What Can You Really Expect from a Skin-Care Product?

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When it comes to your skin-care routine, it's easy to get frustrated or confused when you're surrounded by products that don't seem to work. You might feel that way because you can't tell if the product is really working, or maybe using it just made matters worse. On the other hand, perhaps you didn't give the product enough time to see results or you don't really know what kind of results you can reasonably expect from a specific product or skin-care routine. Given the variables, it's easy to see why women are often confused and frustrated. Let's get this sorted out!
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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 skin-care products? The list below and the table that follows are what we use as our guidelines. You can use them as well to ensure you're getting the most from your skin-care products.

  1. Ignore product claims. More often than not product claims are either incredibly misleading or outright false. A minor example is a daytime moisturizer that claims to address all the signs of aging, but that doesn't contain sunscreen, without which the signs of aging will keep getting worse. The research-based product reviews on Beautypedia will guide you to products that really do work.

  2. Stop looking for one miracle ingredient. The truth is there is 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 a consistent skin-care routine. Searching for a miracle ingredient cheats your skin of the benefits you'll get from using brilliant products with a variety of good ingredients.

  3. Follow a consistent routine. For best results, a skin-care routine should be done regularly. Some products you'll use once or twice daily, others every other day, or once a week. It is also important to use products in the right order. For example, sunscreen should be the last skin-care product you apply before makeup. Refer to our article on How to Put Together Your Own Skin-Care Routine to learn what types of products are best for addressing different concerns and in what order to apply them!

  4. Don't expect instant results. You didn't suddenly wake up with sun damage and wrinkles, so don't expect to be able to erase them overnight, either. There are products that can have dramatic overnight results, but for the most part it takes time for a product to really make a difference, and continued use is necessary to maintain the results. For example, products for skin discolorations take at least three to six weeks to begin showing results, assuming, of course, that the product is well-formulated and you are using a sunscreen every day.

  5. Avoid products with irritating ingredients. Irritation is always a problem for skin because it causes collagen to break down, increases wrinkling, stimulates excess oil production, and hurts skin's ability to fight environmental damage. You never really know exactly how your skin will react to any product before you try it, so be on the lookout for adverse signs like burning, irritation, redness, or breakouts. Even tingling is a problem because it is a sign of irritation, not a sign that a product is "working."

    Also keep in mind that your skin doesn't always show reactions to irritating ingredients on the surface, yet the damage is taking place underneath. You may not see or feel any irritation, but if the product you are using contains skin-irritating ingredients, the damage is silently occurring, leading to problems down the road.

  6. Read our reviews. It is very important to know what you are putting on your skin, but understanding a cosmetic ingredient label takes expertise. To be sure you are using the best products possible, check our reviews in the Beautypedia section of this site to ensure your products contain the ingredients needed to do what they claim.

So Is It Me or My Products?

There is so much misinformation in the world of skin care that it's almost impossible to know what you can realistically expect. The following table can help you understand the products you are using and what is possible for your skin.

Keep in mind that you should discontinue use of any product if you experience redness, continued flaking, increased dryness, stinging, or discomfort.

Product CategoryWhat results can I expect?How long until I see results?It's not working—now what?
Cleanser

Face looks clean and even-toned.

Dirt and makeup are easily removed from the skin.

After rinsing, skin doesn't feel feeling dry, greasy, or tight.

After about 1 week, although 2–3 days may be enough time.

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.

Toner

Skin looks radiant, feels softer and smoother.

Last traces of makeup disappear.

Redness is calmed.

For oily skin, pore size is reduced.

Within 1 to 2 weeks, but you may start seeing results right away.Many toners are poorly formulated, containing mostly irritants and little else. Finding a great one is really all you need to start seeing a difference. Beautypedia is the best place to start!
Exfoliant

Surface of skin looks and feels smoother.

Enlarged pores become smaller.

Dullness fades as skin looks renewed and acts younger.

Wrinkles diminish and, over time, skin tone appears more even.

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

Try your exfoliant 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 texture.

Lines from dryness diminish and wrinkles appear "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 15 or greater sunscreen or you will not get the best results. Wrinkles and 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.

Keep in mind that the thicker the formula (cream, rich lotion, balm), the more hydration you can expect.

Moisturizer for Combination or Oily Skin

Skin feels hydrated, but not greasy.

A matte finish combats shine.

Product absorbs in 10 minutes or less.

Skin texture is even and smooth.

Breakouts should not increase and skin should not feel more oily.

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 15 or greater sunscreen or you will not get the best results. Wrinkles and 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, serums, or liquids work best for oily/combination skin types).

Try formulas that claim to "mattify" or that have fluid or gel-like textures.

Anti-Aging/Antiwrinkle Treatment (Serum, Lotion, or Cream)

Skin feels smoother and looks radiant as signs of damage diminish.

Over time, wrinkles and uneven skin tone become less apparent.

Skin feels firmer.

After twice daily usage for 2-4 weeks. Ongoing use is required for continued improvement.With so many ingredient and formulary options, it can be difficult to know what to do next. Our article "All About Anti-Wrinkle Products" is a good place to start!
Skin Lightening Treatment

Discolorations fade or can disappear completely.

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.

If used twice daily with sunscreen every day, you can see excellent results in 6–12 weeks.If you don't see results after 12 weeks, it's time to consider a medical treatment, such as a prescription-strength skin lightening product or a laser treatment.
Acne Treatment

Large, swollen blemishes are reduced in size.

Frequency and severity of breakouts decreases.

Skin becomes clearer, blackheads and white bumps are diminished.

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

You can see overnight results, but overall improvement should be apparent after 4–12 weeks of consistent use.

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

Check out our article All About Acne for more information and options.

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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 helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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