Bare essentials: What is a skin purge & why it is good news

Bare essentials: What is a skin purge & why it is good news

You’re all excited to try out a new product and heard some rave reviews about it.Yet you start noticing your skin breaking out after a few uses. Hasn’t this happened to all of us? Is it a regular breakout or is your skin purging itself and telling you a different story?  

Skin purging is a natural process - the skin is giving itself a detox and removing all the dirt stored deep inside itself. A skin purge could indicate that the product is actually working as intended and your skin is simply adjusting to it. A regular breakout is a signal that the product is irritating the skin. But how do you tell the difference? You will know. 

Here’s a little something to help you. 

The basics: What causes a pimple?

We know the pimple really well, don’t we? But what is that red little eruption all about? 

When the pores on our skin clog, it leads to the formation of a microcomedone. This is the first step in an acne lesion formation. Usually lying under the surface of the skin, a microcomedone could take up to 8 weeks to surface. The good news: some of them go away without causing you heartbreak. Unfortunately, a lot of them will break your heart - they are the catalysts for whiteheads, blackheads, large cysts, and pimples. 

The elephant in the room: What is skin purging?

You’re safe: It doesn’t happen just by itself. Usually, a skin purge is caused by skincare ingredients that are known to increase skin turnover.

When that happens, you will see a host of whiteheads, blackheads, cysts, pre-pimples suddenly appearing on your skin. These could have been there under your skin already. It’s just that the product has accelerated the skin cycle. 

Your skin is trying hard to get rid of bacteria and dirt lodged deep inside. By pushing everything to the surface, the skin is speeding its recovery towards clearer and younger-looking skin.  

The reasons: What causes skin purging?

So if you’re seeing pimples mushrooming on your face, it’s best to first check your products and see if any ingredient is known to increase surface cellular turnover (the rate at which skin cells are shed and new cells come up). 

For instance, alpha hydroxy acid and beta hydroxy acid in exfoliators could cause a skin purge since they exfoliate the inner layers of the skin. 

Products that contain these ingredients can cause a skin purge: 

  • benzoyl peroxide 
  • lactic acid 
  • retinyl palmitate 
  • retinol 
  • tazarotene 
  • vitamin C 
  • glycolic acid
  • salicylic acid 

Chemical peels, laser treatments such as microdermabrasion, detox and other facial masks could also produce a similar effect. Yet it doesn’t mean that all these ingredients are bad or to be avoided. Just proceed with caution. 

Solving the puzzle: A breakout or skin purge?

A million-dollar question, one that is tricky to answer. A few natural differentiators will help you become more aware.  

Always check:

  • What sort of product is it? 
  • Where are the breakouts occurring? 
  • How long is the purge?

A skin purge

A breakout

1) Purging pimples lead to fresher skin cells by healing the skin. These pimples do not leave marks or blemishes on the skin. 1) Breakouts leave marks and blemishes which could take a while to fade.
2) Since the function of a purge is to clear dead cells, the cell turnover is faster. The pimples disappear faster than a normal pimple. 2) The cell turnover speed is usual and will take 8-10 days to appear, mature, and shrink.
3) Purging can last for 1-2 months. 3) There is no fixed period to indicate when the breakout will end. They can last a while, even longer than 2 months.
4) Could start a few days after you begin using a product. 4) A breakout can happen even after you’ve been using the product for 6 months to a year.
5) Skin purging is a cleanse. 5) A breakout usually indicates an allergic reaction to a product.
6) A purge is pushing the pre-existing microcodomes to the surface. Usually, you will purge in your regular ‘problem’ areas.  6) If you’re observing spots in new places, it’s likely the product is not working for you.

Protip: Continue using the product that is causing the purge - a necessary evil. In the case of a breakout, it’s time to stop that product now! 

Waiting for the worst to get better (it will!)

There are several things to do while you wait for the skin purge to clear up but perhaps, more importantly, is practice one trait: patience. You’re going to have to just wait it out since there is no way to hasten the process. Here’s what you can do to help: 

  • Continue using the product that is causing the purge. Your skin is telling you that it’s working. 
  • Supplement your skincare routine with a humectant like Hyaluronic Acid. 
  • Keep away from products that have strong ingredients and chemicals. 
  • Avoid too much exposure to sunlight and regularly apply your sunscreen. 
  • Avoid any drying products like exfoliating acids. 
  • Get a hydrating facial, if possible. 
  • Reach out to your dermatologist if you’re unsure of what to do. 

 A skin purge could last anytime between a few weeks to a few months. In an average 30-year-old adult, cells are replaced every four weeks. The cycle gets longer as we grow older. The skin purge could last the entire cell renewal cycle. Be patient for that one skin cycle of around 28 days. If your skin is not improving after 6-8 weeks of using the product that is causing the purge, it’s time to call it quits. Stop using the product. 

The not-so-easy answer: Is there a way to avoid skin purge?

You could try the “ease-in” method and go slow and easy with a new product that has active ingredients. Do a skin patch test and if all goes well, start using it twice a week while slowly building up the frequency as your skin gets comfortable with it. You could also consider usingNiacinamide, famous for being an active product without causing purging or breakouts.   

A word of advice: Skincare involves a certain amount of self-experimentation. Don’t worry too much about the skin purge. The post-purge skin is going to look fresh, youthful, less congested and clear. A detox, of any kind, is good news.