The Secrets to Deciphering — and Stopping — Skin Purging
Ah, if only it were that easy.
Before these new, healthy cells can cycle to the surface, some other stuff has to rise to the top first, like the excess sebum, and the makings of a pimple or two… or 10. This is what’s not so glamorously known as “skin purging.”
“As the surface layer of skin is shed more quickly, our skin is expediting its recovery and pushing everything to the surface. It may look different from person to person, but you can get a mix of whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, cysts, and even the tiny ‘pre-pimples’ that aren’t visible to the eye, called microcomedones.
Your skin may react viscerally to retinoids and face acids.
While the purge isn’t something you look forward to, it is to be expected with certain skin care ingredients.
Unfortunately, the most common offenders are retinoids. The retinoid family includes everything from retinol (a common prescription for acne-prone and aging skin, which can also be found in over-the-counter products) to topical tretinoin and the oral medication isotretinoin (both of which are prescription only).
You may experience skin purging from exfoliating acids, too.
What should you do if your skin is purging?
Many experts suggests sticking to a gentle skin care routine to avoid further inflammation. That means just going to the basics: a gentle cleanser, a soothing moisturizer, and sunscreen during the day.
How to tell if it’s purging or a breakout
There’s a difference between purging and having a bad reaction to a new topical product. The former is a necessary evil. The latter is… well, unnecessary.
|Purging from a product||Breakout or reaction from a product|
|happens where you frequently break out||happens in a new area where you don’t break out|
|disappears faster than a normal pimple||typically takes 8 to 10 days to appear, mature, and shrink|
First of all, irritation from a new product that’s not from retinoids, acids, or peels is likely a case of an allergic reaction or sensitivity.
In these cases, it’s best to discontinue use of the new product ASAP — because, clearly, your skin isn’t into it.
There’s one good thing about purge pimples, though: “Pimples that arise from purging will appear and disappear faster than a ‘normal’ pimple.
Be patient for one skin cycle, or about 28 days
Think of purging as the terrible twos of skin care: Your skin may be throwing temper tantrums left and right, but it’s only a phase. Yes, I know, I have 3 kids...
Since purging occurs when an ingredient attempts to speed up the skin’s natural pace of shedding and renewal, it should only take one full skin cycle to get through the worst of it.
Everyone’s skin is unique, so that time frame can differ from person to person.
Generally speaking, dermatologists say purging should be over within four to six weeks of starting a new skin care regimen.
If your purge lasts longer than six weeks, consult your dermatologist. It could be that you need to adjust the dosage and/or frequency of application.
Four to six weeks may sound like a long time to wait for the skin of your dreams. Alas, there’s not a whole lot you can do to change that timeline.
Tips during the purge
- Don’t pick acne.
- Don’t use drying products, like exfoliating acids.
- Get a gentle cleanser, if possible, to help remove impurities.
But be warned: If you already have sensitive skin, indulging in a facial while purging may be too much for your face to handle. It’s a decision best made with your dermatologist or a very trusted aesthetician.
Is there a way to avoid purging?
If you’re considering adding a retinol, acid, or peel to your routine but don’t want to deal with the side effects, you can minimize purging. Dermatologists suggest the “ease in” method.
You a retinol with a lower concentration than "normal" from a trusted company.
You can follow the same pattern with exfoliating acids; just be sure to start with once-weekly application, and don’t exceed two to three times per week at the most.
Post-purging is worth the wait for your ideal skin.
As annoying as it can be, this pesky purging period will all be worth it once your skin has adjusted to its new routine.
Who knew that clear, youthful skin was waiting just beneath the surface that whole time? (Oh yeah… dermatologists.)
For more questions and comments, leave a comment below!