Of its many benefits, retinoids decrease both non-inflammatory and inflammatory acne. However, upon first application of this product, you may think that your skin has started breaking out. “If this product is supposed to help my skin, why is it making me breakout?” Inspecting your skin, you notice little bumps on your cheeks, forehead, and chin. Don’t fret! What appears to look like a breakout is totally normal. Most likely, what you are experiencing is skin purging, not a breakout.
What is skin purging?
Skin purging occurs when you start using a new product that increases the skin cell turnover rate. Products that actively speed up the process of the skin cell turnover cycle will help reveal healthier skin cells, but not without first “purging” all the gunk that was residing underneath your skin. This gunk includes flakes of dry skin, already present buildup, and excess sebum.
Since the product you are using is increasing the rate of skin cell turnover, all the gunk will inevitably rise to the surface of your pores quickly. New acne may make you question whether or not to stop using a product. Purging is a necessary process that your skin must go through to adjust to new skincare products. There is a method to all the madness that may be occurring on your face.
Skin purging takes form in mostly blackheads or tiny skin-colored bumps, and looks incredibly similar to a breakout. However, there are notable differences you should be aware of in order to determine whether the product you are using is helping or irritating your skin.
Purging vs. breakout
It is easy to peg your skin purging as a breakout and immediately disregard the skincare products you are using. However, noting the differences between purging and breakouts can help you differentiate between the two. Then, you can make an informed decision on whether or not to scrap or keep the product.
Let’s start with something we are all familiar with: breakouts. Breakouts are frustrating and annoying, but most importantly, they are a reaction to using a new product. A breakout is an indication of clogged pores, an allergic reaction, or irritation from the product itself. Bacteria feed on all the gunk and that leads to inflammation of the skin. Breakouts often pop up in new areas of the face where acne usually does not occur, hence a reaction to a product. Acne breakouts cause red, irritated pimples to form. These clogged pores will eventually find their way to the surface. On the other hand, purging allows that skin cell turnover to occur faster.
Unlike breakouts, purging is the first sign of a product that will benefit your skin long-term. Rather than being a reaction to a product, purging is an indication that the product is speeding up that process of skin cell turnover. Again, in comparison to the red irritated pimples of breakouts, purging takes form in blackheads and flesh-colored bumps on the skin. Additionally, unlike breakouts that occur in new areas of the face, purging often occurs in areas where acne pops up frequently. Skin purging also appears and disappears quicker than breakouts. Continuing use of a product when purging occurs increases the frequency of that skin cell turnover cycle and helps improve the texture of your skin in the long-term.
Knowing the difference between these two effects of a product is important to decide when to stop using a product when a breakout occurs, and when to continue using the product when skin purging occurs.
Products that may cause purging
Certain products trigger the process of purging. When changing up your regular skincare routine with new products, it is important to note which products are more likely to cause skin purging.
Retinoids such as tretinoin, acids such as salicylic, and benzoyl peroxide are just a few of the products that cause purging. These products contain active ingredients that increase the skin cell turnover rate, therefore causing your skin to purge. Tretinoin not only treats acne, but also improves the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. Alongside its many benefits is the side effect of initial skin purging. When using products with tretinoin, you may notice dry skin and excess production of oil, which contributes to the increase in skin cell turnover. Do not freak out! Rest assured that this is just the first phase to better skin.
Are you more prone to purging?
Skin purging ranges from person to person, but those who are already susceptible to breakouts are more prone to experiencing purging. Additionally, if you are currently “detoxing” internally by changing your diet or lifestyle, you promote that skin purging process.
How long purging lasts and tips on dealing with it
The good news is that this annoying side effect is temporary. How long purging lasts depends on the individual, but on average, it lasts about a month. This is also the amount of time it takes for your new skin to come through at the end of a skin cell turnover cycle. If at the 6-8 week mark you do not see that your skin is starting to improve, this might be a time to either stop using the product or see a professional.
When you should get seen in person
If irritation and what looks like skin purging continue past the 6-8 week mark of using the product, it may be worthwhile to see a professional about your skin. Your skin may not be reacting well to the product. What may have initially seemed like purging may actually be a breakout in reaction to the product.
What to do
Stick to the basics. One of the most important things to remember when using products that cause skin purging is to be gentle. Stick to a gentle skincare routine. Since skin-purging products also tend to make your skin dry, it is important to stay hydrated and moisturized. Being mindful of what products you use in conjunction with skin-purging products is important so you are not further irritating your skin. Also, remember to use sunscreen every morning! While your skin is purging, it tends to be much more sensitive. Though you should already be using a sunscreen every day, it is especially crucial to wear sunscreen when using products, like or similar to tretinoin.
How you can reduce severity
In order to reduce the severity of purging, Dear Brightly provides a service for tailored formulas that allow you to start off with a starter strength of retinoids. This is so that you can have a smooth ramp up and that your skin can learn to tolerate it over time. Additionally, applying the product less frequently at first before increasing the frequency. This allows your skin to become accustomed to the product and not be too shocked by the addition of a new product to your skincare routine. Slowly increasing the strength and frequency of the product prevents purging from being too drastic.
Can you speed up the process?
The process of skin purging again varies from person to person. While you may want to speed up the purging process in order to get to improved skin faster, the average skin cell turnover rate is about a month. Remembering to stay hydrated and moisturized can help you with tolerating the purging process. However, it is unlikely that you will be able to further speed up a natural skin cycle while already using retinoids. Remember that purging is very worth the wait and remaining patient is part of the process.
What not to do
You should not further agitate your face by picking or touching your skin. Be sure to avoid using products that could further dry your skin or irritate the temporary purging like exfoliants.
After – the good
So what can you expect after skin purging? Hopefully, clearer, brighter, and smoother skin! In the end, purging is a good sign and is just one step to better skin. Keep at it, persevere, and continue using those products to improve your skin.