging, due to increased cellular renewal which brings trapped gunk to the skin surface. This is a good thing as your pores are being cleared,” he said.
This is why he encapsulates retinaldehyde – a form of retinol – in his brand’s 1A Retinal + Peptides Overnight Mask and Bright Future Sleeping Facial. Travis says that this ingredient is more potent than retinol yet very gentle on skin. Plus, time release technology means that your skin gets a controlled dosage throughout the night, which translates into less irritation.
“If your skin is purging, it will look better in a few weeks. But if you have burning and stinging, it’s wise to rinse everything off,” he said. “The best thing you can do is listen to your skin. It will tell you when things are not right.”
FOR VISIBLE RESULTS THAT ARE KIND ON THE SKIN TRY THESE:
ALLIES OF SKIN 1A RETINAL + PEPTIDES OVERNIGHT MASK, S$139
The best of both worlds? Uses retinaldehyde, said to be 20 times more potent than over-the-counter retinol, which has been encapsulated with plant oils for a gentler, time-release effect on skin.
DRGL MOISTURISER COLLAGEN BOOST, S$268 for four x 10ml
Used on very dry skin, a moisturiser can show results within one week.
IDS SKINCARE DERMASHIELD SERUM, S$106
Clinical grade skincare is said to give visible results, albeit not immediately, that are not just cosmetic.