What Is the Skin Purging Process & Is It a Good Thing?

By PMUHub Editorial Team| Last updated on April 27, 2023
skin purging
⏱️ 8 min read

It’s safe to say that having clear and healthy skin is almost everyone’s goal. But in achieving that goal there are lots of struggles, product trials, and errors.

The hope that a new treatment will finally be the solution is often accompanied by the fear of experiencing skin purging, which can feel like a setback. But, contrary to popular belief, skin purging is not a setback.

In fact, it’s sometimes a necessary step to achieve refined and glowing skin.

So, let’s explain what the skin purging process is, what to expect during it, and how you can minimize any discomfort.

What Is Skin Purging?

Skin purging, while not a technical term formally recognized in the field of dermatology, is used to describe the process of your skin breaking out after introducing s new skincare routine.

The skin is constantly renewing itself as is, shedding dead skin cells and generating new ones, in cycles of 4-6 weeks.

This cycle is known as skin cell turnover, and if this process is accelerated – either by introducing new product ingredients or new facial treatments – skin purging occurs.

During a purge, the skin pushes all the excess oil, sebum, dead skin cells, and other debris to the surface to get rid of it – but all of that dirt tends to clog pores, leading to breakouts. They can vary in appearance from person to person and include:

  • whiteheads,
  • blackheads,
  • papules,
  • pustules,
  • cysts,
  • and microcomedones.

But, while this process may look like an acne breakout, it’s not actually the same as traditional acne.

what is skin purging
Image source: Instagram @skincarewithorr

How to Tell the Difference Between Purging and Breaking Out?

Breakouts caused by skin purging typically come with flakiness and a pink tinge to the skin.

Since these breakouts are caused by the skin getting rid of impurities, your skin may become congested and inflamed, leading to pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads.

However, unlike traditional acne that happens due to bacteria and clogged pores, a skin purging breakout should clear up on its own as your skin adjusts to the new ingredients.

While it differs from person to person, skin purging typically subsided within 4-6 weeks, which is about how long it takes for the skin to re-normalize. Medically diagnosed acne breakouts last much longer and need appropriate treatment.

It’s important to note that skin purging is also different from a negative reaction to a product.

An allergic reaction or irritation is an adverse response to a product that occurs immediately or shortly after using it, while skin purging occurs after a few days or weeks of consistent routine use.

NOTE

If you’re unsure whether your skin is purging or if you’re experiencing a regular breakout or an adverse reaction to a certain ingredient, it’s best to consult with a dermatologist for personalized advice.

So, What Does Skin Purging Look Like?

When introducing a new skincare product to your routine, it’s important to be aware of the signs of skin purging. Here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Breakouts, including pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads.
  • Increased oiliness
  • Shedding dead skin cells – flakiness or peeling
  • Redness and inflammation
  • Increased skin sensitivity
  • Itching or burning
@lifestylebymelg 6 weeks into the purging process and it’s not getting better 😃 #acneskincare #acne #purgingskin ♬ son original - mel

What Can Cause Skin Purging?

Since skin purging occurs due to the sped-up process of skin cell turnover, it can be triggered by the introduction of a new exfoliating skincare product, like retinol purge, or after an exfoliating facial treatment, like skin purging after chemical peel.

But not everyone experiences skin purging. The severity of purging depends on the individual’s skin type, the product or routine being used, and how often it’s being used.

So, let’s see the most common treatments and ingredients that cause purging:

Retinoid Purge

The most common cause of skin purging are retinoids. The retinoid family includes everything from retinol (a common prescription for acne-prone and aging skin, often found in over-the-counter products) to topical tretinoin and the oral medication isotretinoin (both of which are prescription only).

So, let’s go through each category:

Retinol Purge

Products that include retinol work by increasing the rate of skin cell turnover, which encourages collagen production, filling and firming fine lines or post-acne scars. But this increased skin cell turnover also leads to skin purging.

Most people that start using this therapy experience dryness, redness, and peeling – alongside regular retinol breakout. This is especially noticeable in the first few weeks of use – which is considered to be a normal retinol purging period.

@phaithmontoya Is this purging ?? Willl update weekly 😭 the texture is insane #skincycling #skincare #retinol ♬ som original - beyforchella

Tretinoin Purge

Tretinoin is a Vitamin A-derived topical cream prescribed for severe acne and wrinkles.

Once you first begin using tretinoin, you’ll likely experience a temporary worsening of your skin condition, and your skin may become red, dry, and flaky, and there may be an increase in acne breakouts or blackheads.

Although tretinoin purge duration is usually a few weeks, it can last for a couple of months for some people. The longevity depends on individual skin type and the severity of the treated condition.

Regardless, it’s important to stay consistent and continue using tretinoin as directed by a dermatologist.

Accutane Purge (Isotretinoin)

Accutane, also known as isotretinoin, is a prescription medication used to treat severe acne that has not responded to other treatments.

While Accutane doesn’t necessarily cause purging in the traditional sense, it can cause an initial worsening of acne symptoms before significant improvement is seen.

This initial flare-up is temporary and most people see significant improvement within 4 to 6 of using this therapy.

Differin Purge (Adapalene Purge)

Differin is another topical retinoid that is commonly used to treat mild to moderate acne.

Differin purge is a normal part of the process, as this treatment works by increasing skin cell turnover and preventing the clogging of pores, so it can lead to a temporary worsening of acne before the skin improves. This adapalene purge process usually lasts for a few weeks.

Benzoyl Peroxide Purge

Benzoyl Peroxide purge is a normal occurrence upon first starting the treatment. This medication works to kill acne-causing bacteria and exfoliate the skin, so an initial increase in breakouts or acne is to be expected – particularly within the first 4 to 6 weeks of use.

