What’s the Difference Between Skin Purging and Breaking Out?
You’ve started using a new retinoid product that got rave reviews, but suddenly, your skin is breaking out.
No one mentioned this in their 5 star review! If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. In fact, what you may be experiencing may be skin purging and not an acne breakout–and we’ve been there.
Read on to learn the difference between skin purging and breaking out, how to tell the difference, and what to do about it to get your skin back to glowing soon.
What does “skin purging” mean?
Mention the words “skin purging” to someone passionate about clean skincare and chances are, you’ll see them shudder with recognition.
While it may sound dramatic, skin purging is actually a pretty common occurrence when embarking on a new non toxic skincare routine.
It refers to the “purge” of pore-blockers from the skin that come to the surface when dead skin is being sloughed off and skin cells are turning over more quickly than usual. As cells turnover and softer, more radiant skin awaits its debut, pores are “purged” of excess dirt, sebum, skin flakes–all the things that get in the way of the healthy skin cells below.
By pushing these blockers up out of pores and out of the way, skin eventually becomes clearer and new, brighter, softer, more radiant skin is revealed.
What ingredients can cause skin purging?
But not all new clean skincare products have the same effect on skin and cause it to purge.
Sometimes, a switching from a cream that sits on top of the skin to a face oil or serum that penetrates deeper into pores can result in skin purging; often, products that promote exfoliation and cell turnover are the culprits–think retinoids or topical exfoliating acids that slough off dead skin and may eventually improve skin’s appearance (brightness, clarity, even tone, less wrinkles) overall.
While it may be frustrating to commit to a new non toxic skincare routine only to have your skin look like it’s breaking out, if it truly is a skin purge, try and hang in there. In a relatively short amount of time, you might be very happy you stuck it out.
How to tell the difference between skin purging vs. breaking out
What does skin purging look like, anyway? “As with all skin issues, skin purging may look slightly different from person to person,” notes Sarah Mirsini, founder of MASK CBD Skincare.
“However, it does follow some commonalities that you want to keep in mind so you can determine the difference between skin purging and an acne breakout.”
To begin with, Mirsini says, skin purging may result in a mixture of whiteheads, cysts, blackheads, pustules, and even microcomedones, the invisible pre-pimples that precede acne.
“It’s important to note where the purging happens. If it’s occurring where you normally have breakouts, it’s probably purging because retinoids and other products that encourage cell turnover will exacerbate those areas to ‘clean out’ your pores. It’s also helpful to pay attention to how long breakouts last. Blemishes due to skin purging will heal quicker than true acne breakouts–typically noticeably less than the 8-10 days it can take for a regular breakout to heal. If after using your new clean skincare products you’re breaking out where you don’t normally, then you are probably having a reaction or acne breakout, not a skin purge.”
How long does skin purging last?
When starting a new clean skincare routine, including adding a retinoid, it can take your skin a full month to truly get the hang of things.
“Despite marketing that would have us believe our skin needs constant change to look its best, the exact opposite is actually true,” says Mirsini. “If you want skin that is reliably calm, balanced, and healthy looking, sticking with a routine over time is the best way to achieve this. So, when you begin a new routine, whether you’re adding in your favorite clean products or CBD skincare, you want to give it at least a month to adjust. This will allow a full cycle of skin purging and getting used to the new products, then continue to use them regularly. Your skin will be happier in the long run.”
The best way to treat skin purging
So, what’s a person who is undergoing skin purging to do? First, go easy on the products. Use gentle, plant based skincare made with organic and non-toxic ingredients so alleviate further irritation.
Wash your face with a gentle cleanser at night, then apply your hydrating serum and moisturizer. During the day, add your sunscreen. Stick with your routine and don’t introduce any more harsh products that can strip skin and disrupt your barrier function or make breakouts worse from overdrying skin.
Next, always ease into new skincare routines–especially when using strong products like non-toxic retinoids. Begin using them once or twice a week, then slowly (over the course of a couple of weeks) build up to three times a week to ensure your skin can handle it.
Consistency is key–always. If your skin is purging due to a new retinoid, you want to keep using it in conjunction with your other gentle skincare products. Abandoning ship early on and then beginning again down the road will only put you back to square one.
“Skin purging can be frustrating, as anyone who has experienced it knows. But if you choose clean skincare that is gentle on skin and truly nourishes it from the inside out, being patient with your skin while it adjusts will pay off. The goal is to stick it out so you can reap the benefits of natural skincare once your skin acclimates,” Mirsini says.
“Be gentle with yourself. It will be worth it in the long run.”