Skin Care » What Is Skin Purging and How Is It Different from Breakouts?

What Is Skin Purging and How Is It Different from Breakouts?

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You just started using a new skin care product and your skin starts throwing a full-out tantrum. Has this scenario ever happened to you? Well, it could be that you are in the process of skin purging. It is also possible that you have a breakout, which is happening due to the clogging of your pores by the new product.

What Is Skin Purging and How Is It Different from Breakouts?

If you are in the process of trying to differentiate between the two, then you should know that you have to listen quite well to your skin to know what exactly is happening. Today’s article is all about skin purging and how it differs from breakouts and skin reaction.

Guide to Skin Purging: Contents

What Is Skin Purging?

Skin purging is the process of shedding dead skin cells when using a new topical skin care product, which causes breakouts. Skin purging is actually an excellent process for the skin. It means your skin is shedding dead cells. This process can happen when you use an acne treatment or anti-aging products, which ensure there is an accelerated turnover for your cells. This sums up why there is likely to be more pimples and breakouts on the surface of your skin.

Most importantly, dirt, debris, and unnecessary chemicals are being purged and even though the process might cause your skin to look pretty bad, it will eventually get better. Just try to push through the purging phase.

What Ingredients and Products Cause Skin Purging

There are so many skin care products that cause skin purging. However, two of the most common ingredients are leave-on beta hydroxyl acid (BHA) and alpha-hydroxyl acid (AHA) exfoliants. BHA and AHA help exfoliate not only the surface of the skin but also go beneath to bring out dead cells clogging your pores (leading to loosening) and your skin generating a great deal of debris and oil.

What Ingredients and Products Cause Skin Purging

Also, you can get this same effect from a range of products with ingredients such as…

• Retinoids (e.g. retinol, tazarotene, retinyl palmitate)
• Chemical peels
Benzoyl peroxide
Lactic acid
• Lasers
Vitamin C
• First-time oil cleansing
Salicylic acid
Glycolic acid

Products with these ingredients may trigger skin purging, since they are formulated to stimulate your skin to bring up new cells to replace the old. You can also get skin purging via facial masks or detox masks that contain any of the above-mentioned active ingredients.

Skin Purging vs. Breakouts: How to Tell the Difference?

It is often common to confuse a breakout with skin purging, and vice versa. What makes it even more difficult to recognize is that they both include acne breaking out all over your face. However, we would not leave you hanging on a guess. There are some differences between breakouts and skin purge that will help you easily recognize your particular skin condition.

Signs of Purging

Consider your body a system that has had a lot of input all over the years. Some of this input has left its marks, and not all the marks are necessarily useful for your skin. Your skin might even appear smooth and fresh on the surface while it is a whole world of dirt and scum, rolling underneath the healthy skin.

So when you start using skin care products that are meant to cleanse your skin and give you a great result, what they have to do before they start working is make sure that they clear out all the baggage your former cream or skin care product left. This will usually result in acne, i.e. pimples, blackheads, bumps, and any other skin conditions, which have been lurking in your pores all along.

Skin purging is just like when you have to detox, and your body pushes out all the toxins. There is also an improved rate of cell turnover that is part of the cleansing process.

Usually, skin purging processes start just a few days after you start using a new product and they are typically characterized by a rapid colony of acne appearing all over your face. If you spot a random pattern, however, it can be a breakout.

Skin Purging vs. Breakouts vs. Skin Reaction

Signs of Breakouts

Breakouts are usually bad for the skin because they have no useful effect in the long-term (or even the short-term). They just cause blackheads and leave your face full of spots when they eventually go. To make sure you do not have a breakout, you need to check if you are not allergic to one of the product’s ingredients.

An adverse reaction (such as irritation or rash) could also be all hell breaking loose with a purge, especially if you just started using an exfoliating product that contains retinol. Purging lasts between one and two months, while breakout continues for a long while.

Some of the indications for a breakout are…

• Acne and pimples stay for more extended periods and leave blemishes on the skin.

• Skin blemishes caused by purging usually occur in places you have had them before. For example, if you usually have pimples on your chin, the most likely scenario is for pimples to cover your chin during purging.

• If you are not using any skin care product that contains the active ingredients that cause purging, it is probably a breakout. Also, a product that you have been using for an extended period (6 months to 1 year) will not cause skin purging suddenly.

• A random pattern of acne is a sign of breakouts while a colony of zits (occurring during your first two to three days of using a new skin care product) can be your skin adjusting to the new routine.