If your breakouts persist even after the initial purge, it could be that your skin is sensitive to this ingredient. In that case, consult with a dermatologist to find an alternative.

Vitamin C Purging

Because purging is closely related to a new skin care routine breakout, you can think of purging as your skin’s way of adjusting to the product.

Seeing as Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, known to boost collagen production in the skin and encourages skin cell regeneration, it can cause skin purging in some people.

However, the purging period should be short and is usually the length of one skin cycle phase (around 4 weeks).

Hyaluronic Acid Purging

Hyaluronic acid is arguably the most popular skincare ingredient, known for its ability to deeply hydrate the skin and improve skin elasticity.

And although it doesn’t typically cause purging, it is possible that increased hydration could cause the skin to temporarily react and produce more oil, which could lead to clogged pores and breakouts. This reaction is more likely to occur in people with oily or acne-prone skin.

If it comes to skin purging from a hyaluronic acid product, it should resolve itself within a few weeks as your skin adjusts to the increased hydration.

Niacinamide Purging

Niacinamide is another ingredient commonly used in skincare products. It has many skin benefits, including reducing inflammation, regulating oil production, and improving skin texture.

However beneficial, some people experience a purging phase when first starting to use this ingredient. This should be looked at as a positive sign that the ingredient is working and the skin is adjusting to its properties.

The niacinamide purging phase typically lasts a few weeks, but this can vary depending on the individual’s skin type and the concentration of niacinamide in the product. It’s important to be patient and consistent with your skincare routine during this time, as stopping the use of niacinamide can prolong the purging.

Purging Due to Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

AHAs are a group of acids that are very commonly used in exfoliating treatments. They’re effective ingredients for improving the texture and tone of the skin, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and treating hyperpigmentation.

However, if you’re new to using them, it’s likely you’ll experience some AHA purging – most often a glycolic acid purge or a mandelic acid purge.

So when it comes to managing the AHA purge, it’s important to start with a low concentration and use them less frequently until your skin adjusts.

Purging Due to Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)

BHA is commonly used in acne treatments. They penetrate the pores and exfoliate the skin from the inside out, which often leads to BHA purging.

Salicylic acid purge initially causes a release of trapped oils, dirt, and bacteria. A lot of people get discouraged by this, as skin seems to look worse before it starts to improve.

The BHA purging period typically depends on the concentration of acid used. For most people, it lasts for a few weeks, but in some cases, it can last up to two months.

But the wait is worth it because, in the end, you’ll get smoother, brighter, and acne-free skin.

Azelaic Acid Purge

Another acne-fighting acid is azelaic acid and similarly to BHA, it works by reducing inflammation and killing acne-causing bacteria in the skin.

This is why when starting to use this ingredient, some people may experience an azelaic acid purge phase. But this is only temporary – you need to persist and continue using the product throughout it.

This ingredient, alongside other acids (AHAs, BHAs, PHA, etc.) can be used as a peeling agent for chemical peeling treatments.

Purging After Chemical Peels

A chemical peel involves the application of a chemical solution to the skin, exfoliating the top layer of skin and causing it to peel off, revealing smoother, brighter skin underneath.

Since this treatment encourages skin cell turnover and exfoliation, skin purging after chemical peel is pretty normal. The skin expels impurities and toxins from the pores, so skin purging may occur for a few days after the treatment.

The duration of the purging phase varies depending on the type of chemical acid used, as well as its intensity.


Image source: Instagram @glowonstudios

Dermaplaning Purge

Dermaplaning is a physical exfoliation treatment that involves using a small, sterile blade to remove dead skin cells and peach fuzz from the surface of the skin. While skin purging after dermaplaning isn’t typical per se, it’s not unheard of either.

It is possible that during the healing process, some people may experience a temporary increase in breakouts due to exposure to underlying bacteria.

However, this is not really considered purging. To minimize the risk of post-dermaplaning breakouts, it’s important to follow proper aftercare instructions.

How to Manage Skin Purging

Although the term itself may not sound exactly pleasant, it’s important to understand that skin purging isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s a sign that your products are working.

Once the purging has subsided, the skin that is left behind will be smoother and less congested. But until the symptoms subside, you can take steps to alleviate dryness, flakiness, and inflammation.

Here are some tips for managing skin purging:

  • Avoid picking at your skin. Picking or squeezing your pimples can introduce bacteria into the pores, causing more breakouts and making the purge worse.
  • Avoid trying to fix it. Don’t apply more active ingredients or harsh exfoliants on top of already inflamed skin, as that can exacerbate the purge.
  • Use gentle products. Stick to gentle, non-comedogenic products that won’t clog your pores or further irritate your skin.
  • New skin care routine breakout is less likely to happen if you start with one product at a time. This will also help you identify the cause and make it easier to adjust your routine accordingly.
  • Avoid layering ingredients that aren’t meant to be used together. Always check and follow the recommended usage instructions.
  • Compare ingredients to past products that didn’t work for you. If you notice that certain ingredients continue to cause new breakouts, stop using them. 
  • Don’t forget to moisturize. Even if your skin is purging and feels oily, it’s important to keep it moisturized. Look for a lightweight, non-comedogenic moisturizer that won’t clog your pores.
  • Protect your skin. Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and avoid prolonged sun exposure.
  • Last, but definitely not least – just be patient. Skin purging is a natural process that can be frustrating, but once it’s over you’ll get much clearer, brighter skin.

Can You Avoid Skin Purging?

Although skin purging can be a frustrating process, it’s important to remember that it’s a natural part of the skincare journey.

In general, it’s not possible to completely avoid skin purging, especially when using certain active ingredients like retinoids, AHAs, or BHAs. However, there are steps you can take to minimize the symptoms.

Just remember to be patient, gentle, and consistent while managing the symptoms of skin purging.

Cover image source: Freepik

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