Is Your Skincare Routine Working?


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When it comes to your skincare routine and the products you've selected, it's easy to get confused and wonder whether or not they're really working for you. Even more frustrating, you might be wondering if the routine is making things worse!

We completely understand how perplexing this can be, especially when you're using an advanced skincare routine with several products. However, knowing what results to expect and why you might not be seeing exactly what you were hoping for—or seeing unintended results—is critical.

We want you to understand what's possible and what isn't. Having realistic expectations is important, because hoping for what isn't possible can get your budget and skin out of whack. The truth is that realistic expectations plus consistent use of an outstanding skincare routine is the only way to have the best skin of your life.

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How to Get the Results You Want

So, how do you really know you're getting the best results possible from your skincare products? The list below and the table that follows are what we use as our guidelines to determine success. Use them to help ensure you're getting the most from your skincare routine.

1. Ignore exaggerated product claims. Product claims are typically either incredibly misleading or outright false. A minor example that always disturbs us is a daytime moisturizer that claims to address all the signs of aging, but doesn't contain sunscreen (or if it has sunscreen it's less than an SPF 30). If you're not using a sunscreen rated SPF 30 or greater 365 days a year, rain or shine, signs of aging, uneven skin tone, lingering marks from bumps, and other concerns will linger or keep getting worse.

2. Stop looking for one miracle ingredient or one miracle product. The fact is there's no single magic ingredient or miracle product for skin. Just like our bodies need a wide variety of nutritional foods to stay healthy, our skin also needs a balanced "diet" of state-of-the-art beneficial ingredients supplied through consistent use of a superior skincare routine.

Everything your skin needs cannot fit into one product and certainly can't be provided with one overly-hyped ingredient. Searching for a miracle ingredient or one product that can do it all cheats your skin. You'll be losing out on the dramatic improvements you could get from using an array of necessary products with a variety of essential ingredients.

3. Use a carefully selected skincare routine. For some people, a basic skincare routine can work just fine but for others, it just won't be enough to provide the best results. Depending on your skin type, skin concerns, and preferences, a more advanced skincare routine will be important for you. The complex needs of skin to keep it replenished with essential beneficial ingredients, protected from sun damage, enriched with hydration, nourished with skin-restoring ingredients to fight aging, maintain an even skin tone, and so on requires an array of appropriate products.

4. Be consistent. For ideal, ultimate results, a skincare routine must be used regularly. Some products you will need to use twice a day (cleanser, toner, serum), others once a day (sunscreen during the day and moisturizer at night and, for some, once-daily exfoliation), and some every other day (1% retinol products or targeted solutions), or once a week (advanced exfoliants). It's also important to use products in the right order. Refer to our article on How to Put Together A Skincare Routine to learn what types of products are best for addressing different concerns, and in what order to apply them!

5. Don't skip exfoliation or sunscreen. Nothing can be as impressive for skin as the results a well-formulated, gentle, leave-on AHA or BHA exfoliant can provide. Even more important is dedicated use of an SPF 30 or greater sunscreen every single day. This is the fundamental way to start keeping every aspect of your skin young and beautiful.

6. Don't expect instant results. You didn't suddenly wake up with sun damage and wrinkles, so don't expect to be able to radically diminish them overnight, either. There are products that can have dramatic overnight results (especially an AHA or BHA exfoliant), but for the most part, it takes time for a product to really make a difference. Continued use is necessary to maintain the results, so again, consistency is key. For example, products for uneven skin tone or skin lightening with a hydroquinone-based product for dark spots can take several weeks before results become visible.

7. Avoid products with harsh or skin-aggravating ingredients. Gentle is the most pivotal aspect of exceptional skincare. Non-irritating skincare products are vitally important. If the products you use cause sensitivity, it will leave your skin vulnerable to environmental damage. Routinely causing your skin to be sensitized hinders its ability to renew and restore itself. Avoiding problematic ingredients (including strong fragrances) is critical.

Also keep in mind that your skin's surface doesn't always show negative reactions to problematic ingredients, yet the damage is still taking place, beyond where you can see it. You may not see or feel the reaction, but if the product you are using isn't gentle the damage is silently occurring, leading to problems down the road.

8. Your personal sensitivity to ingredients. You never really know exactly how your skin will respond to even the best formulated products, so you have to pay attention to how your skin reacts. Tingling is a problem because it is a sign of aggravation, not a sign that a product is "working."

So Is It Me or My Products?

There's so much misinformation in the world of skincare, it can be difficult to know what you can realistically expect. The following table can help you understand the products you are using and what is possible. If the products you are using contain brilliant skincare ingredients specialized for your skin type and concerns, these are the kind of results you can expect.

Keep in mind that you should discontinue use of any product if you experience redness, continued flaking, increased dryness, stinging, or discomfort. The adage "no pain, no gain" doesn't apply here!

Product Category

What results can I expect?

How long until I see results?

