Don't throw those products away just yet. We have the lowdown on when you should notice a difference.
When it comes to your beauty products, we totally get the desire for instant gratification. You just dropped bank on a fancy eye cream so it should zap all fine lines and dark circles overnight, right? But as they say, patience is a virtue. And the reality is that most hair and skin care products don't work right away—no matter what the commercials say—though there are a few exceptions that will actually deliver a quick fix. Ahead, the real deal on how long you need to use seven different common products to actually see a noticeable difference. Go ahead, mark your calendars. (P.S. If you're looking to Marie Kondo your beauty stash, here's how to decide which products to toss and which to keep.)
Shampoo: You'll have to suds up more than once before you can truly tell how a new shampoo affects your strands. "Plan on using it at least seven times in a row in order to best see how it works on your hair," explains Dana Tizzio, expert stylist at Butterfly Studio Salon in NYC. "Buildup and residue from previous products can alter the hair's chemical makeup, so it takes some time for your hair to get used to a new shampoo and everything to normalize," she adds. And if your hair is damaged or overly processed and you're using a moisturizing or reparative formula, it may even take a few more washes for it to fully penetrate and smooth the hair cuticle to make your mane as soft and shiny as possible.
Hair Strengthening Treatments: Just like one heavy lifting session won't immediately leave you with ripped biceps, strength in your strands is also built up over time, says Tizzio. Exactly how long these take to work depends on the particular product and how damaged your hair is. But if you're using one regularly, at least three times a week, you should see results at about the one-month mark, she says. It takes time for the reparative ingredients (often proteins, like keratin) to fill in and strengthen broken, damaged, strands. (The one exception: Heat protectants coat the hair to safeguard it from damaging heat right away, and will leave your locks feeling and looking softer and more manageable after one use.) For a fast fix, Tizzio suggests booking an in-salon treatment. Their highly concentrated, fast-acting ingredients will likely let you see a change right away, she says.
Hair Masks: The good news: "You'll notice improved softness and shine even after just one use," says Tizzio. The even better news: Incorporate a hair mask into your regular routine (using once or twice weekly instead of conditioner), and over the next month your hair will get significantly stronger and healthier. To maximize and speed up these results, be sure to squeeze out any excess water from your hair before applying the mask. "This will ensure the product goes deeper into the cuticle. If there's too much water in the hair, it keeps the mask from working as well and reduces the potential benefits," Tizzio explains. (FYI, here are the best hair masks to combat dryness and frizz.)
Acne Treatment: When you're dealing with legit acne, it will take at least four to twelve weeks for any kind of topical treatment to take effect, says Chicago-based dermatologist Jordan Carqueville, M.D. "Acne is caused by oil, clogged pores, and P. acnes bacteria. It takes that long for the active ingredients to address these three factors and reduce oil, unclog pores, and eradicate the bacteria," she explains. That timeline goes for OTC treatments with common zit-zapping ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and/or salicylic acid, as well as prescription options, like retinoids. Happily, if it's just one pesky pimple that you need to get rid of, most of the over-the-counter spot treatments will work within a week to dry it out and reduce inflammation, notes Carqueville.
Exfoliator: Need to make your complexion look better, like, now? Reach for an exfoliator. "Whether you choose a mechanical exfoliant that's sloughing off the dead skin cells or a chemical exfoliant that's dissolving them, you'll notice an instantaneous result," says Carqueville. Getting rid of dead, dry cells leaves skin looking fresher and more radiant right away, though, as with most things, the effects are cumulative and will only get better if you're exfoliating regularly, she adds.
Moisturizer: Here's another speedy skin saver, especially if you choose one that contains humectants (ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin, which draw water to the skin) and/or occlusive ingredients (things like shea butter and petrolatum that sit on top of the skin and lock in moisture), says Sue Ann Wee, M.D., of the Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC. "Both of these work fast. The humectants immediately plump and smooth the skin, while the occlusives stop water loss within hours," she explains. Many moisturizers also contain barrier repair ingredients (ceramides, sunflower oil), which strengthen the skin barrier, though these take a bit longer to work—about two to four weeks, notes Wee. To reap both the instant and long-term benefits, choose a moisturizer with all three of these types of ingredients.
Retinoids: Thanks to their well-studied and well-proven effects, these vitamin-A derivatives are by far the gold standard when it comes to anti-agers...the caveat is that it takes some time to see these effects. Prescription options will take about three to six months to work, whereas weaker OTC options take closer to six, notes Wee. Within this time frame you can expect some improvement in the tone and texture of your skin, as retinoids work by thinning the stratum corneum (the top layer) of your skin. Still, for the full anti-wrinkle benefits, you'll need to diligently use a retinoid for up to year, since it takes that long for the ingredient to stimulate collagen production, points out Carqueville. But it will work, so don't ditch it just because your skin doesn't look any different overnight.