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Skin Purging Vs. Breaking Out: Know The Difference

When starting a new skin routine, whether it’s in hope of clearing up that stubborn acne, getting rid of pigmentation, or pre-conditioning for a peel, the last thing anybody wants to see are new breakouts.

When new active ingredients are introduced to the skin, specifically those that are designed to promote cell turnover (AHA's, BHA's), it can cause a period of small breakouts, patchy dryness, and occasionally cystic acne. Before the bottom layers of youthful skin cells can be revealed, a lot has to get pushed to the surface, which in turn causes the skin purge.

While this is a common and completely normal skin response, purging can be a rough process, and understanding the difference between purging and reaction based breakouts is important during this transition.

What is purging?

Purging happens when new actives are introduced to the skin- the new ingredients and exfoliating qualities promote cell turnover. This causes pre-existing pimples and deep pore congestion, that are filled with oil and dead skin to rise to the surface, causing what appears to be a breakout. Skin purging most often occurs when retinoids or other chemical exfoliants are introduced to the skin.

How long will purging last?

Purging does clear faster than your average breakout; the skin regenerates every 28 days, so it can take up to one full skin cycle to fully shed the dead skin cells. The purging process varies by the individual, but those with acne prone skin will tend to purge for longer periods of time. It can take up to four to six weeks to fully see results. If after 28 days the purging has not stopped it may be time to consider a change in routine.

How will I know the difference between purging and a reaction based breakout?

The good news is that there is a pretty definitive way to tell the difference. Purging will typically occur in areas that you are prone to breakouts, as it clears the pores. A reaction based breakout or allergic reaction will typically occur in new parts of the face, and cause worsening acne. If an allergic reaction occurs including swelling of the face, extreme redness and itch- discontinue the product immediately and consider consulting with a dermatologist.

What do I do when my skin is purging?

During the purging process, while it might be tough to work through the breakouts, the end result will be worth it. It is important to be gentle with your skin during this time. Avoid picking at breakouts as it can cause further inflammation or future hyperpigmentation, and avoid additional skin drying actives as to not over exfoliate the skin. Keep your pillowcase clean, and ice breakouts to reduce visible inflammation.

How to avoid skin purging?

Ready to introduce new products to your skin but nervous about the potential breakouts? While many will not experience breakouts at all, those with acne prone skin may feel more comfortable easing into a new skin routine. The best way to avoid a full on purge is to introduce products to the skin slowly. Begin by gradually introducing new actives, using a product twice a week, then slowly increasing to three or four times a week over the course of a month until your skin is able to take it as directed.


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