Skin Purging: The Good The Bad And The Oh So Ugly New Guide

What is Skin Purging

Skincare problems are the nightmare that haunts every person that uses ‘active ingredient’ skincare. Speciality formulas, plant-derived ingredients, and ‘nano particles’ seem like the prime solution to skincare issues in the 21st century.

Thanks to awareness and open discussions, we as consumers are well educated in skin and the care of it. We know our ingredients and we know our skin.

If like us your a skin nerd then the urge to have clear, radiant skin will compel you to try that flashy new cream, serum, or product.

An Unpleasant Surprise

So you just got yourself that best-selling “Product Du Jour” with promises written in large shiny text. You slap on half a palm-full and wake up the next morning with the exact opposite to glowing, even smoothness? You’ll probably be scratching your head (and your face) wondering what exactly went wrong here?

It sounds weird, but this phenomenon is quite normal and is known as skin purging.

Skin Purging Explained

The word “purge” may remind you of the 2013 horror flick, but in the beauty world, it is the process that flushes out all the toxins, sebum, and dormant acne from your skin. A skin purge usually happens when you use retinoids for acne or active ingredients targeted towards specific skincare concerns. You’ll witness a pimple or two or even more, but there’s no need to panic.

Skin purging may also result from a chemical peel or other treatment as these persist of the same components used in cosmetic products. It aims at increasing the skin cell turnover rate, causing the replacement of dead cells with new healthy cells. 

Every skin type can encounter a purge, whether oily or dry. It may just look different, and the frequency of acne and irritation may differ as well. Purging is also likely to occur if the skin is on the extreme of either side. Oily skin can produce clogged pores, and the clearing may cause a reaction, whereas dry skin can get irritated quickly.

What is Skin Cell Turnover?

The topmost layer of this skin, visible to the eyes and known as the epidermis, undergoes skin cell turnover. It is the process through which new skin cells replace the old ones. On average, it takes around a month for the cycle to complete but may take longer depending on your age, the younger you are the quicker the turnover.

Although skin cell turnover is beneficial for the skin, it is sometimes confused with a breakout. That’s because the underlying dirt, bacteria, and excess sebum make their way up to the surface, causing acne.

Causes of Skin Purging

If you notice a breakout after trying out new skincare products, it is most like that one or all of them are the reason. You’ll find the “actives” in the ingredients list. You may have read or heard about the following.

These are what skincare brands infuse their products with, and what skinfluencers swear by.

  • Alpha Hydroxy Acids and Beta Hydroxy Acids found in exfoliators. They help clean out excess oil and dirt.
  • Benzoyl Peroxide treats and prevents acne.
  • Lactic Acid brightens and evens out skin tone.
  • Retinol fights the signs of aging and fine lines.
  • Vitamin C generates skin collagen production.
  • Glycolic Acid smoothes out skin.
  • Salicylic Acid deep cleans pores.

The above list has one thing in common. All of these activities trigger skin cell turnover. First, they work by pulling out all the gunk, dead skin, and grime that lies beneath the skin and then treat the problem area.

Difference Between Skin Purging and Breakouts

Most people will confuse purging with breakouts because there’s no visible difference between the two. Both occur for opposite reasons, though. Breakouts are the result of an allergic reaction from a product, clogged pores, or bacterial infection. Pimples that form are red, painful, and appear in new parts of the skin. They leave behind marks and blemishes.

On the other hand, skin purging is a clear indication of the product aiding new skin cells’ formation. Purging causes blackheads and flesh-toned bumps on areas where acne would typically appear. Continuous use of the product will result in ongoing cell generation. No visible marks or blemishes appear after.

The bottom line here is to continue using purge-inducing products and ditch the ones causing breakouts. 

How to Handle the Purge?

Purging makes your skin super sensitive, and it is frustrating to settle terms with the process. You feel like your skin is out of control and has become vulnerable. While patience is vital, these tips will help you go through this tough time rightly.

  • Don’t pop, squeeze or try to ‘extract’ any acne that occurs during skin puriging. It may tempt you, but just don’t do it.
  • Stay away from exfoliators, cleansers and toners that strip your skin.
  • Use hydrating clay masks that have a cooling effect and leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth.
  • Save your skin from sun damage. Use an SPF 30 broad spectrum sunscreen everyday and wear sunglasses and a hat if you have to be in the sun for long periods.
  • Don’t include any new products in your regime when your skin is undergoing a purge.
  • Although diet is not one of the main factors contributing to purging, sugars from junk food and carbs can boost acne formation.

How Long Does It Last?

Purging is irritating but short-lived. How long it lasts differs from person to person. But generally, 27 – 30 days is how long it takes the skin cell turnover cycle to complete. For an adult around 30 years of age, skin cell replacement will take about four weeks. If you see no difference in your skin condition after six to eight weeks, it’s time to consult a dermatologist.

Can It be Avoided?

Active ingredients like retinol and salicylic acid are added to skincare products because they generate skin purging. That’s how these components are supposed to work. But if you want to skip the side effects entirely, then dermatologists suggest the “ease-in” method. This will prolong the process but save you from irritation. 

Following the ease-in method, you apply the actives gradually. For example, use the product twice a week at first. Increase the frequency in week two and apply the product three times and work up to daily use. This allows the skin to adjust gradually.

The same goes for exfoliants. However, keep usage to no more than three times a week and don’t over-exfoliate.

You can also dilute the treatment by adding a bit of moisturizer to your treatment cream. It will help by slowing down the speed at which your skin can absorb the new active ingredient. You can slowly reduce the amount of moisturizer until you are using the product straight onto your skin

Modify Your Skincare Routine

While you’re experiencing skin purging, it is essential to stick to using products that are gentle and do not dry out the skin. Be careful to read the ingredients before application. Keep skin hydrated and moisturized, and use sunscreen before stepping out.

When Should You Seek Medical Advice?

In an unlikely event that your skin health does not improve after eight weeks there is a chance that it may not be a purge at all, but a ‘reaction’. Telling the difference between purging and your skin reacting – also called contact dermatitis can be difficult.

If after 8 weeks if your skin is still breaking out and irritated you need to seek advice from a dermatologist.

Is There a Faster Way Out?

Not really by trying to push your skin to far to fast you risk more and more irritation. Simply put, skin purging is a natural cycle that will take time to complete.

There’s no way to speed it up, but you can reduce severity by keeping your skin calm.

Use mild products that will not interfere with the cycle. Your skin will throw less of a tantrum if fed with moisture, hydration and treated gently.

Why is Skin Purging Good?

Skin purging may seem like a bad memory flashback from the past, but it’s a good thing, and here’s why:

  • The appearance of blemishes means the product has successfully triggered the skin cell turnover cycle.
  • The acne and blemishes will disappear as soon as the cycle ends, and they are less likely to leave behind scars and dark spots.
  • You’re about to get fresh, healthy, glowing skin you just need to push through the ugly duckling stage to emerge as a beautiful swan.

What Is Skin Purging?

When you use ‘active’ ingredients they cause skin cells to renew or turn over quicker. This pushes the dead skin cells off the top layer of your skin faster than usual. It unveils acne, lurking below the surface. Skin purging means your skin cells are turning over.