It's not working—now what?


Face looks clean and even-toned.

Dirt and makeup are easily removed from the skin.

After rinsing, skin feels soft and smooth, not dry, greasy, or tight.

Skin can look immediately refreshed, healthier, and renewed.

Depending on your skin type, try a cleanser with a different texture (gel, cream or lotion).

For oily skin, consider using a gentle washcloth or a gentle cleansing brush to be sure you're getting all your makeup off.


Skin looks radiant, feels softer and smoother.

Last traces of makeup disappear.
Redness is calmed.

For oily skin, pore size appears diminished.

Within 1 to 2 weeks for redness and pore size improvements, but you may start seeing results right away.

Many toners are poorly formulated, containing mostly skin-aggravating ingredients along with skin-sensitizing fragrance (synthetic or natural) and little else. Finding a great toner is really all you need to start seeing a difference; we think you'll be impressed with the selection Paula's Choice Skincare has!


Surface of skin looks and feels smoother.

Enlarged pores appear smaller.

Dullness fades as skin becomes renewed and feels silky-smooth.

All signs of aging start appearing lessened and skin tone appears more even.

You can see improvement overnight plus increased improvement after 5–14 days. Ongoing use is required to maintain results.

Try exfoliants at different concentrations (1%–2% for BHA; 5%–10% for AHA) or, depending on your skin type, in a different texture (gel, liquid or lotion).

Adjust frequency of application. Exfoliants require some experimentation to find what frequency of use works best for you.

Moisturizer for Normal to Dry Skin

Skin feels hydrated, but not greasy.

Skin looks healthy and moisturized with a smooth, radiant texture.

Lines from dryness are eliminated and age-related fine lines and wrinkles appear smoothed and "plumped."

Hydration lasts throughout the day.

Depending on the products you were using before, you may see an overnight improvement. Enhanced results will occur within 2–8 weeks, and will increase and be maintained over time.

During the day, your moisturizer or foundation must contain an SPF 30 or greater sunscreen or you will not get the best results. Without daily use of sunscreen, signs of aging will increase, not lessen.

If your skin appears too dry or too oily by midday, you may need to switch formulas or textures. For dry skin, a more emollient and enriched formula will make a significant difference. You can also try adding a facial oil to your lightweight moisturizer.

Moisturizer for Combination or Oily Skin

Skin feels hydrated, but not greasy.

A soft matte finish combats shine.

Product absorbs quickly and feel weightless.

Skin texture is even and smooth with almost no feeling left behind. Congested pores should not increase and skin should not feel oilier.

Depending on the products you were using before, you may see overnight improvement.

Enhanced results will occur within 2–8 weeks and will increase and be maintained over time.

During the day, your moisturizer or foundation must contain an SPF 30 or greater sunscreen or you will not get the best results. Without daily use of sunscreen, signs of aging will increase, not lessen.

If your skin appears too dry or too oily by midday, you may need to switch formulas or textures (gel, weightless serums, or liquids work best for oily/combination skin types). It's fine to layer two lightweight moisturizers over slightly dry areas of otherwise oily skin.

Anti-Aging/Antiwrinkle Products (Serums, Boosters, Targeted Solutions)

Skin feels smoother and looks radiant as visible signs of aging diminish.

Over a short period of time, skin begins to look and feel younger with an increased feeling of firmness and diminished appearance of wrinkles. Uneven skin tone become less apparent.

After twice daily usage for 2-4 weeks. Ongoing use is required for continued improvement. Results will continue to improve over time but do not expect to look 20 years younger or for any anti-aging product to replace what a cosmetic medical procedure or surgery can provide. This is the realistic expectations we referring to above!

With so many ingredient and formulary options, it can be difficult to know what to do next. Our article "Anti-Aging Ingredients Your Skin Needs Now" is a good place to start!

Skin-Lightening Product

Discolorations fade or might be almost completely invisible.

Skin tone becomes even again.

Note: Discolorations may return if you stop using the product or if you are not diligent about daily sun protection, rain or shine.

When used twice daily, a skin-lightening product with hydroquinone, can produce results for most people within 6-12 weeks as long as you're diligent about applying sunscreen every day.

If you don't see results after 12 weeks, it's time to consider medical options such as a prescription-strength skin- lightening product, chemical peel, or a laser treatment (perhaps a combination of all of these).

Acne Treatments

Blemishes are greatly diminished.

Frequency and severity of breakouts decreases.

Skin becomes clearer, congested pores and white bumps are diminished.

Dryness (flaking) or other signs of tenderness or redness should be minimal, if they occur at all.

When using products that contain benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid (the gold standard of acne treatments), you may see immediate results, but overall improvement should be apparent after 4–12 weeks of consistent use.

If your skin has not improved significantly after 12 weeks of daily use, consider other acne treatments or visit a dermatologist to discuss medical options.

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! Learn more at Shop Paula's Choice.

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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