Breakout or Purge? How to Spot the Difference and Avoid Unwanted Breakouts

If you’re a skin care expert, you’ve probably heard of or experienced a skin “purge.” But if you’re new to the skin care game, this skin care term can sound a little icky, if not outright alarming. Never fear – it can actually be a good thing! We’re here to explain the difference between a typical acne breakout and skin purging and then give you tips on how to deal with each.

What is a Skin Purge?

Essentially, when you begin using exfoliating products or other active skin care products that trigger cell turnover, detox or those products targeted at clearing acne, your skin can begin to “purge.” Just like it sounds the skin begins to purge the skin, or get rid of toxins that’s built up in the skin. The gunk that’s been sitting in your pores is pushed to the surface, which could result in an onslaught of blackheads, whiteheads and occasionally even painful pustules. Usually, you’ll experience purging in areas where you most often have acne breakouts.

What’s the Difference Between Purging and Acne Breakouts?

Woman hiding her face because of breakout

But how you can you distinguish between a traditional breakout, a bad reaction to a product or a purge that’s been triggered by a new skin care product or treatment? Once you remember that a skin purge can be triggered by increased cell turnover and typically happens in areas you already get acne, it’s easy to spot the difference.

You may be experiencing a reactive acne breakout (and not a purge) if:

  • You get spots in areas you typically don’t
  • The new product you’re using has no active ingredients
  • The acne lasts more than a month
  • The presence of overly irritated itchy skin, redness or inflammation beyond a few pimples

In other words, because the initial purge caused the increased cell turnover, it should also dissipate fairly quickly. So, if you have a breakout that lasts well over several weeks to a month into using a new product, you may be having a bad reaction to it – not a purge.  

Monitor your skin closely. Most skin care protocols generally need a month to start to see the benefits, however if you are having a bad reaction to a product, quit using it immediately. If you are experiencing a few extra pimples, give it a little time. Breakouts caused by purging should clear up relatively quickly, depending on the intensity of the treatment.

Treating Your Skin While “Purging”

Acne & Blemish Infusion Spot Treatment from Source Vital Apothecary

When your skin does going through a purge because of a new skin care product, time and patience are the best solutions. Like any other breakout, you should avoid picking or touching the impacted area(s), apply a gentle acne spot treatment 1-3 times per day, and continue with the rest of your usual skin care routine. You can also use a cool compress to help reduce the look of redness. Try not to add any pother new products or aggressive treatments into your routine. 

Can Purging Be Avoided?

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to avoid a purge. And while it may be a pain, it’s important to realize that 1) It will pass, and 2) Your new product is working! Once you’ve made it past the purging stage, the skin will usually take on a clear and smooth appearance.

That being said, you can minimize both the potential and extent of a purge by only incorporating one new item into your skin care routine at a time. If you try a new product and don’t experience any kind of reaction or breakout after a week, you should be in the clear to introduce another new product. But if you introduce two (or more!) products at a time and then experience a reaction breakout, you can’t be sure which product caused it, and you’ll have to stop use of both.

By spacing out the addition of new skin care products, not only will you reduce the chances that your skin freaks out, but it will be much easier to identify the cause of any new breakouts you may experience.

As with many things in life, sometimes it just has to get worse before it gets better. If you’ve identified your breakouts as a purge, we encourage you to power through it. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and the results will be worth it!

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published