As a pharmacist working in the cosmetic industry, I am often asked interesting questions. Among these questions, there was one about results that particularly caught my attention: “when I try a new product, how do I know how long it takes before I see the results?”
When I page through female cosmetic magazines (how awful, huh?), I always enjoy all those pages with advertisements touting the merits of this or that cream, with introductions of new cosmetics with a lot of big promises, product benefits, and all kinds of claims.
To tell you the truth, by the end of the magazine, I feel like I’ve just been part of a boxing match. But not the familiar kind with just two players, but a kind with 8-9 brands that all want to claim some of my reading time, in a bloody battle for the fate of their sales figures by the end of the year.
I’m imagining the first brand launching its offensive right from the first page – “Take this!” – with a right hook: “my cream has 20% hydration effects!” Bam! Page 5, another brand responds with “oh yeah? Mine has 30%!” And wham! “You hydrate the upper layers of the epidermis? Readers, I regenerate the skin and reduce wrinkles by 15%!” Uppercut! But they clearly didn’t expect the favourite to return with their latest product… all is quiet for a moment… the crowd watches closely… “With my brand, 50% of all women avoid cutting themselves! I’m a visionary! Who else can say that?” And then all the others are KO… match over.
Whether all the assertions are true or not isn’t really my subject, but I really believe some of them are well-founded. I’m an X-Files style researcher, like Dana Scully and Fox Mulder combined into one person, a sceptic who’s still always looking for the Holy Grail… To me anything is possible, but seeing is believing.
So with all of those claims, the question is: how long will it take before we can expect any results?
I must have heard this question a thousand times at the cosmetics section of the pharmacy where I used to work, and my answer was always noticeably the same.
Well, I’d recommend trying the cream for at least 28 days. That’s for a simple reason: the skin regenerates itself every 28 days on average, that is to say, new skin cells move from the base layer (where these new cells are born) to the “surface” at the end of a cycle that takes 28 days on average. Roughly speaking, it’s like at the end of these 28 days, you change skins. It’s a bit like moulting, if you like, like what snakes do… (Well, I didn’t use that snake comparison much, I kind of scared the customers away with my weird stories…) Or imagine a butterfly coming out of its cocoon… (Right, a butterfly, that’s much more poetic. I should have used that instead, I would have had a lot more luck with that 😉 )
So that’s what I tried to explain, a bit hastily considering how much time I could spend on each client. (There’s always a long queue in pharmacies, and it’s hard enough to handle the justified impatience of the usually sick customers… you don’t go to a pharmacy unless you’re not feeling well, do you?)
So I’d like to give that answer a little more nuance here on the blog. Yes, it’s true that it’s 28 days on average, but I think that if you don’t notice any visible effects after two weeks, or even less, then I believe that you should already have an impression of the results after 28 days, and you shouldn’t expect any sudden miracles.
This is particularly true for moisturisers, which are made for limiting the skin’s loss of water and providing it with new lipids; that shouldn’t take 28 days to take effect. The same goes for plumping effects, etc. In fact, this goes for most cosmetic products on the market, which, I remind you, are only supposed to work on the skin’s surface, if we go by the legal definition of cosmetics. (Oh dear. Hold on to your hats and fasten your seatbelts, we’re entering a zone of tedious legal turbulence.)
“A cosmetic product is a substance or preparation intended to be brought into contact with the various superficial parts of the human body, notably the epidermis, head or body hair, nails, lips and external genitalia, or the teeth and oral mucosa, for the exclusive or primary purpose of cleaning them, perfuming them, altering their appearance, protecting them, keeping them in a good state or correcting body odours.” (Article L.5131-1 of the French Public Health Code.)
If a product goes beyond the skin, it’s called medicine. Well, there are other criteria, like a specific threshold for the amount of active ingredients, etc… It’s also what makes the difference between over-the-counter products and prescription products. But I’m digressing a bit now.
This is also why they systematically mention “moisturising the superficial layers of the epidermis” on a lot of cosmetics packaging. No, of course, everybody knows cosmetics don’t go any further than that, just like how in Tchernobyl the radioactive cloud stopped at the national borders. 😉 There’s legal texts, and then there’s reality…
As for products that regenerate in depth, like retinoids or vitamin C… or active ingredients that interact with biochemical mechanisms involved in growth factor synthesis of any kind, or that act on your genome (I’ve started looking into that… I just need to get motivated…), things like that definitely need at least a month.
Also note that for mature skin, the physiology is slowed down, the renewal goes less and less well, the elimination time takes longer, and so does the skin renewal cycle. So, as skin renewal takes a longer time – you guessed it – you’ll need to have more patience before you see any results.
Furthermore, things you use in combination with the cream you’re testing can cancel out or reinforce its effects. Formulations often have an activity potential that depends on rather specific factors, like optimal PH zones, etc.
A cosmetic product is like an equation that can have a lot of different factors, and the real challenge of being a formulator is to optimise the ingredients’ effects, while anticipating their possible interactions for the consumers’ sake. So mixing up your foundation cream and your anti-wrinkle day cream can be very practical, sure… but you’d risk losing the anti-wrinkle activity. In that case, you’re going to have to choose. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Or maybe you can, but only under specific circumstances where they go together.
What about you? How do you test your products? Are you patient enough to use up all of the product or do you move on to a different product if you don’t see results right away? How long do you wait before you decide?
And what about those magazines with their ads full of promises, like my eight person boxing match, do you pay attention to that or not at all?