Skin purging vs breakout: What’s the difference?

What’s the difference between skin purging and a breakout of spots? Find out how to recognise the signs of skin purging and what to do about it.

You’ve recently started to use a new skincare product, and you are excited about the positive results you’re hoping to notice. But, to your horror, instead of beautiful, clear skin, you break out in spots!

Does that mean the product doesn’t work? Actually, it doesn’t; it may be something known as ‘skin purging’ which is completely different to breaking out in spots.

In this article we explain difference between the two, to help you identify what is happening to your skin.

What is skin purging?

Skin purging is a reaction that your skin suffers when a new product triggers cell turnover. This can then speed up pimple formation because it brings prexisting microcomedones to the surface, where they will potentially turn into whiteheads, blackheads, papules, cysts, and pustules.

Your skin renews itself every 28 days, but some active ingredients such as retinoids or acids can speed up the process and cause skin purging.

When your skin is purging it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that your new product doesn’t work for you. But what it is actually doing is to make the acne symptoms that were already forming under your skin will pop up sooner than expected.

The final purpose of this process is to allow healthy skin cells to cycle on the surface and reveal and clearer skin.

How to tell the difference between skin purging and a breakout

So how can you tell the difference between the natural process of skin purging and an acne breakout? You don’t have to assume that every reaction is a skin purging. To help you work out what you’re experiencing, here are three clues:

  • Location: Skin purging will appear in the areas where you normally break out. So if you start to notice pimples in new areas, that is probably a reactive breakout.
  • The type of product you use: Skin purging usually happens when you use products that speed up cell turnover, such as alpha and beta-hydroxy acids, benzoyl peroxide or retinoids. So if the new product you are using doesn’t contain those ingredients, for example sunscreen or moisturizer, then you are most likely having a breakout.
  • Duration: Purging doesn’t last as long as a breakout, so if your pimples have been there for more than six to eight weeks then you probably have a breakout. How long purging last depends on several factors, but on average it lasts a month.

How can you treat skin purging?

When it comes to skin purging there is not really much that you can do aside from being gentle and patient with your skin.

You probably don’t like the way your skin is looking right now but don’t worry, it will get better and your skin will look better than ever. In the meantime, follow these tips to make the skin purging less irritatable and go away faster:

  • Don’t pop the pimples: Yes, it is tempting to pop pimples and get rid of them once and for all. But popping your pimples will only increase the irritation and can even leave you with dark spots or scars. Be patient and fight the urge; your skin will thank you.
  • Don’t use harsh products: Besides the acid or retinoid that is causing the purge, keep the rest of your skincare routine minimalist and focus on nourishing ingredients that will calm your skin and reduce irritation. Consider using an organic facial oil to hydrate your skin, especially if you have a dry skin type. Oils can do wonders to your face if used correctly.
  • Use sunscreen: True, you should be wearing sunscreen even if you don’t have pimples. But when you are experiencing skin purging it becomes even more important to wear it because retinoids and alpha or beta-hydroxy acids tend to increase your skin photosensitivity, which will make it look more irritated and worsen the skin purging.
  • Keep your pillowcase clean: Your pillowcase tends to accumulate dirt and bacteria, and when you don’t clean it regularly it could make your skin purging process worse.
  • Slow down the introduction to the product: Start by applying the new product twice a week and increase it to allow the skin to adjust to the new ingredients.

Be patient – skin purging is a sign your new product is working

If you do experience skin purging, try to keep positive and continue using your new product.

Skin purging is actually a sign that your routine is working, and some time soon you will enjoy clearer skin. Follow the recommendations in this article and learn to identify the difference between skin purging and breakouts, so you know what to do.