How long it takes for your acne products to work

Plus, a word of caution about using spot treatments

Beauty Crew Beauty Writer / May 20 2018

Despite loathing any and all breakouts with a fiery passion during our teenage years, the majority of us came to understand that they were an unfortunate reality of puberty. What we weren’t told, however, was that pimples can (and probably will) rear their ugly head at various stages throughout your adulthood as well.

So, to help you understand why your skin is breaking out and to learn the best ways to treat your adult acne (fast), we spoke to three skin care experts: founder of hop & cotton, Ee Ting Ng, founder of Paula’s Choice Skin Care, Paula Begoun, and Education Specialist for Julique, Danielle Williams. 

The main causes of acne

According to Williams, acne is generally caused by congestion from oil and dead skin cells or inflammation, as well as hormone imbalances and bacteria build-up. Due to this wide range of triggers, it’s incredibly important to determine what’s causing your acne before you begin treating your breakouts. The best way to do so is by having your skin professionally diagnosed by a dermatologist.

The best ingredients for reducing acne

“For non-inflammatory type blemishes (i.e. not bacteria-related) such as blackheads and whiteheads, the best ingredients are those that speed up cell turnover. For instance, alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic and lactic acid), beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid), sulphur and retinoids,” explains Ng.

Some great product options for keeping this type of acne under control are Guinot Acnilogic Intelligent Sebum Control Serum, The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2% and SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream.

Guinot Acnilogic Intelligent Sebum Control Serum

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2%

SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream

Alternatively, for inflammatory blemishes – i.e. breakouts that have some degree of infection, redness or swelling like papules, pastules and cysts – Ng explains the “fastest way to tackle them is to combine ingredients that quicken cell turnover with antibacterial ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide and clindamycin. Once the inflammation has settled, go back to using AHAs, BHAs, sulphur and retinoids to prevent subsequent congestions,” she adds.

Some of our favourite products that are packed full of antibacterial ingredients include Paula’s Choice Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment with 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide, asap Clear Complexion Gel and Alpha-H Clear Skin Blemish Control Gel.

Paula’s Choice Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment with 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide

asap Clear Complexion Gel

Alpha-H Clear Skin Blemish Control Gel

How long until you can expect to see results

Assuming that you’re using the right ingredients for your type of blemishes, you’re not using any products that will counteract the effects of any acne-fighting actives (such as emollients that clog pores), and the acne-fighting products you’re using aren’t too harsh for your skin type, Ng notes that you can expect your blemishes to subside within two to three days. However, the time needed to heal blemishes will vary depending on their initial severity and can take up to two to four weeks according to Begoun. So, consistency and patience are important!

Why you can’t use spot treatments all over

While it can be tempting to reach for targeted spot treatments that promise to eliminate blemishes overnight and generously slather them over your entire face, it’s important to not go overboard and keep their application to single blemishes.

Although spot treatments tend to deliver faster results, the more potent a product is, the more likely it is to be irritating. “While spot treatments can clear blemishes quickly, the high concentration of actives and the accompanying ingredients that stabilise them (i.e. alcohol) often cause extreme dryness and peeling. Using a spot treatment all over can compromise the skin barrier, which can lead to more problems such as extreme dryness, itching, sensitivity and being more susceptible to infection. Therefore, it’s better to only spot-treat areas where necessary and use a product of a lower concentration of actives everywhere else to prevent congestion,” explains Ng.  

The best product combination for tackling acne

When blemishes appear seemingly out of nowhere, it’s tempting to use any and every acne-fighting product all at once to ensure your acne disappears as quickly as possible. The problem with this hard-and-fast method is that it can cause your skin to react and become further inflamed. As a result, Ng stresses it’s important to stick to a gentle routine. “Using multiple acne-fighting products together can be counteractive as the cumulative effects of each product can irritate and worsen redness and inflammation.”

To avoid making matters worse and to ensure you achieve the best clear-skin results, Begoun explains, “all the products you use must address your skin type. That means the cleanser needs to be gentle so you don’t inflame your skin. The toner must be well-formulated to gently help exfoliation or improve pore function with an ingredient such as niacinamide; and the moisturiser needs to be fluid (no lotions or creams) and contain antioxidants to calm irritation.”

Try these acne-fighting products to get you started on your road to blemish-free skin: Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Blemish Stick, Neutrogena Visibly Clear Spot Proofing™ Purifying Toner and hop & cotton The Smooth Operator.

Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Blemish Stick

Neutrogena Visibly Clear Spot Proofing™ Purifying Toner

hop & cotton The Smooth Operator

Are your blemishes getting in the way of perfecting your makeup base? Then read our guide for concealing your pimples all day long.

What’s your favourite spot treatment for tackling blemishes? Let us know in the comments below.

Main image credit: Getty


Kate started working for BEAUTYcrew in early 2016, first as a contributor, and was then named Beauty Writer in 2017. She loves picking the brains of the industry's top experts to get to the bottom of beauty's toughest questions. Bronze eyeshadow palettes are her weakness and she's forever on the hunt for the perfect nude nail polish to suit her fair skin. Her words can also be found in Men's Health magazine, and she now works in PR.