Finding the correct skincare for your one-of-a-kind complexion in a sea of options is no cinch. I know I’m not alone in experiencing the crushing disappointment of realizing that a “miracle worker” for your best friend, mother, and what seems like the entire internet just doesn’t do it for your skin. But before throwing in the towel, know that miracles (at least when it comes to skincare) don’t happen overnight. Barring a product that causes irritation, itching, or swelling—aka definitely the wrong product—you should be patient. How patient? “It depends on the problem you’re having,” says dermatologist and founder of DermWarehouse, Dr. Alan Parks.
When it comes to treating things like hyperpigmentation, things don’t tend to improve overnight. “If you’re looking to treat something like wrinkles or dark spots, it could take several months,” says Dr. Parks. “Acne will usually take six to eight weeks to start seeing results—if you haven’t seen some results after this time, you should talk to your doctor about moving on to something different or stronger.”
On the other hand, Dr. Parks says that if you have a rash and it’s not better in two or three weeks, the product is probably not working for you, and you should talk to your doctor about finding an alternative. Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and assistant clinical professor at the department of dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center, adds that moisturizers and antioxidants should never irritate. “If starting a retinol or glycolic containing product, it’s normal for the skin to be dry for a week or two, but after that, if it’s still irritating, it’s the wrong product.”
Obvious signs like redness and irritation, however, aren’t the only signs that you should be looking for when deciding whether a product is working for you. “I always tell people to look for less obvious things like dryness and dullness,” says Haven Spa esthetician, Maria Orlova.
If you’ve ever visited Reddit’s impressively dedicated community of skincare devotees /r/SkincareAddiction, you’ll see the term “skin purging” being bandied about often. This is used to describe when your breakouts get worse before they get better because of a new product. And yes, this can happen, but only if the product contains active ingredients that boost cell turnover, like alpha hydroxy acids and retinol. Essentially, these products can help push all the gunk out of your pores earlier, so they’re not really causing your breakouts, they’re speeding up the process.
If you know you have sensitive skin, it’s best to start off with a patch test and try only one product at a time and wait a couple of weeks before adding something new. “Get a sample of a product that you can use on your jaw and neck—and remember most spas will take a purchased product back if it caused a bad reaction, so don’t keep using something that you suspect isn’t working!” says Orlova. Unfortunately, you won’t know 100% how a product will react on your face, until you use it on your face.
It’s also important to remember that with the seasons, our skincare needs change, so something that works for you in the fall may not work in the winter when skin tends to need more moisture. Bottom line: The results you get from a skincare product have a broad range of causes, and just because you have a bad reaction (or no reaction!) doesn’t necessarily mean it’s badly formulated. It’s just not right for you, and you should move on.
Do you have any tips and tricks for figuring out whether a skincare product works for you? Share away!
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