Skin Purging vs. Skin Reaction

Skin purging has been described in previous sections to be very good for your skin because the end result is wonderful and smooth skin. With this fact established, there is another condition that can be mistaken for purging; in fact, it may look like your regular purging but it is way worse. That condition is termed skin reaction.

How to Prevent Skin Purging/ Acne Purging

As the name suggests, skin reaction means the product you are using is having an adverse effect on your body. Sometimes it can even be something in the water or in the cleanser you are using. Other causes include changing your routine and an increase in your stress level.

Unlike skin purging that causes discomfort to your skin temporarily, skin reaction is a result of sensitivity or allergy to a specific ingredient in the product you are using. Other indications of skin reaction are hives, eczema, dry patches, rashes and dermatitis. So as soon as you start noticing red and irritated pimples on any part of your skin, it is time to check if it is a skin reaction and stop using that product instantly.

How to Prevent Skin Purging

New products that contain ingredients for exfoliation works by renewing your skin and removing dead cells. If you want to put your skin through this process and still avoid all the ugliness that comes with skin purging, then you have to make sure that you do it right. Some of the tips to follow are:

• Cautiously follow your new routine by using products with lower concentrations of the active ingredients.

• Use the products less frequently as you start out and also let it stay for a shorter period before washing it off. Then as you progress, you can gradually increase it to the recommended dosage. For example, if you get a product with any of the skin purge activating ingredients, apply it once or twice a week and then slowly increase the frequency of usage.

• You can choose to avoid a product that has a speed-up process – i.e. too fast.

• Try to look for a product that can help you cleanse your skin and does not contain ingredients that might start the purging process.

• Do not use another skin care product while your skin is still adjusting to the products that cause skin purging.

• In contrast, you can use a hydrating product such as a humectant moisturizer. This will help you avoid skin irritation and inflammation.

• Avoid exposing your skin to the sun when you are going through purging and always use an excellent sunscreen.

Signs of Skin Purging/ Acne Purging

These tips will help you prevent skin purge but do note that a minimal skin purge might still occur. If you experience this, then check for other signs of breakouts or skin reaction before you continue using the product.

How Long Does It Take for Your Skin to Purge and What to Do When Your Skin Is Purging?

The process of purging is mostly rapid and runs for a month or two. Naturally, our skin cells are replaced continuously throughout our lifetime. The new cells are formed at the lowest layer of the skin; old cells at the surface die and are expended from the body.

All these happen in a natural process. In an adult of about 30 years old, the whole process takes 28 days. However, this rate reduces as we grow older and that is what exfoliants are for – they help make the cycle much quicker.

With this analysis, skin purging lasts for the length of the full cycle. Even though it might not be the same for everyone, skin purging takes between 4 and 6 weeks.

It can be awfully gruesome when your skin is purging. However, there are certain measures you can take when your skin starts the purging process. You must not alter your skin care routine during skin purging but follow the proper directions when using a product to make sure you do not increase the side effects of skin purging.

If you still have pimples, hives or any form of acne all over your face after the typical duration has passed, it is time for you to visit a dermatologist. If the condition becomes so severe that itching is unavoidable, and you also notice some red marks around your face, then do not wait for the 6 weeks before going to a dermatologist.

It is also advisable to test the product you are going to use on the back of your arm. This is to know if you are allergic to any of its ingredients before using it on your face.

[Bonus] Skin Purging Myths Debunked

There is no doubt that the concept of skin purging is as real as it gets. This is supported by the statistics that show dermatologists agreeing with the term. Products that accelerate the process also work the same wonders much faster than the natural process. Some myths, however, surround skin purging and they include:

How Long Skin Purging/ Acne Purging Takes

1. Purging Is More Extreme If Your Skin Is Sensitive

Some beauty campaigns advertise that people who have acne-prone skin are more prone to purging. However, this might not be correct. In fact, skin purging occurs no matter the skin type and this is what dermatologists generally agree is the case.

2. Skin Purging Causes Skin Detoxification

Naturally, it is the duty of the kidney and liver to get rid of all (or most) the toxins in the body. As a result, there is no product that performs that function explicitly. However, the products help remove toxins from the skin pores; this triggers the alleged breakouts, resulting in acne or dehydrated skin.


Skin purging is a necessary process for the body as you are getting rid of all the unwelcome visitors that might be lurking in your skin. Still, it is essential to know when you are having a breakout instead. Keep in mind that when things are getting out of hand, the next step is to visit a dermatologist because you do not want life-long blemished skin.

Photos via @kate.lavie, @styleelyst, @affordablebyamanda