Skin Purging vs Breakouts - What's the Difference?

Skin Purging vs Breakouts - What's the Difference?

No two words can send a shiver down our spine faster than the words "the purge." Wait no, not that horror movie - even though the skin version of purging can be equally as frightening, if not more. 



If you've ever tried a new skincare product that your favorite blogger recommended, only to wake up to the absolute horror of your skin flaring up with the worst pimples you've ever seen, you may freak out. Is your skin "purging" or are you dealing with a regular (though badly timed) breakout? Or, worst-case scenario, did the new product cause some sort of reaction? 

So, what causes your skin to purge?

The theory is that a "purge" occurs when a new skincare product-especially one containing exfoliants - pushes clogs (microcomedones) that form and get stuck deep inside the pore quickly to the surface. Pimple formation is hence sped up, resulting in a helluva breakout that may seem like it came out of nowhere.

What is the difference between breakouts and purging?

The thing to remember is that all spots, whether from purging or breakouts, are caused deep within the skin. The sebaceous glands in the skin produce oil or sebum which keeps the skin from drying out. However, when the sebum gets mixed with the dead skin cells, it can clog the pores. Certain skincare products, such as rich creams and heavy makeup can also get trapped in our pores, which is why it is so important to exfoliate! This produces bacteria that thrive on our skin, triggering a cascade of inflammation and eventually leading to breakouts and blemishes. 

Purging, however, is triggered by some treatments or products that increase the rate of cell turnover. This is usually seen with products that contain active ingredients such as retinoids, hydroxy acids, or benzoyl peroxide. These bring the preexisting microcomedones to the surface of the skin, turning them into whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, and cysts. While most of these microcomedones would make their way to the surface eventually, some products help hasten the process and shed the dead skin faster so that they don't build up and clog our pores in the future. The end goal is to reveal fresh skin cells underneath and reveal clearer, even-toned, younger-looking skin. 


How can you tell whether your skin is purging or breaking out?

If you have introduced a new medicated treatment or added active ingredients to your skincare routine and you start to experience more blackheads or blemishes in the weeks to follow, it is safe to assume that your skin is purging. In this case, stay calm and wait for the storm to pass. That's right - do nothing. Continue using the same products so that your skin can get cleared out faster- believe us when we say it gets worse before it gets better, but it will get better!  Stick to the basics; a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and sunblock. Only incorporate the product responsible for the purge into your skincare routine and ditch all the other products for a while. The good news is that the purging period is temporary. Skin purging usually lasts for 6-8 weeks so you just have to try to be patient till then. While this is easier said than done, you have to try to be gentle with your skin even when it is on its "worst behavior". However, if the purging lasts longer than the given time frame, it is best to consult a dermatologist. 

If you have started a new skincare routine that does not consist of medicated or active ingredients or have introduced new makeup and you notice your skin breaking out, it could simply mean that a particular product does not suit your skin. In that case, switch up the product. Of course, lifestyle factors such as stress, diet, water intake, and hormonal imbalance may also lead to breakouts. Make sure to exfoliate your skin as per need so that your pores remain free of any gunk, pollution, or impurities! 

 Still a little unclear? Follow two simple rules; 

  •  Purging occurs in areas where you normally break out. For example, if you are prone to cysts around your jawline or blackheads on your cheeks, purging will take it to the max before soothing your skin out.
  •  Acne that arises from purging appears and disappears faster than "normal" acne.


    •  Irritation or breakouts from a new product that does NOT contain any retinoids, acids, or peels is most likely an allergic reaction to the product. 
    •  If you see dryness or any breakouts in an area of your face that you don't normally break out, be mindful of the new products that you may be using and discontinue them ASAP. Clearly, your skin is not liking this change. 

    The bottom line:

    This, too, shall pass. Once you understand the difference between skin purging and breakouts, dealing with your skin will get easier. Whatever the case, remember to be patient, even when times get tough. It is easy to lose confidence and feel angry, frustrated, hopeless, or depressed in situations like these. Just remember after the purging period, you will be rewarded with smooth, beautiful skin. As for breaking out, consult your dermatologist and get treatment for your acne. Remember, it is the most common condition and it will pass, like everything else in life. 

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