Is My Skin Purging or Breaking Out?
What is Purging?
When I first tried chemical exfoliation, I started with just a small dose applied once a week. I didn’t notice anything strange happening on my face. So I gradually increased it, going from once a week to twice a week, to even four times a week. During the process, I noticed a few small red bumps forming on random areas. These small bumps looked a little like pimples, but I wasn’t so sure. After less than three weeks, they just disappeared. So I assumed it was just my skin reacting to the active ingredients in the chemical exfoliator. That meant the product was working.
But I definitely did not go through that purging phase without any panic, so if it makes you feel any better, a lot of us have gone through the same confusion you probably are going through at this moment. This is entirely normal. My panic subsided after I found out purging is actually beneficial to the skin and I did not need to be worried. At all. So if you’re feeling a little disappointed, or you’re thinking about throwing away that new product, think twice! You’re just going through a rough patch, and so is your skin. That’s what we’re here for: to let you know it’s all good, and you’re still on the right path for your skin care needs.
It’s so, so, so important to be able to tell the difference between purging and breaking out. The cost might be a serious breakout that goes untreated. But this is just one of those things that make skin care a little more complicated — plenty of us, even those who have been in the game for years, find it confusing to tell whether our skin is purging or just breaking out.
Is Skin Purging Worth It?
You might think purging your skin is the exact opposite of why you’re doing skin care in the first place. I mean, pimples and red spots are the last thing we need! But skin purging is a necessary pain to go through. Think of cleaning up the underside of a bed or a couch that hasn’t been moved in years; there’s bound to be a ton of dust bunnies, dirt, pieces of food, maybe even mold or that ponytail you’ve been looking for for months. But to keep the space clean, you’d have to get your hands a little dirty in the process.
Your skin going through the purging process is a good sign, even though it might feel uncomfortable. It’s the first step towards achieving your skin goals and having better, glowing skin. Besides, no journey is worth it without a little sacrifice along the way. And for the endgame of clear skin, a little sacrifice is definitely worth it.
What causes a breakout?
They may look the same, but the reasons behind purging and breaking out are different. Here’s how to tell if your skin is breaking out:
- A breakout can be caused by excess oil or sebum production. If your skin is breaking out, it might be due to a naturally oily complexion.
- A breakout can also be caused by hair follicles that keep dirt plugged in the pores.
- A breakout can likewise be due to bacteria and inflammation.
- Cell turnover can cause your skin to break out. Cell turnover is a process to keep your skin looking useful, but if your skin is unable to shed all of those dead skin cells, they’re going to sit on top of your face and cause acne.
- Using a new product could be the reason for a breakout. Not all skincare products are compatible with every skin type, so irritation from incompatible ingredients in the new product may cause allergies.
When you find that your skin is breaking out due to a bad product, you need to switch it out immediately. Buying a new skincare product only to have it be incompatible with the skin is disappointing, but let it serve as a lesson — you might have discovered an allergen you weren’t aware of before. Make a mental note to avoid products with those ingredients and forge a new skincare routine to better suit your needs. The skin is a sensitive creature, but don’t worry! Everyone goes through a trial and error process.
Now, here’s the tricky part: how do you even know if your skin is purging, or simply having an allergic reaction to a new product?
Skin purging and breaking out have a number of differences. The rules aren’t absolute, but they can guide you in the process of deciphering your skin’s current condition. There are a couple of ways to tell whether your skin could be purging or breaking out, so keep them in mind the next time you grab that new product off the shelf!
Here’s how to tell the difference between a purge and breaking out:
check your shelf
Skin purging is usually caused by active ingredients that speed up skin cell turnover. The next time you see a cluster of red bumps on your face, take a look at your skin care shelf. Your skin might be doing a purge if you’re using:
- Vitamin A/Retinoids
- Benzoyl Peroxide
- Vitamin C
- Alpha Hydroxy Acids
- Beta Hydroxy Acids
- Physical exfoliants (Scrubs, brushes)
If you have recently purchased an exfoliating scrub or a new vitamin C serum and wake up the next morning with pimples, then skin purging might be the reason for a new cluster of acne on your face. Hooray!
On the other hand, these are the products that don’t aid in skin cell turnover:
So if you find that any of the above products are causing your skin to go haywire, then you might just be having a breakout. Sorry! The next best step would be to stop using the new product. If you are unsure which one is causing your break-out, eliminate one product per week and see if there’s any visible difference.
Check the location
If you notice breakouts or acne in the usual places, congratulations! Your skin is probably just doing a purge. No need to worry. This is because pre-existing pimples are coming up to the surface due to those aforementioned ingredients giving them that extra push. Bye-bye, pimples and dead skin cells. In just a few weeks, your skin will be looking good as new.
However, a cluster of zits in unfamiliar territory. If you find new pimples in the spot that is usually acne-free, it could be cause for concern. It could be a new product that isn’t gelling well with your skin or one that has a lot of harsh ingredients. Using a new product is always trial and error, but you can always learn from the bad results.
How long has it been?
Lastly, the length should indicate whether your skin could be purging or breaking out. Purging lasts about a month or 6-8 weeks. If your skin has been breaking out for longer than that, it might be time to stop using the product.
If you’ve read our tips and now know the difference between purging and breaking out, the next step is to diagnose your problem. If you find that your breakouts aren’t caused by purging, don’t worry! It’s not the end of the world. There are plenty of ways you can get rid of those pimples and switch to products that are actually good for your skin. For starters, you can read our guide on how to create a skincare routine for acne.
What do I do if my skin is purging?
So, you’ve finally arrived at the conclusion that the product is simply purging the skin. But you’re probably thinking, “If my skin is purging, what should I do?” By now, you’ll know that purging is something you can’t avoid. But you can look after your skin so the purging process isn’t too painful.
If you’re using a new, possibly harsh product too often, you need to slow it down a little. Retinols, exfoliants, etc. all have a recommended frequency of use because they’re pretty strong, and using them too often might burn the skin. We wouldn’t want that. So if your skin isn’t familiar with a strong product, start by applying it only once a week. If you see good results, you can start gradually increasing the frequency to twice a week.
Another way to decrease the discomfort of the purging process is to decrease the concentration of the product or ingredient that is causing the purging. You can do this by applying smaller amounts to the skin, or diluting the product in moisturizer. Take note, if you do the latter solution, not all products can be diluted with moisturizer, so make sure to do your research beforehand.
Lastly, you can lessen the painful side effects of purging by taking good care of your skin. Go for a mild cleanser, apply moisturizer generously every day, and don’t pile on any harsh skin care products to your routine. While your purging won’t magically go away, you’ll be keeping your skin healthy in other areas when you treat it with, well, care!
Purging is no walk in the park, but it is kind of a necessary evil. In this case, it gets worse before it gets better. But trust the process. You’ll see wonderful results to come out of that purging in no time.
But whether your skin is purging or breaking out, just remember it is not the end of the world! As long as you’re constantly checking up on yourself and doing what is best for your skin, you’ll reap the rewards of all that hard work and care you invest in yourself.
So, go get that AHA you’ve been dying to try out or go for the vitamin C serum that’s been on your online shopping cart for weeks. There’s no harm in trying these out, as long as you take necessary precautions. Now that you know purging is nothing to be scared of, you’re on your way to getting that natural glow you always wanted!
Wanna know how to apply facial exfoliants? Read our complete how-to guide here.
Joey is an AB Psychology graduate of the University of St. La Salle – Bacolod. Her life’s passions include writing, film, and spending hours on end binge-watching fashion vloggers on Youtube.