You’ve introduced a new active, stepped up a retinol dosage, or tried a new exfoliating product and then…you breakout. It’s exactly the opposite of what you think should happen but, contrary to what it looks like, it’s probably not your typical acne. The reaction could be a phenomenon called skin purging. Though it’s not medically recognized, experts across the board have witnessed it and dubbed it a unique kind of breakout caused by exposure to new products. As most of us are unaware of the concept of skin purging, we’re going to explain.
The last thing we want to hear is that products aimed at helping clear our skin could be the cause of a breakout but, it’s the simple truth. Ingredients known to cause purging are actives like AHA’s, BHA’s, benzoyl peroxide, retinol and Vitamin C. These ingredients accelerate the skin cell turnover process from roughly 28 days (the average for young adults) to 7-14 days. In the process dead cells, debris, and sebum are being pushed to the surface more rapidly than they would naturally. Clogged pores turn into pimples, small pimples will become bigger, and clusters of whiteheads or blackheads may appear. What’s important to know is that though the actives may have triggered the breakout, the junk was there to begin with, it is just getting pushed to the surface more quickly.
The good news is that purging won’t last. It’s a short term manifestation and a sign that the product is doing the dirty work to get your skin on the mend. Unlike true acne, the breakouts should be less intense and clear more quickly. It sounds counterintuitive but, when the purge begins you need to hang on and keep going, just slow down the pace. Patience is required here, it usually takes 4-6 weeks, or a full skin cell turnover cycle for it clear. After this time your skin should have adjusted to respond positively to the new product and you should notice that your skin texture, tone, and overall health has improved significantly.
So you might be wondering how you can help mitigate skin purging. Introducing actives slowly and starting with lower concentrations is critical. We like to incorporate new products one at a time so you can see how your skin handles them. You won’t know what is working or causing the reaction if you’re trying several new things at once. Like anything else, when trying a new product your skin needs time to ease into it and adjust.
If a purge does happen do not touch, pop, or further aggravate the breakout, use ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid to help repair the barrier, avoid harsh exfoliants, limit exposure to sun, and drink plenty of water. Remember to be patient, sometimes you have to deal with the bad before you can enjoy the good.
It’s worth mentioning that not all reactions are purges, so be aware. Watch out for heightened redness or irritations like itching and burning, those are signs of an allergy or other types of adverse reactions. Take those as a signal to stop using the product causing it immediately.