Is My Skin Purging Or Breaking Out?

Medically reviewed by Dr. Vindhya L Veerula, MD, FAAD
Written by Arshiya Syeda

Skin care products can range from anything between creams and gels to oral tablets. We use them for many issues such as dry skin, acne, clogged pores, and so on. One mistake many people make when starting a new skin care routine is expecting immediate results. However, our physiology is not that simple.

When using a new skin care product, your skin is likely to get worse before it starts getting better. The reason for this is a process known as skin purging. What is skin purging? Why does it occur? Is there a way to treat it? How is it different from a conventional breakout? Let us dive deep into this process and look for answers.

What Is Skin Purging?

When you use a new skin care product, it brings the oil, dirt, bacteria, debris, dead skin cells, and sebum that is accumulated underneath your skin to its surface. This causes acne-like formations on your skin, known as skin purging. Very simply, the skin is ‘purging’ the substances that it considers extraneous and not useful (1).

Next up, we will look at the causes of skin purging.

What Causes Skin Purging?

Typically, skin purging occurs when you use products like retinoid creams and exfoliators on your skin (1). It may also occur if you get a chemical peel done.

The ingredients that are claimed to cause skin purging are:

  • Alpha hydroxy acids
  • Beta hydroxy acids
  • Lactic acid
  • Retinol
  • Vitamin C
  • Tazarotene
  • Retinyl palmitate
  • Benzoyl peroxide

Microdermabrasion is another skin care treatment that can cause skin purging.

Essentially, these ingredients loosen the inner layers of your skin and make them purge out the underlying dirt and oils. They increase the rate of skin cell turnover, which is the rate at which your dead skin cells are replaced by new skin cells. Since this rate increases rapidly, it is possible that a large number of dead skin cells get piled up on your skin before they are replaced. Due to this, your skin pores may get clogged temporarily. As the purged skin starts clearing up, it gets accustomed to the new skin cell turnover, and you can reap the benefits of the product you have started using.

Another reason that skin purging may occur is that the product is bringing out acne that was already dormant below your skin’s surface. As the cell turnover rate increases, it speeds up the appearance of this acne, thus causing breakouts. The skin purge is only expediting what was inevitable.

So, it is clear that skin purging and breakouts can look very similar. Let us look at the differences between the two in the next section.

Difference Between Skin Purging And A Breakout

Visually, a skin purge is not very different from a breakout. However, the underlying mechanisms of both of these processes are fundamentally different. While skin purging is like a detox, in which dirt is pushed out of your skin, a breakout occurs when this dirt gets stuck on your skin surface. A breakout could also be an allergic reaction to a new ingredient.

Let us look at the signs that can help you determine whether your skin is purging or breaking out.

Signs Your Skin Is Purging

  • When your skin is done purging, there will be no sign that the process ever occurred. There will be no marks or blemishes left on your skin.
  • You will notice that the breakouts on your skin will start disappearing on their own.
  • Purging starts after a few days after you start using a new skin care product. If you have not started using anything new, your skin will not purge itself.
  • Your skin will only purge if the new product you have started using contains any of the ingredients mentioned earlier.
  • Typically, skin purging is not localized. It will appear uniformly on the area of your skin where you used the new product.
  • It could be accompanied by rashes. Your skin might also start developing a temporary sandpaper texture. This is temporary and generally occurs if retinol is an ingredient in your product.

Signs Of A Breakout

  • Breakouts are not beneficial to the skin the way purging is. Breakouts can leave marks and scars on your skin after they are gone.
  • There is no change in the cell turnover speed in the case of breakouts. Cells divide, die, and get replaced at the same rate as before. There is no defined period after which breakouts start to disappear.
  • Breakouts on your skin can also occur after your start using a new skin care product. However, this could be an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients in the product.
  • Breakouts are generally not evenly spread across your skin. They are localized in one particular area.
  • If you are not using a product that contains one of the ingredients mentioned in the previous section, it is a breakout and not skin purging.
  • If changes start occurring months after you started using a new skin care product, it is not skin purging but a breakout.

