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Skin Purging or Breaking Out: Causes and Fixes

Ever used a new product and was suddenly met with a surge of new pimples? It’s not uncommon. This reaction could either be skin purging or breaking out. But, what’s the difference? Also, are your attempts to salvage it unknowingly making your skin worse? Read on to learn more about what these scary-sounding terms mean and how to correctly integrate new products into your routine!

Skin Purging

What is it?

Skin purging is the initial reaction your skin has to a new ‘active ingredient’ from a product. This active ingredient quickens the cell turnover rate, therefore making hidden pimples waiting underneath the skin’s surface pop out faster than it normally would.

Skin purging reactions can last up to a maximum of one month. If the reaction lasts longer, it may be a breakout disguising itself as a skin purging reaction.

Why does it happen?

Usually, the cell turnover rate is 28 days. Skin purging, however, is the acceleration of this cell turnover rate, created by the active ingredients in the new product.

A lot of comedones (clogged pores) lie deep within the skin and therefore are not visible to the naked eye. But, due to the rapid cell turnover rate, comedones are forced up to the skin’s surface, where they come into contact with the air and become irritated! This inflammation makes it easier for acne to develop.

So, it makes sense that skin purging happens a few days after starting a new product. It speeds up the process of ‘invisible’ micro-comedones being pushed up to and appearing on the skin’s surface.

What products can cause the ‘purging reaction’?

The only products that can create skin purging reactions are those that accelerate the cell turnover rate. Effectively, products without an active ingredient cannot create this kind of reaction.

Below are some of the active ingredients that can cause a skin purging reaction: (Top to bottom = most to least common)

  • Retinoids, Tretinoin, or any Vitamin A derivatives. These are common ingredients in anti-aging products. So, be aware that when you start to use anti-aging products, a purging reaction can occur.
  • Vitamin C derivatives, especially those with a higher concentration.
  • Hydroxy acids (lactic, glycolic, salicylic, mandelic, natural fruit acids, etc). These are commonly found in a chemical exfoliators or peeling pads.
  • Physical scrubs (sugar, salt, tea leaves).


What is it?

A breakout is an inflammatory reaction caused by irritation from clogged pores (dead skin cells, ingrown hair, occlusive products, oil).

The effects of a breakout can last until you stop using the product creating the reaction, or until you’ve built an immunity to the product.

So, is whatever I’m experiencing skin purging or breaking out?

In a nutshell, skin purging is the result of an accelerated cell turnover rate due to active ingredients in your skincare product. Skin purging may then lead to breakouts, as comedones are pushed more quickly to the skin’s surface and experience inflammation.

The best way to determine if you skin is experiencing a case of breakout or skin purging is to examine your skin routine and lifestyle.

Did you recently introduce a product with a strong active ingredient into your routine before experiencing weird breakouts? If you find yourself saying yes, it could most likely skin purging. Experiencing changes in your lifestyle and stress levels, while also changing up your skin routine? This could be a nasty case of breaking out.

Common mistakes with skin purging and breakouts

Dealing with a skin purging and breakouts can be frustrating, but there are common habits we have that can actually make them worse!

Picking pimples. We know, it can be hard to resist poking at those rising bumps, but trust us when we say that picking at pimples (even just touching them) can create more infection or scarring! So, hands off!

Throwing on a bunch of different products (all at once).With a new wave of breakouts, piling on less product is always best. Your skin is going through a lot, and layering it with all different types of new products is a big no-no! Instead of making the breakouts better, you’re only further aggravating the acne and making it harder to pinpoint the culprit. Do yourself and your skin a favor, use less and let it breathe!

Stressing over it. Staring at it in the mirror won’t make it any better. Don’t spend time stressing over the state of your skin because that can actually make it worse! Stress can promote the release of hormones, creating more sebum production which is a big cause of acne.

Blaming the product. This can be tricky. Our first instinct when we start to have breakouts is to blame the products that we’re using. However, the product might not always be the cause. The reason for acne can be from multiple factors, including stress levels, health, weather changes, and the environment (dust, pollution, etc). So, instead of blaming the products that you’re using, try and think of some other factors, like recent lifestyle changes, that could be the culprit.

Covering it up with makeup.We all have an urge to cover and hide our breakouts. however, makeup and makeup brushes can actually increase the possibility of creating more clogged pores. So, instead of trying to cover them up, be confident and let them peek out for a bit. Here’s a secret: Most people don’t even care or notice!

– Too much spot treatment. Sometimes, when we see an angry red bump, we reach for a spot treatment containing strong ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or tea tree oil. But, don’t overdo it! Using too much can dry out your skin and doubling up on treatment can actually lessen its effectiveness, making the pimples worse. Remember that a little goes a long way, and more doesn’t necessarily mean better!

Skin Purging or Breaking Out: What You Should Do!

Skin Purging. Keep on going! After a month, you should be seeing some significant and long-lasting improvements to your skin. But remember: Don’t pick at your acne, otherwise you’ll have to deal with hyperpigmentation!

– Breakouts. First, try and see if the cause is external (lifestyle changes), and if not, ditch the new product and use older and proven products in your previous routines that have worked on you to help relieve the stress and irritation caused by the former.

Tips & Tricks

Incorporate new products one by one. Don’t confuse your skin with a bunch of new products. It can makes it difficult to pin-point which product is causing which reaction.

Slowly introduce active ingredients. Start with less frequency and less amounts, before gradually increasing over time. This will put a ‘brake’ on the purging effect, so that it will happen slower than when starting the ingredients on ‘full’ dosages.

Be patient. Before judging the product’s effectiveness, try using it for at least 3 weeks. Don’t freak out when you have an initial reaction and toss the product before it can turn your skin for the better. Give the product a time of 3-4 weeks to prove itself!

Keep your skin in shape. Regardless of breakouts or skin purging, make sure that your skin always stays moisturized!

Never forget to use sunscreen. Introducing ‘active’ products to your day routine means layering on sunscreen to reduce any inflammation or damage to your skin.

Whether you’re experiencing is skin purging or breaking out, knowing what’s in your product is essential! Want to try out new products but not sure how the ingredient formula will work on your skin? Log into Picky to discover products that match your skin type and concerns. Don’t forget to also follow us on Instagram for more skincare science content!

One Response

  1. Totally Wow! It’s a blessing for me as a beginner (begin my skincare routine a week ago) to receive these helpful guides.. the active ingredients that can cause a skin purging reaction section truly helped me because I just bought Vit C serum this morning! What a coincidence! Thank you Picky for this great Guide!!

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