This Is How Long It Takes For Retinol To Start Working

While not exactly a miracle cure, retinol is one of the most effective over-the-counter (OTC) skincare products, according to Byrdie. Retinol is a topical vitamin A-derived retinoid, initially used to treat acne in the 1970s (per Harvard Health Publishing). Aside from helping with your typical acne, retinoids are anti-aging compounds that may improve various skin conditions. In fact, Healthline claims retinol is the most potent product available without a prescription. Nevertheless, changes while using retinol don't happen overnight.

Retinol works by boosting collagen and elastin production while combatting free radicals beneath the skin's surface. This triple-action approach helps skin appear plumper and minimizes the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and enlarged pores. It can also help even skin tone and texture, smooth rough patches, fade sun damage, and reduce symptoms of mild to moderate acne and acne scarring. 

You can buy OTC retinol cream that contains up to 2% of doses (per the American Academy of Dermatology Association). However, many products come in lower doses, ranging from 0.2% to 1% (via The Skin Care Edit). Keep in mind, stronger retinol products don't necessarily work faster, dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD, tells New Beauty. He noted, "There are varying strengths of retinol, and more isn't always better."

Regular use helps retinol work better

For retinol to work, Harvard Health Publishing says consistency is key. However, consistency doesn't mean every day. Many retinol products should offer instructions for use, including how often to apply it and how long it takes to get noticeable results. The directions are included to provide you with the safest and most effective application guidance. Users should follow product guides as close as possible for the recommended period. 

Some people initially experience skin sensitivity to retinol, but symptoms should resolve within one week and improve with use afterward, according to Healthline. If you experience prolonged skin irritation at higher doses, contact your dermatologist. You may still be able to use the products containing reduced retinol concentrations or apply a smaller amount of product less frequently.

How long it takes for retinol to start working depends on the product, dosage, your skin's condition, and how well your skin responds to it. In fact, Healthline says it can take up to six months to see the same results you would see with prescription-strength retinoids.

However, some people could begin seeing retinol's age-reversing retinol much sooner. A 2019 study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology showed retinol significantly reduced wrinkles around the neck after just eight weeks. In addition, a 2016 study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found that retinol increased collagen and skin thickness after four weeks and decreased facial wrinkles after only 12 weeks.