What is skin purging?
It is a skin reaction to an active ingredient that is increasing skin cell turnover rate, causing your skin to exfoliate, and so the skin starts shedding dead skin cells faster than normal. The aim of this is to polish away the top dead layer of skin and reveal the fresh younger-looking skin cells underneath. In the long run, they help us shed dead skin cells more effectively so that they don’t build up and clog our pores.
As the newer healthy cells rise to the surface, other things rise to the top first before they’re gotten rid of, such as excess sebum (oil), flakes of dead skin cells, bacteria, dirt, and other buildup and congestion that clogs pores. As the surface layer of skin is shed more quickly, our skin is expediting its recovery and pushing up everything that’s lurking under the surface of your skin. This leads to breakouts, which is known as purging.
A purge may look different from person to person, but you can get minor acne symptoms that include a mix of whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, cysts, and even microcomedones, which are not visible to the eye. Acne symptoms that were already forming under the surface simply pop up sooner than they would have. Basically, the pimple was already there, it just sometimes takes weeks before you see it on your complexion. It accelerates the rate at which already existing clogged pores (also known as microcomedones) and dormant pimples rise to the surface and become blemishes.
Purging is actually good for your skin, and you will eventually have cleaner, clearer skin.
How long does purging last?
It usually lasts about 4 to 6 weeks, but it can go on for as long as two months.
What ingredients cause purging?
The ingredients that lead to skin purging promote skin cell renewal by accelerated exfoliation.
- Retinoids: From retinol, to topical tretinoin, tazarotene and oral isotretinoin.
- Exfoliating acids/chemical exfoliants – Hydroxy acids (alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, poly hydroxy acids) and fruit acids
- Benzoyl peroxide
- Vitamin C
- Chemical peels.
- Enzyme treatments
- Laser resurfacing treatments
What should you do when your skin is purging?
- Be patient. Remember, purging is a good sign that your skincare is effective and doing the right thing.
- Slowly introduce a new product into your routine to give your skin some time to adjust. This includes starting the product about once or twice a week then gradually decreasing the intervals and increasing the frequency of use, starting the concentrations low, and so on. Your dermatologist should guide you on how to go about this.
- Have a gentle skin care routine to avoid further inflammation. Be gentle with your complexion by washing your face twice a day, not scrubbing your skin, and keeping your hands off your face. Use a sulfate-free cleanser, a soothing moisturizer, and sunscreen during the day. Don’t forget to continue the active ingredient. Don’t stop it. However, do not add other harsh ingredients.
- Keep your bed linen and pillow cases clean at all times.
- Do not pick or pop any inflammation
- Most purge-causing ingredients lead to skin sensitivity in the sun, so limit sun exposure and wear sun protection when you’re outside. The sunscreen used should be non-comedogenic.
Remember, it gets worse before it gets better, and it is only temporary.
Not all skin reactions to these ingredients are a skin purge. Sometimes, the product you’re using may be irritating your skin for a different reason, like clogging your pores (if it has comedogenic ingredients which can lead to acne, or some ingredients may be triggering irritiation or an allergic reaction. A breakout on your skin after introducing a new product may also not be the sign of a purge but may be a standard breakout occurring at the same time.
To confirm if your skin is purging or if something else is going on that requires you to stop the product, speak to your dermatologist for clarification.