Skin Purging vs. Breakouts

By Alison, Licensed Esthetician & Cosmetologist

Skin purging- what is it? Why does our skin purge? How is skin purging different from a breakout? I’ll be answering all of these questions for you today with the hope that this will help to ease your stress on the topic of skin purging.

Is Skin Purging a Good Thing?

When our skin purges, the skin is literally pushing all the excess oil, sebum, dead skin cells, and other debris to the surface to get rid of it. Unfortunately, this process causes breakouts so most people assume that skin purging is a bad thing. Yes, breakouts are bad (and annoying), but your skin is essentially cleaning itself which is a good thing! 

Skin purging typically occurs when you try a new product. If you experience purging, the new products are doing their job!  Give your skin about two weeks to get acclimated and you should see the breakouts go away.  If you breakout longer than two weeks, there is most likely an ingredient in the product that is causing irritation to your skin.  (Tip: Check your product to make sure it is fragrance and dye free!  These are two common skin irritants.) 

What Can Cause Skin Purging?

Products considered “acne-fighting” or “anti-aging” can cause the skin to purge because they promote a faster skin cell turnover rate. You may find some over-the-counter products can as well, specifically products that contain retinol, salicylic acid, lactic acid, or glycolic acid. 

When your cell turnover rate is accelerated, any hidden skin “imperfections” are quickly brought to the surface. Existing pimples may become inflamed,  microcomedones (early acne) turn into pesky blackheads and whiteheads, and/or dead skin cells rise to the surface causing visible flaking.

Before you hesitate to try a new product, keep in mind that not all products cause skin purging! The products that cause purging do so because of certain active ingredients including: benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, and hydroxy acids (check out our previous blog on skincare acids here).

In addition to products, there are treatments that cause skin purging as well (due to them containing those active ingredients):

During the purging process, be patient and gentle with your skin. It’s very vulnerable and sensitive at this point. Here are some tips for you to follow while your skin is purging: 

  • Avoid popping any of those pimples or excessive touching of the face.  These actions will only add more bacteria to your skin.
  • Do your best to avoid harsh chemicals or exfoliants.  Too much, too quickly will only extend the purging process.
  • Ease your skin into new products, especially those containing active ingredients. To help, try incorporating one new product at a time.  Give your skin 5-7 days to adjust before adding in a second product.  
  • Avoid extended sun exposure during skin purging. If you’re going to be out in the sun, be sure to apply plenty of SPF. We’re all about avoiding any unnecessary sun damage

The Difference Between Skin Purging & Breakouts

When your skin is purging, the breakouts will appear in places they typically already do. The comedones (fancy term for blackheads) that are pre-existing will flare up. This can be alarming at first, again causing you to believe a product to be irritating. Be patient and allow time so that your skin can eventually begin to calm down and clear up.

When your skin is “breaking out” instead of purging, it will occur in new areas that you typically have not experienced acne before. You’ll be experiencing heightened skin irritation, new clogged pores, or even a rash. 

If you’re noticing that a product is causing new areas to break out and the severity does not lessen over time, it’s best to stop using it. This just means your skin is sensitive to a specific ingredient and extended use can cause even more damage.

An Example of Purging vs. a Breakout

Let’s say you came in to get a HydraFacial done and you already break out around your jawline. Then, after you had your HydraFacial, you start breaking out on your jawline- this would be skin purging.

Now, if you had a hydrafacial done and you started breaking out on your forehead or cheeks (areas that you normally do not experience acne in)- this would be considered a breakout. 

So it’s important to be aware of the areas you normally experience breakouts in prior to starting new products or treatments. That way you have a better idea of whether those treatments or products are doing your skin harm or not. 

Skin Purging is Real and Necessary

Hopefully this has helped clarify that skin purging is a real thing and it happens to everyone. Especially after using a new product or getting certain treatments done. Just remember, be patient and give you skin time to adjust to any new products. It can be frustrating and difficult to hold out for your skin to acclimate, but let it run its course and we promise clearer skin is just around the corner. 

If you’re feeling a little lost when it comes to skincare or what treatments might be best for you, schedule a free consultation with us! We’d love to address any concerns you might have and develop a treatment place unique for you. Give us a call at (513)-791-9474 to schedule yours today.

Looking for some more tips on how to combat acne? Check out some of our other blogs below and also head over to our YouTube channel!

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