Is Your Skin Breaking Out or Just Purging?

Have you ever had a streak of perfectly dewy, glowing, fresh-faced skin – only to wake up the next day and find yourself with a breakout that seems to come out of nowhere? Yeah, well, get in line.

Breakouts happen to the best of us from time to time. Blame diet, hormones, or new skincare routines, breakouts are a part of life, but when is a breakout a sign your skin is purging? Here is how to know when your skin is purging vs. breaking out and what exactly your skin needs.

purging vs. breaking out

Purging vs. breaking out

Purging refers to a short period of time that can occur when we are adopting a new skin regimen as the skin works to rebalance. “Purging refers to a reaction to an active ingredient that is increasing cell turnover rate,” says Dr. Tahmina Mahmood, a dermatologist for Duly Health and Care.

“When cells turnover, skin buildup can be pushed up to the surface and cause breakouts – this is known as skin purging,” shares Dr. Mahmood. This can be especially evident when ditching synthetic options and switching to all-natural skincare alternatives like tallow-based formulas. As opposed to a breakout, continuing the product when [the skin] is purging will eventually lead to improvement in your skin, notes Dr. Mahmood.

Dr. Mahmood says a purge can prompt all types of pimples. Think of things like blackheads, cysts, papules, pustules, and whiteheads. Dry peeling skin is also common. The most common offenders of skin purges are retinol and retinoids, but can also include exfoliating acids and peels. But what about a breakout?

“A regular breakout refers to a skin reaction due to sensitivity to an ingredient or compound in a product. This could result in causing an allergy, causing irritation, or clogging the pores, ” says Dr. Mahmood. “In comparison to purging, continuing the product during a breakout will just make the situation worse.

Another way to define a purge from a breakout? “Purging usually occurs in a more defined area where you frequently break out as opposed to breaking out, which occurs in areas where you do not normally see skin issues,” shares Dr. Mahmood.

Is a skin purge good?

Many of us may think a skin purge is a bad thing. In fact, it’s actually a good sign.

“Overall, a skin purge is a favorable outcome,” states Dr. Mahmood. “When cell turnover rate increases, the skin starts to shed dead skin cells faster than it normally does. In doing so, fresh skin cells below are exposed revealing clearer and more youthful appearing skin.” 

Although it may be alarming at first, this phase will eventually pass.

How long does skin purging last?

Skin purging could last a couple of days to a couple of weeks depending on how in need of nourishment and repair the skin is. If we are switching from synthetic topicals to using natural products for the very first time, a skin purge may last a little longer.

“The worst of a skin purge generally lasts one skin cycle or about 28 days,” says Dr. Mahmood. “However, the complete process can take up to 4-6 weeks after starting a new product.”

Many of us have cleaned, peeled, and scrubbed our faces for years, so it may take a bit longer for our skin to naturally restore itself. Sometimes this means a few bumps and breakouts, but don’t worry. They will clear up as the skin adjusts to different products and a new skincare routine.

Is there anything I can do to help my skin purge?

As the body works hard to clear out old junk and find its new baseline, it will need all the extra support it can get. That means drinking plenty of water to help detox from the inside out, eating nourishing foods packed with vitamins and minerals, and making sure to get enough sleep.

Dr. Mahmood also mentions sticking to a gentle skincare routine to avoid further irritation.

“This includes using a gentle cleanser, a hydrating moisturizer, and a broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF30+) each morning,” she shares.

Is there anything I should not do while my skin is purging?

When it comes to something as irritating as breakouts, it can be difficult to remain patient and wait it out for the purging period to pass. We may be desperate to see change and that can make it feel like the easiest thing to do is to abandon our new routine and go back to what we were doing before.

Remember, it is completely normal to experience a breakout or other strange reactions as the skin rebalances itself. Continuing to switch skincare products will only shock your skin further and could potentially make the issue worse. Trying too many things in a short amount of time is never the answer.

Choose a gentle skincare option, stick with it and really give it a chance. Also, avoid picking at any acne that may develop and avoid using drying products such as exfoliating acids, says Dr. Mahmood.

Hang in there

Once we’ve fully transitioned to new skincare products and routines, we may experience few, if any, purging symptoms. Once the purging phase is over, we’ll be relieved to see glowing, gorgeous, and smooth skin.

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Beauty Live

About Ashley Martens

Ashley Martens is a Wellness Writer based in Chicago, Illinois. With a background in a digital marketing coupled with her knowledge of general nutrition and a lifelong passion for all things health, wellness, fitness and nutrition, Ashley offers a healthy alternative to traditional writing. You can learn more Ashley and her writing over at her blog, Three to Five a Day.