Skin Purging: Explained

Starting a new product is both super exciting and super scary. The nerves tend to come from the fear that this new product will cause your skin to worsen or breakout. This is a universal experience that I’m sure all of us have had once or twice when adding in a new product to our skincare regimen. However, what a lot of us fail to realize is that in some cases, breaking out when trying a new product is totally normal. These breakouts can be referred to as skin purging.

Skin purging simply refers to the reaction some people have to products containing retinols and acids. These ingredients are known as chemical exfoliants because they take off the top layer of dead skin cells causing new cells to regenerate sooner than they would on their own. To put it in simpler terms, these ingredients speed up in the skin exfoliation process. This brings blockages to the surface of the skin way quicker. This is usually when the panicking starts. It may seem like the product is making your skin breakout, but what is really happening is that acne that was already under the skin is just popping up sooner than they would without the product. 

The good news is that purging is only temporary! The reaction usually lasts shorter than an average breakout. If anything, purging is a sign that your new product is doing its job. Nothing can really be done to prevent purging, but dermatologists do have a couple tips. If the idea of purging is terrifying to you, you can try to introduce the product into your routine slowly, but surely. Try applying it once in the first week, twice in the second, and so on until you’re using it every day. In terms of treating purging, just stick to your regular routine and wait it out. It should only last 2-3 weeks!

But, be careful. Not all reactions are explained by skin purging. In many cases, the product can actually just be irritating your skin, triggering an allergic reaction, or clogging your pores. Here’s how to spot the difference between a purge and a breakout:

  • Ingredients:
  • Purging is caused by products with chemical exfoliants (retinols, acids, acne fighting ingredients). Be sure to check that the product you're using contains one of these ingredients. 
  • Duration:
  • Purging tends to last 2-3 weeks, while average breakouts tend to last 4-6 weeks.
  • Location:
  • Because purging brings out pre-existing acne, purging almost always causes breakouts in your normal problem areas. If you’re experiencing breakouts/irritation elsewhere, you’re probably not purging.