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Purging or Breakout? How To Know For Your Skin

Updated: Jan 9

It can sometimes be confusing to understand what your skin is trying to tell you. When using a new product, you may notice sudden flare-ups on your skin. It can be scary or discouraging when the stuff meant to make your skin pop causes you all sorts of blemishes. There are two possibilities. Either your skin is purging, or it is breaking out. Sure, you are wondering what the difference is. This post is the first of a series of three aimed at enabling you to recognize some of the common confusing terms in skincare and how to handle them.

Purging vs Breakout

Purging is a process triggered when your skin is adapting to a new product. It is characterized by the sudden appearance of pimples on your face. In this case, it is recommended to continue using the product. A breakout, on the other hand, is an indication that your skin is sensitive to something in the product. The reaction could cause rashes, redness, stinging, or an allergy.

Pimples are formed when dead skin cells remain stuck under the skin instead of shedding off naturally. This clogs the skin's pores and forms what we call microcomedones. These micro-comedones take an average of 4-8 weeks to appear on the face in the form of whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, or in the worst scenario cysts.

Purging takes place when active ingredients in a product speed up the rate at which skin cells are shed and replaced. This causes a sudden appearance of all underlying micro-comedones on the face and increases inflammations. Such active ingredients include:

  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) such as glycolic, lactic, malic, mandelic, salicylic, Lactobionic acids; gluconolactone; and fruit acids.

  • Retinoids

  • Benzoyl peroxide

  • Chemical peels, lasers, microdermabrasion

  • Other exfoliants (scrubs, brushes, enzyme exfoliants)

Remember, these flare-ups will happen only on the parts of your face where pimples usually appear. If otherwise, the chances the product is causing you a breakout are high. This process will last decreasingly for at least a month. Then your skin will clear up.

Image comparing a skin not clearing up from acne after 42 days.

A breakout, on the other hand, will happen if your product clogs your pores or if it increases prior irritations with no signs of improvement of your skin condition. This will cause the sudden appearance of rashes, redness, stinging or burning sensations, and notable inflammation of already present miro-comedones all over your face. This includes areas that are not usually prone to acne.

What Should I Do to Avoid a Product Break Out?

  1. Always make sure to do a patch test of your product in the crease of your elbow 24 hours before use to make sure your skin isn’t sensitive to the ingredients in the product.

  2. Never buy products without labels. Knowing the ingredients found in a product is essential to determine if your skin breaking out or purging. In case of an allergy, you need to be able to identify the trigger.

  3. Avoid products that have been exposed to the sun over a long period.

  4. Make sure to check for expiry dates on your products before use. Also, get rid of your products on the said dates to avoid bacterial infections.

How Can I Ease My Skin Purging?

Purging can make you look ugly before your skin clears up. A lot of people may battle with low self-esteem and confidence when going through a real intensive skin purge. To make the process more bearable you can;

  1. Start using the product in low concentrations to get your skin used to it and increase over time.

  2. Use products that contain AHA acids in lower percentages or frequencies and walk your way up.

  3. Make sure your skin always stays hydrated by using adequate moisturizers.

  4. Adopt a gentle cleansing routine with anti-irritant or anti-inflammatory products

  5. If you follow me on Twitter, you know this is a song I sing every day. WEAR YOUR SUNSCREEN !!!

Next in the “VERSUS” series is “Moisturizers vs. Hydrators”. Everything you need to know about these two notions in skincare.


What Does Skin Purging Mean?

Purging refers to breakouts or pimples that occur when your skin is trying to adapt to a new product.

What Is Skin Breakout?

`The word breakout in skin care can be used to refer to the abrupt appearance of pimples, rashes, or bumps on the skin. This could be acne breakouts or allergic reactions.

What Happens When Your Skin Breaks Out?

Depending on the cause of your breakouts this could mean a lot of this. Acne breakouts are a sign that your pores are clogged and/or infected.

Can Your Face Break Out From Stress?

Stress can lead to hormonal imbalances in the body and lead to breakouts. This is very common with eczema and acne-prone skin.

Does Skin Breakout Before Getting Better?

When your skin is purging you will experience breakouts before your skin gets better.

How Long Does Skin Purging Last?

Purging should last 4 to 6 weeks.


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