Retinol is an ‘active’ ingredient. This means that it causes skin cells to renew or turn over quicker. This rapid cell renewal pushes dead skin cells off the top layer of your skin faster. Resulting in peeling, irritation and possible acne breakouts. Retinol can cause purging.
Retinol can make things worse, much worse before it makes things better. We skincare nerds lovingly refer to the transition your skin goes through when you start using retinol as the “Retinol uglies” which is a cute way of saying skin purging.
“Retinoid uglies” from topical retinoid serums is fairly common and nothing to be alarmed about. In fact, in a weird way skin purging is a good thing.
Retinol really is a skincare wizard and can reduce fine lines and wrinkles as well as clear up acne and reduce dark spots and hyperpigmentation that acne can leave behind once it has healed. It triggers collagen production and improves the texture and uneven tone of your skin.
Retinol is a genie in a bottle that can grant many skin goal wishes. Like with all genies wishes there is a price to pay, and that price just might be skin purging.
Why Does Retiol Cause Skin Purging?
Retinol is vitamin A and it has some close family members called retinoids. These include retinol, retinal and retinoic acid.
You may recognise some of them by there brand names such as tretinoin, Retin A, and Adapalene. Retinoids increase skin turnover or more accurately skin cell turnover. Skin cells ‘renew’ every 28ish days. Retinoids, depending on their type and strength make those skincells reproduce faster than normal
The new cells (stimulated by retinol) start to push the dead skin cells on the top layer of the skin’s surface off. This is what causes the peeling flakey ‘skin purge’ effect of retinol.
As these fresh new cells push off the old dead cells they also bring up anything else that is lurking within the layers of your skin. This means it can also cause sudden breakouts and make acne appear worse.
All skin types can benefit from retinol and your skin will behave in a unique way. Depending on where you are on the oily to dry skin spectrum will determine how your skin will react to retinol.
The oilier or dryer the more likely you are to experience purging. Dry skin will experience more peeling and irritation and oily skin can break out more.
Retinol is the prime suspect when it comes to purging but it’s not alone in the ingredients that can cause purging. Any product that exfoliates your skin, or in other words is active can cause skin purging. Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide commonly used for acne treatment and glycolic acid also know as AHAs can cause dryness, skin irritation and purging.
Retinol is a long-game skincare product. Stick with it and your skin will take on a fresh, glowly smoothness. You’ll have less acne and breakouts and your skin tone, dark spots and texture will all improve.
In the short term, though it can make acne breakouts worse, cause peeling, dryness and irritation, this should only be temporary.
How Long Does Skin Purging Last?
The purging phase usually lasts from 2 – 6 weeks. Skin goes through cycles that last approximately 28 – 30 days. It can take a full cycle, sometimes 2 for your skin to adjust to retinol.
Also, the acne that is happening when you start using retinol isn’t being directly caused by retinol. That acne would have developed anyway, retinol just speeds up the process – it’s good like that.
Preserve if you can because getting to the other side of the purge is where the ‘good skin’ happens.
There are things you can do to help you and your skin deal with skin purging.
What Can I Do To Help My Skin When It Purging.
Your skin can go from being oily and acne-prone to being sensitive skin. It will require a little bit of TLC while it adjusts to retinol.
Here are some pro tips for dealing with skin purge.
Do very gentle cleansing. Avoid using harsh physical cleansing while your skin is purging. A gentle oil or balm double cleanse to gently lift off the shedding skin is a much kinder approach to cleansing. Avoid physical and chemical exfoliation while adjusting to retinol.
Use a thick super hydrating moisturiser, even if your skin is normally oily. If your skin is dry and irritated soothe it with intense moisture.
Don’t skimp on the sunscreen. Purging skin will need extra protection from the sun so apply sunscreen every day and wear sunglasses, a hat and stay out of direct sunlight while your skin adjusts.
Keep hydrated, drinking plenty of water is great for your skin anyway but it is especially important when it is struggling with dryness and irritation.
Wear as minimal makeup as possible and make sure it’s non-comedogenic. Look, we get it. You want to cover up all the flakey skin situation. But now is not the time to apply foundation with a trowel, it will only look worse because it will emphasis the peeling. You can wear as much ‘eye and lip‘ as you like as they should be spared the peeling skin. Keep the rest of your face light with tinted sunblock and nothing else.
Take selfies – Yip we give you permission to become your own skinfluencer. It’s a great idea to have pictures of your skin before, during and after you get through the purge. They will be a fantastic reminder of how far your skin has come and keep your motivation up when you think you can’t keep going.
Start slowly. Don’t go in with the highest strength under the mistaken belief you will just white knuckle it through. Going to strong to quickly can leave you with chemical burns! So please start slowly – there is no need to rush your skin through this process. You can put retinol on after moisturizer to help it cope with the purging.
What If It Is Not Purging But Reacting?
There is small chance that your skin may look like it is purging when it is actually reacting to retinol.
Telling the difference between pruging and reacting can be difficult because they both look very similar.
If your skin is still breaking out and irritation after 86weeks of using retinol and showing no signs of getting over it, then its time to visit a dermatologist.
They will be able to tell you if your skin is just purging or if it is reacting (contact dermatitis) to the retinol. It is rare but it can happen and no amount of time and thick moisturizer will help.
If your skin does more than ‘tingle’ when you apply retinol, as in it stings or feels hot and angry then you should also see a dermatologist.
We can’t say it enough, don’t push your skin too hard to fast – this will only make your skin worse.
Can Retinol Cause Skin Purging?
Yes, it certainly can and it’s one of the most likely ingredients to cause skin purging. However purging is not always a bad thing, in fact, it can be a very good thing because it means that the retinol is working.
Follow our tips and managing the effects of purging. Treat your skin gently when it is purging and you can look forward to the great skin on the other side!