Now that you know the various ways to figure out if your skin is purging, let us take a look at what to do when a skin purge occurs.

How To Treat A Skin Purge?

It is very likely that your skin is purging because you were trying to treat acne. The difference between acne and skin purging can be hard to make out. Let us look at possible treatments for skin purging.

When your skin is purging, it can be tempting to stop using the product that is causing it. It is important to understand that the purge is good for your skin because it is eliminating all the dirt and grime that is accumulated deep within your skin. Once you have recognized that what you are dealing with is actually skin purging, you should continue with a gentle skin care routine. This can include basic products such as a cleanser, a sulfate-free moisturizer, and sunscreen. Also, continue using the new skin care product.

The only way to deal with skin purging is to wait it out. You must keep your skin clean and continue washing your face twice a day. Your skin will clear up with time. Let us now look at how long this will likely take.

How Long Does It Take For Skin To Purge?

Skin purging is only a temporary phase that has a limited time period. At best, skin purging lasts only for about one or two skin cycles. Skin cycle is the process in which new skin is formed at the epidermis and makes its way up to the surface, replacing old and dead skin cells. The duration of a skin cycle is typically four weeks. However, this period varies for every person due to physiological differences.

In case the skin purge lasts more than six weeks, it is recommended that you consult a dermatologist.

Now, you might be wondering if there are any tips to minimize or avoid skin purging altogether. Read on to find out if it is possible.

Additional Prevention Tips

There are several methods that you can use to prevent skin purging. These tips are true for most skin care products and can help minimize skin purging.

  • Dermatologists suggest that you keep your skin clean. Wash your face multiple times a day so that pores do not get clogged.
  • If you need to buy a new skin care product, ensure that that it is meant for sensitive skin. Products with strong ingredients can lead to skin purging. It is also recommended to consult your dermatologist when you plan to buy a product so that you are aware of possible side effects.
  • Keeping in touch with your dermatologist will help you navigate your skin care process easily. Even if your skin gets worse, the dermatologist can help you identify whether it is purging or if you are allergic to certain ingredients.

There are a few skin care products that tend to cause skin purging due to their deep cleansing ingredients. Let us take a look at them below.

Products That Cause Skin Purging

There are several natural and synthetic products on the market that contain ingredients that can cause skin purging. Here are just a few of them.

  1. Toner: Certain toners contain significant proportions of retinol and salicylic acid. In general, do not apply large amounts of toner to your face. Just take a few drops of toner on a cotton tab and dab it on the affected area or all over the face.
  1. Serum: Serums can also contain retinol and benzoyl peroxide, which aid skin purging. The serum is also supposed to be applied only in small amounts on your face. Follow up your serum with moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated.
  1. Cream: Retinol creams are most likely to cause skin purging.

Final Thoughts

Purging is a common phenomenon that your skin goes through when your start using a new product. It causes the dirt, oils, and sebum in your skin to emerge to its surface and cause breakouts. This happens due to the turnover process of the skin cells accelerating. However, these breakouts disappear with time and do not leave any marks or scars behind. The purging of your skin lasts no more than a few weeks, and there is not much that you can do to treat or stop it. In case purging lasts too long or is accompanied by rashes, consult your dermatologist.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is skin purging itchy?

When skin purging does not cause itching or redness. If you feel your skin disintegrating, large rashes at multiple places, or prominent redness, consult a dermatologist right away.

Does rosehip oil make your skin purge?

Rosehip oil contains linoleic acid and retinol that can potentially make your skin purge. However, the proportion of these ingredients in rosehip oil is not very high, and the skin purging may not be that apparent.

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Sources

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Arshiya Syeda is an editor and certified counselor. Ever the lover of the written word, she served on the editorial boards of her school and college newsletters. Writing articles on hairstyles, hair care, and nutrition helped her combine her love for reading, writing, and research. As an editor, she helps her team members deliver polished and meticulously researched content. Arshiya is fluent in English, Urdu, and Hindi and aims to become a multilinguist by learning German and teaching herself American Sign Language (ASL).