Abstract The ability to detect and focus on faces is a fundamental prerequisite for developing social skills. But how well can infants detect faces? Here, we address this question by studying the minimum duration at which faces must appear to trigger a behavioral response in infants. We used a preferential looking method in conjunction with masking and brief presentations (300 ms and below) to establish the temporal thresholds of visibility at different stages of development. We found that 5 and 10 month-old infants have remarkably similar visibility thresholds about three times higher than those of adults. By contrast, 15 month-olds not only revealed adult-like thresholds, but also improved their performance through memory-based strategies. Our results imply that the development of face visibility follows a non-linear course and is determined by a radical improvement occurring between 10 and 15 months.