How To Tell If My Skin Is Purging Or Breaking Out

Recognize the signs when your skin is cleansing itself & when it needs your help to manage breakouts.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Vindhya L Veerula, MD, FAAD Dr. Vindhya L Veerula Dr. Vindhya L VeerulaMD, FAAD facebook_icontwitter_iconinsta_icon
Written by , BA (Literature & Psychology), PG Diploma Arshiya Syeda BA (Literature & Psychology), PG Diploma linkedin_icon Experience: 7 years
Edited by , MA (English Literature) Ramona Sinha MA (English Literature) linkedin_icon Experience: 11 years
Fact-checked by , MA (Journalism & Mass Communication) Monomita Chakraborty MA (Journalism & Mass Communication) linkedin_icon Experience: 4 years

Skin purging is a condition where all the dirt, oil, and debris from the inner layers of the skin are brought to the surface due to the usage of a new skin care product. It is different from breakouts.

We use different skin care products to get rid of skin conditions like dry skin, clogged pores, hyperpigmentation, and more. Our skin takes time to adapt to new skin care products and may initially lead to the formation of acne-like conditions. This condition is called skin purging. Some particular ingredients are known to cause skin purging. In this article, we have explained skin purging, its causes, signs, and treatment. Keep reading to know more.

What Is Skin Purging?

Woman with purging skin
Image: IStock

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?

AHA products may cause skin purging
Image: IStock

Typically, skin purging occurs when you use products like retinoid creams and exfoliation products on your skin (1). It may also occur if you get a chemical peel done. Regardless of your skin type—whether you have dry or oily skin, it can even occur during hormonal changes, stress, or a change in diet.

The ingredients that are claimed to cause skin purging are:

  • Alpha hydroxy acids
  • Beta hydroxy acids
  • Lactic acid
  • Retinol
  • Vitamin C
  • Tazarotenei  A medication type derived from vitamin A that is used to treat psoriasis, acne, and sun-damaged skin by reducing skin inflammation.
  • Retinyl palmitatei  A form of vitamin A that acts as an antioxidant and helps boost skin collagen production to reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Benzoyl peroxidei  A chemical compound used in acne treatment formulations that work by killing the bacteria that cause acne.

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.

protip_icon Trivia
In humans, the epidermis (outermost skin layer) regenerates throughout their lifetime after every 40–56 days (2).

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

Woman applying new cosmetic product may experience purging
Image: IStock
  • 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.

Annie, a beauty and lifestyle blogger, recounted her experience of skin purging caused due to BHA. Her facial skin became red and lumps appeared on her cheeks in large groups. She said, “A veritable festive dusting of blackheads, whiteheads, and hormonal lumps appeared on my cheeks, chin, and hairline (i).”

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.

protip_icon Quick Tip
You may also experience breakouts due to medications containing lithiumi  A chemical element that helps treat depressive disorders and enhances mood by altering the release of chemicals in the brain. , steroids, and anticonvulsantsi  Medications that calm down the hyperactivity of neurons in the body and used to treat epilepsy, depression, and anxiety. , or due to exposure to excess sunlight (3).

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 or pimples. 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 moisturizing cream, and sunscreen. Also, you may continue using the new skincare product or also follow any natural remedies along.

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

Woman cleansing her face to avoid skin purging
Image: IStock

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

Woman applying retinol serum that may cause skin purging
Image: IStock

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 for effective toning results.
  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.

While skin purging is temporary, is it normal? Find out in the next section.

Is Skin Purging Normal?

Yes, skin purging is a normal reaction to the introduction of certain skin care products or treatments. It often involves an initial increase in breakouts that can often be mistaken for a negative reaction. However, this process typically signifies that the product is accelerating the skin’s renewal cycle by bringing the pre-existing clogs to the surface. Skin purging is temporary and should subside within a few weeks as the skin adjusts to the new regimen. But consult a dermatologist to assess and adjust your skin care routine accordingly should the issue persist or worsen after several weeks.

Infographic: Ingredients Causing Skin Purging + How It’s Different From Breakouts

While skin purging and breakouts are often confused with each other, they are two different processes and have distinct causes and characteristics. Understanding these differences is important to choose the right treatment approach for each. In the infographic below, we have listed the ingredients that cause skin purging and discussed how it differs from breakouts. Take a look.

ingredients causing skin purging + how it’s different from breakouts (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Incorporation of new skincare products into your routine can result in dirt, grime, and dead skin coming to the surface of the skin. This process is called skin purging. Using products high in vitamin C and retinoids, chemical peels and microdermabrasion can lead to acne-like formations on your skin. The difference between acne and skin purging is that the former develops due to dirt clogging your pores and the latter develops due to the skin expelling grime and dirt. If you notice the signs of your skin purging, use a gentle cleanser and moisturizer to ensure your skin stays healthy. If your skin purging continues after 6 weeks, consult a dermatologist for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is my skin purging or reacting?

If it is reacting, the breakout may come with swelling, redness, irritation, acne inflammation, or itchiness. Skin purging may not cause these symptoms.

Does niacinamide cause purging?

Niacinamide does not cause purging.

Can hyaluronic acid cause purging?

No, hyaluronic acid does not cause purging.

Key Takeaways

  • Skin purging refers to the dirt and debris being brought to the surface due to the application of a new skin care product.
  • Purging occurs within a few days of using a new skin care product.
  • AHAs, BHAs, retinol, and lactic acid are some of the ingredients that are said to cause skin purging.
  • The only way to cope with skin purging is to wait it out as it clears up on its own.
Skin Purging Or Breaking Out

Image: Stable Diffusion/StyleCraze Design Team

Curious to know more about skin purging and breakouts? Watch this video where a medical expert explains the difference between them and offers helpful treatment and prevention tips.

Personal Experience: Source


Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety,
  2. Making an epidermis,
  3. Acne Vulgaris,
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Dr. Veerula (Dr. V) is a diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology, a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and American Society of Dermatologic Surgeons. She is an energetic, proactive, and compassionate medical practitioner with 5 years of experience and a thorough understanding of overall mind-body-spiritual wellness. Dr.V is on a mission to inspire and teach people full bio

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