Are you purging or breaking out?

The term "purging" gets thrown around a lot in the skincare world, but what does it really mean, and what can we do about it?


Purging is a term used to describe sudden breakouts caused by the introduction of a new skincare product or in-clinic treatment. It often gets misconstrued with ane, or rather, products and treatments that have caused purging are believed to have caused acne. But this is not the case! 

Those who are genetically predisposed to a higher or sticky oil flow and retention hyperkeratosis (dead skin cells are shed into the pore faster than can be expelled onto the surface) will experience microcomedones within the skin. These are caused when dead skin cells and oil form a plug within the pore and are too small to see with the naked eye. The formation of microcomedones and their progression into inflamed or non-inflamed acne lesions can typically take up to 3 months. So what does this have to do with purging?

Products and treatments that contain acids or retinols are most likely to be associated with purging as they speed up the skin's cellular turnover rate. Our cellular turnover is the rate in which new cells are produced and mature while hardening or becoming keratinised and moving towards the surface of the skin to eventually sloth off. When the cells are suddenly turning over more frequently, this brings forward toxins, dead skin, sebum, microcomedones and other build-ups from within the skin. So instead of taking up to 3 months for microcomedones to progress into acne lesions at a random frequency, ALL of them progress instantly, appearing as a breakout or acne.

How can you know whether you are purging or just breaking out?

Purge lesions are generally smaller in size, tend to have a small whitehead and minimal inflammation. They can often appear in clusters, and quite typically in the same areas that you would normally get breakouts. If you are already experiencing acne, the purge breakouts can be anywhere from mild-severe. 

Typically a purge appears almost immediately or within the week of introducing a new product or treatment. It should last no longer than 4-6 weeks at most. This is because our skins typical cellular turnover rate is 28 days. Within this time frame the rate of your skins cellular turnover will have stabilised. The skin will start to sync with and understand the new product or treatment you have introduced. 

Acne purge


Acne however, is generally larger in size. It can consist of some smaller whiteheads and comedones (if you're already predisposed to them), but will also have larger inflamed acne lesions such as papules, pustules and even cysts.

If you are experiencing a breakout that is lasting longer than 4-6 weeks then it is most likely acne and NOT a purge caused by products or a treatment. It most likely is related to other unresolved triggers such as hormonal fluctuations, diet, lifestyle etc.



An exception to the rule... pore clogging ingredients!

We have noticed that those who have been using products with pore clogging ingredients, or poor quality ingredients prior to their new routine are more likely to have a more severe purging response than someone who was already using acne safe products. Or, their purge may continue beyond the time frame in which we would expect a purge to stop.

Pore clogging ingredients can affect an acne prone skin because they exacerbate the already apparent dysfunctions associated with acne (high oil flow and retention hyperkeratosis) causing further blockages. This means your skin will constantly be purging because you are simultaneously applying ingredients that will continuously block the pores, while your products and treatments that speed up cellular turnover continuously bring the blockages forward.

It is imperative to remove products containing pore clogging ingredients if you have an acne prone skin. This includes not only your your skin care, but hair care and make up too.

All of our acne clients are provided with a pore clogging list and guidance choosing acne safe products! It’s important to use this list because even products labelled “Oil-free” and “Non-comedogenic” can in fact contain pore clogging ingredients due to lack of FDA assessment into comedogenicity. If you believe your products may be breaking you out, book in an Acne Consultation and Treatment Plan service with one of our Skin Therapists.


What should you do when you're purging?

The most important rule to follow when experiencing a purge is to not stop following your new routine. A purge is NOT acne, it is not going to cause acne and it WILL subside. Stopping your product before giving the purge a chance to naturally pass will impact your longterm skin goals, and eventually when you try to reintroduce the product you will more than likely have to go through another purge.

Take a breath, it's going to be okay. Continue on with your routine, be consistent with it and allow your skin some time to understand what these new products are trying to teach it to do. Use ice to reduce inflammation on the breakouts, avoid picking or popping them and feel free to use spot treatments such as Cosmedix Clear mask which contains sulphur and is great for quickly reducing breakouts. Making sure that all other products in your routine are acne safe and don't contain any pore clogging ingredients is also a great way to reduce chances of purging severely.


If you have any questions regarding purging or acne, please feel free to get in touch with us at OR book in with one of our specialised Skin Therapists.

Holly & Fulvia x

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