Skin Purging: Causes, Prevention and Treatment

Skin purging vs. a skin breakout is a common debate topic amongst us skincare enthusiasts. These terms are often used interchangeably but actually, they're completely different. While both have some rather unsightly side effects, it's essential to understand the difference! In this article we will explain what these terms mean, how they differ and how we can safely treat them.

What Is a Skin Breakout?

A skin breakout is a common skin condition that results in the appearance of red, white, or pink bumps on the skin. This often happens after exposure to harsh or irritating substances like air pollution, sweat, wind and sun. Skin breakouts can also be triggered by stress, hormonal changes, or even a poor diet. Breakouts can be itchy and painful leading to unsightly scars and permanent damage to the skin's natural barrier.

What is Skin Purging?

On the other hand, skin purging is a reaction to an active ingredient in a given product. This reaction is caused by certain ingredients in skincare products that are designed to increase the skin cell turnover rate. The effect of this is that the skin sheds and replaces its outer layers much more rapidly. This generally results in a red, bumpy skin surface that looks a lot like acne. However, this condition is less severe than an actual breakout and less painful.

Many people experience both skin breakouts and skin purging after applying certain skincare products. The two can even occur at the same time!

Is Skin Purging a Good Thing?

If you ask most skincare professionals whether skin purging is a good or bad thing, you're not going to get a straight answer. That's because skin purging is a reaction to a product that has compromised the skin barrier. In most cases, this purging does prove beneficial as it rids the skin of dirt, debris, and other impurities.

Unfortunately, it can come with some less-than-satisfactory side effects, such as dry, flaking skin.

How Long Does Skin Purging Last?

Skin purging can last anywhere between a few days and a complete skin cycle. A complete skin cycle usually takes anywhere from four to six weeks. If the effects continue, you'll want to seek professional advice before things really go awry.

Will My Skin Clear Up Following a Purge?

Yes! As your skin rids itself of impurities, you'll start to see clearer and brighter skin begin to appear.

Can I Prevent My Skin From Purging?

If your skin is purging due to the introduction of a new product, then chances are, the answer is no, unless you stop using the offending product. You can reduce the usage of the product, until your skin begins to get accustomed, and then slowly increase use over time.

When in doubt, it’s always a good idea with a new product to try a little dab on a sensitive, but not super visible area, just to see if you get a reaction. That little test can save you some serious angst.

What Causes the Skin to Purge?

Skin purging can be caused by many product ingredients. However, some of the most common culprits include:

  • Retinol (Retinoids). Retinol is a compound that gives your skin an overall fresher, brighter, and more youthful appearance. This is because retinol helps to create new skin cells and maintain the skin's natural barrier. However, retinol can often irritate the skin and cause purging, especially when applied in high quantities.
  • Salicylic Acid. Salicylic Acid is a compound used to treat acne and is one of the most common ingredients in acne-fighting products. It works by exfoliating dead skin cells and opening up clogged pores. However, it can also irritate the skin and cause purging.
  • Chemical Peel. Chemical peels are very effective at treating and clearing skin impurities. However, they can irritate the skin and cause purging to occur. Again, especially true if the peel is applied too often.

What are the Signs of a Skin Purge?

If you've recently introduced a new skincare product to your routine and you believe you may be dealing with purging skin, then you'll want to keep an eye out for the following symptoms:

  • Whiteheads. Whiteheads form when dead skin cells plug up and clog pores. When a new product starts working, and the skin is purging, whiteheads can develop as the skin's natural barrier is compromised.
  • Blackheads. Like whiteheads, blackheads form when dead skin cells start clogging up pores. They get their black color because once the pores open up and get exposed to the air, the nasty contents oxidize and go black. Whiteheads are basically the same thing, except they have not been exposed to air and therefore haven't been oxidized.
  • Papules. Papules form when skin is exposed to chemicals or other irritants that cause a localized reaction. This localized reaction causes cells to puff up, creating a puffy or inflated appearance. The formation of papules is often associated with the purging of the skin. This is because the skin is trying to remove the offending irritant.
  • Cysts. Cysts are actually blisters on the skin. They form when dead skin cells are pushed through the pores and create a localized area of inflammation.
  • Dryness. Dryness is a common occurrence when a new product starts working. It's often associated with the purging of the skin. The skin no longer has a thick layer of oil and often becomes dry as it tries to shed this layer and replace it with a newer, healthier one.
  • Peeling or Flaking Skin is a sign that your skin is dealing with skin purging. This is because the skin is shedding the top layer of dead cells.

4 Tips to Keep in Mind When Your Skin is Purging

If your skin is purging, then you'll want to make sure you are taking the necessary precautions to prevent skin damage and irritation:

  1. Don't Pick at Your Acne. If you're dealing with skin purging, then you're bound to have some acne breakouts. Doing so will open your pores and cause your skin to become even more inflamed and you can even risk scarring.
  2. Don't Use Drying Products. While you may be tempted to use products to help rid your skin of whiteheads, blackheads and pimples, you want to make sure you're avoiding the use of skin drying products during this time. These products can cause additional irritation as your skin and can be quite painful.
  3. Consider a HydraFacial. A HydraFacial is a non-invasive procedure that uses a special microcurrent to exfoliate the skin. This exfoliation helps open up clogged pores, which can be especially helpful when your skin is purging. The microcurrent also helps deliver hydrating and nourishing ingredients deep into the skin.
  4. Consider Using Ceramides or Hyaluronic Acid. Ceramides is a common ingredient in skincare products, especially those targeting anti-aging. These are naturally occurring acids that protect and revitalize the skin. Hyaluronic acid is a common ingredient in skincare. It helps keep moisture in your skin, especially when your skin is dealing with purging.

Keep An Eye on Your Purging Skin

Purging skin can be quite irritating so it's essential to keep an eye on your skin as it purges. If you develop a rash, redness in the skin, or a sore rash, you should immediately stop using the product and consult your doctor. If you do not stop using the product, your skin may become increasingly irritated and inflamed. Your doctor can advise how to treat it if you've let it go beyond home repair.