What Is Skin Purging?

What Is Skin Purging?

If you have ever tried a new skincare product or new ingredients into your skin regimen and then had a period of excess skin shedding afterward, you are likely experiencing a symptom of skin purging.

Skin purging occurs when newly introduced ingredients promote the rate of cell turnover, so your skin has to shed them at a rapid pace. This then causes the dead layers of skin to slough off. This event also causes blackheads, whiteheads, and general congestion that builds up in your pores to rise to the surface. 

When you begin using a new product in your routine, this type of reaction of skin purging might actually be completely normal. It might seem like the opposite of what you’re going for because, well, it is. 

Having skin that is actively shedding and breaking out isn’t what anyone wants when trying to achieve well-balanced, healthy skin and a glowing complexion.

If you are experiencing this skin purge, you may have mistaken this reaction as a severe breakout or adverse reaction. Let’s be honest; the symptoms are all the same! Examining where the breakout is located and what type of product you’ve added to your routine will help identify what caused it. 

Even though skin purging might cause you to wonder if you should continue using your newly added product, try to remember that this condition is temporary. This is all likely a good sign that your skin is flushing out toxins and bacteria that your skin has been holding in. 

Who Does Skin Purging Affect?

Skin purging will affect those who have added a new product to their skincare routine, generally a retinoid or skin acid, who then experience what may be perceived as a breakout. 

When you start using a new product, and all the irritation comes to the surface, it might seem like you are having a bad acne breakout. However, this could actually be your skin hard at work, flushing out the blockages and making way for a new, fresh layer of skin. 

How To Treat Skin Purging

While it might be your first instinct to treat an episode of skin purging with heavy-duty scrubbing or medicated face cream, we actually suggest sticking to a skin routine that’s gentle on your skin.

A gentle routine allows your skin to flush the bacteria and such that build up, allowing it to build a strong, bright new layer. Stick to the gentle basics that you know work for you, likely meaning a sulfate-free cleanser, light, soothing moisturizer, and of course, sunscreen. 

When To See a Doctor

If you are experiencing skin purging, try to stick with the retinoid or exfoliator you’re using that’s causing it. You may want to stop it entirely and just go back to your old ways. 

Avoid this temptation and stay patient for a chance at glowing, radiant skin. 

Think of skin purging as just another “It’s worse before it’s better” scenario. You have to have one last cycle of breakouts to make way for the new, clear skin to follow. 

We know that it’s not ideal to have to spend any time with your skin in a way you don’t want it. But, the hard work will pay off. Give it a little time, and your skin's harsh reaction will work its way toward an even, balanced complexion. 

Because skin purging occurs when an ingredient beneficial to your skin speeds up the pace of cell turnover, shedding, and skin renewal, this should only happen once and not again once you start your new regimen. 

Each person has unique skin needs, so the timeframe can change depending on the person. That being said, this process shouldn’t last longer than four to six weeks.

If your skin purge lasts longer than that six-week mark, that would be the time to talk to your doctor about changing either the dosage or frequency of the new ingredients application. 

Even though you can’t speed up results, the results themself might be well worth it. Though there isn't really anything you can do to stop skin purging, there are some ways to better deal with it. 

Tips for Dealing With Skin Purging

Our biggest piece of advice when dealing with skin purging is pretty basic: don’t pick. Although this is just about the number one rule when treating or dealing with acne breakouts, it can’t be reiterated too much. Picking your blemishes can lead to scarring and prolong the skin’s healing process. 

You also need to be careful to not use products that will dry out your skin, such as:

  • Salicylic acid
  • Benzoyl peroxide

Though these products are usually highly effective, you’ll probably want to avoid them when undergoing a skin purge. Because your skin is experiencing a rapid amount of cell turnover in a small time frame, these ingredients can interfere with that process. 

To reiterate, in dealing with a skin purge:

  • Don’t pick your acne.
  • Avoid products that will dry out your skin.
  • Consider a HydraFacial, but not without consulting your dermatologist first. For those with sensitive skin, this might be too much stimulation for your skin to handle. But, it may work in conjunction with your treatment and aid in the removal of impurities. 

