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how long does it take to see results from active ingredients in skincare?

When to Expect Results From AHAs, Vitamin C, and Other Common Active Ingredients

Actives are the ingredients in your skin care products that actually deliver results. However, while powerful, you can’t necessarily expect noticeable changes overnight. Read on to find out how long it takes for common active ingredients to work.

If you’re not seeing the results you want from your products with active ingredients, don’t just toss them to the side. There are a variety of reasons why a product might not be giving you the flawless complexion you’re striving for.

“The lack of results could be due to improper product application, unrealistic expectations, a problematic diet, lack of sun protection, using the wrong products, or a counterproductive general skin care routine,” says Dr. Vlada Doktor of The Dermatology Specialists. “The issue could even be the strength of the product – some over-the-counter products are just not strong enough to address certain skin issues.”

Or perhaps more simply, you’re not seeing results because you’re not giving a product enough time to work its magic.

“Generally speaking, a patient will need to use products consistently for two or even three months to see the desired effects. This is because the cellular turnover rate for skin cells can extend to 60 days. Collagen fiber formation can take even longer,” Dr. Hadley King, an NYC-based dermatologist, tells us. 

To help you manage expectations, we’ve broken down the average time it takes to see results from common active ingredients, according to the experts.

Retinol (Vitamin A)

Retinol is commonly used to treat and prevent fine lines, wrinkles, and acne. Dr. King says that it generally takes three to six months of consistent over-the-counter retinol use to notice a difference in these concerns. However, “with prescription retinoids, one might notice smoother, more even-toned skin in as early as six to eight weeks,” she says.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

You may see improvement in skin texture and radiance instantaneously, says Dr. Zeichner. However, if you want to fade hyperpigmentation or diminish fine lines, you’ll have to wait a bit longer.

“Within one to two months, discolorations may fade. Within two to six months new collagen and elastic should form and the skin will appear more firm and fine lines and wrinkles will decrease,” says Dr. King.

Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)

If you’re using salicylic acid to target blackheads and acne, Dr. King says it should only take about a week to notice more clear pores.

Vitamin C

An overall brighter complexion can be yours in two to four weeks with a good vitamin C product, but as Dr. King mentioned when referencing AHAs, if you want to successfully tackle hyperpigmentation, it’s a longer endeavor. Expect to wait several months for results with consistent use.

Hyaluronic Acid

If your skin is dehydrated, you can replenish moisture within an hour if you use hyaluronic acid. Plus, Dr. Zeichner says, products that contain this hydrating ingredient can have immediate skin-plumping effects too.

Shop some some of our favorite products that contain the ingredients mentioned here below. 

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