Can Skin Purging Be Avoided?

If you’re trying out a new product, there’s no guarantee that your skin will purge. But, there’s a chance. And if it happens, there’s not really a way to avoid it. That being said, if you ease into using the new product gradually, that may help. 

If you begin using the new product one to two times a week, then increase that number the following week to three to four times per week, then eventually leading up to potential daily use. 

In general, listen to your skin, and be in tune with what it reacts well and what might take some time to adjust to. You can use the ease in process with any new skincare ingredient or tool. As annoying as it might feel, a skin purge is generally well worth the wait. 

How Long Does Skin Purging Last?

Skin purging usually lasts about four weeks, but that isn’t a hard and fast rule. You cannot speed up the process of skin purging, but you can potentially reduce the severity of it. 

The duration of skin purging shouldn’t last longer than six weeks because your skin should have adapted to the new product by now. If it hasn’t, then you should either switch products or reduce the level of concentration you are using. Your skin should become accustomed to the new ingredients in this window, and if it doesn’t, then you should reconvene. 

You cannot speed up the pace of a skin purge, but you can reduce the level of intensity you are feeling. You can either reduce the dosage or the concentration of the product, slowly build-up, and ease into using the new ingredient. 

Difference Between Skin Purging and Breakouts

It’s easy to mistake a skin purge and a breakout for the same thing. But, they are completely different issues that happen to appear in similar fashions.

The main difference between a breakout and a skin purge is that a skin purge happens in a contained amount of time. 

A breakout can happen seasonally, be recurring, or be triggered by an external or environmental factor. A skin purge is a one-off temporary adjustment to a new product, while a breakout has a different set of causes. 

Skin purging will occur only on the area of your skin that you apply the new product to. 

When you experience a new area of inflammation or redness, that is probably not due to the skin purge. Having a bad reaction to the new product you use is not the same as having a skin purge due to the new product. 

Look for Patterns

Acne occurs when oil mixes with dead skin cells inside a pore. When your body notices this bacteria, it clocks this change as a foreign substance to the body and reacts to it. The body's response is to show signs of redness and swelling, which is why pimples and acne can often be swollen on the skin. 

Skin purging is a necessary part of shedding your skin in order to make way for a fresh new layer while having a breakout caused by a new product is completely avoidable. Your skin can still be sensitive to new products, so it’s important not to immediately assume an irritation on your skin is due to a skin purge. 

Common forms of acne during a skin purge consist of:

  • Whiteheads
  • Blackheads
  • Cysts
  • Pustules

If breakouts appear on your face in a usually unaffected area, that’s probably a response to the new product. If you’re experiencing redness and swelling where you generally experience breakouts, that’s likely a skin purge. 

Basically, skin purging will happen in the zone you have breakouts.

The good thing about pimples that form from a skin purge is that they aren’t like a breakout. They are the last step in clearing out the deepest layers of your skin in order to have fresh, buoyant skin. 

Ingredients That Prompt Skin Purging

Some ingredients will help prompt skin purging more than others.

These ingredients might include:

  • Glycolic acid
  • Lactic acid
  • Salicylic acid
  • Retinol

Signs of Growth

Skin purging is really not a bad thing. It’s actually a sign that the new retinoid or acid is working, and it’s your body's way of communicating that. 

Skin purging and breakouts may have similar symptoms and look similar, but their causes are completely different. A skin purge is actually a great way to get rid of the bacteria and buildup deep in your pores. Pushing these to the surface may result in fewer breakouts in the future.

Skin purging is just a sign that your body is reacting to the treatment you’ve given it. The important thing is to understand what’s happening within your skin in order to treat it well. 

Keep an eye on your skin and know when to reach out for help. If your original skincare plan isn’t working, look into other skincare tools. You have plenty of options, and the right one is out there!


External Sources:

Retinoid-Induced Flaring in Patients with Acne Vulgaris | NCBI

Management of acne | NCBI

Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne | NCBI