Trying out a new, popular acne treatment is exciting as it brings the promise of clear, blemish-free skin. However, it can be discouraging when you try a new serum or cream and find your skin breaking out and peeling. While you may feel betrayed, this is a normal part of the process known as skin purging . What does skin purging look like, and can you speed up the process? Learn more below.
What Is Skin Purging?
Skin purging is a process that may happen when you use any product containing retinoids, salicylic acid, and most chemical exfoliants, like alpha and beta hydroxy acids. These acne treatments may cause an initial increase in acne.
By increasing the skin cell turnover rate, these ingredients can help to unclog pores, reduce blemishes, and promote a smooth, clear complexion. However, the process requires your skin’s life cycle to speed up. The surface of your skin sheds quickly, which also pushes up everything forming underneath, including all of the excess sebum, debris, and other forms of buildup that clogs pores and results in a pimple.
The resulting skin purge can look different from person to person. Dry, peeling skin is common. Some may only experience the stray zit or two, while others may experience a more significant purge with a combination of whiteheads, blackheads, cysts, and pustules.1
Skin Purging vs Breakout
|Purging from a product||Breakout or reaction from a product|
|happens where you frequently break out||happens in a new area where you don’t break out|
|disappears faster than a normal pimple||typically takes 8 to 10 days to appear, mature, and shrink|
Is Skin Purging Good?
When you go through a skin purge, it is easy to assume that you are doing something wrong or that the product you are using is at fault. While it may be annoying, frustrating, and discouraging at the moment, skin purging is an entirely natural process that is equivalent to resetting your skin cycle. You can rest assured that underneath all the pimples and cysts of a purge is fresh, clear, youthful-looking skin. Skin purging may not necessarily look or feel good, but it is a sign that the active ingredient is working as intended and expediting your skin’s recovery.2
How Long Does Skin Purging Last?
The good news is that skin purging is temporary, but how long it takes can vary from person to person, especially if you have more sensitive skin. It should generally take one regular skin cycle, which is about one month, for your face to settle down. For others, however, it can take eight weeks to three full months for your skin to stop purging.
How to Know If Your Skin Is Purging
For many, telling the difference between skin purging and an especially bad breakout can be difficult, but they do have their differences.
- Purging only happens with products that speed up skin cell turnover, which are most commonly retinoids, acids, and peels. If you experience acne after using a product that does not fall into those categories, it is likely an allergic reaction or sensitivity to the product, not skin purging.
- Purging only occurs in areas where you already tend to breakout. For example, if you normally get more acne around your mouth and chin, you can expect the same during a purge. If you are experiencing acne in new regions of your face, you may be dealing with a breakout.
- The good thing about zits from skin purging is that they tend to go away much faster than normal, which is a result of the increased turnover rate. A regular breakout zit can take up to 10 days to go through its full growth cycle.3
Tips on How to Deal with Skin Purging
All that said, you might be wondering how to speed up skin purging . Unfortunately, there is no real way to speed up the process. Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to manage skin purging better.
While most products advise daily use, you should by no means start with daily use. Throwing your skin into the deep end can contribute to more severe skin purging , which can be uncomfortable and discouraging. Instead, start slow. Use the product just once or twice per week for a few weeks. As your skin adjusts, increase the usage to every other day before eventually moving to daily application. This slow ramping method allows your skin to gradually adjust to the product, which may result in a gentler purge process.
Avoid Multiple New Active Ingredients
It may be tempting to try several new treatments at once to clear up your acne, but this can overload your skin and contribute to a combination of purging and general irritation. Don’t introduce more than one new active ingredient (particularly those that increase skin cell turnover) to your face at once.
Don’t Pick Your Face
As the skin purge progresses, avoid picking at your face and popping zits. Popping pimples can introduce bacteria into open wounds and make existing zits worse. Picking at pimples also contributes to scarring, which is much harder to treat.
Most products that increase skin cell turnover also make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. This increased sensitivity will make you more vulnerable to skin cancer and can contribute to inflammation, a main factor in acne. Your skin could use as much protection as possible, so use plenty of SPF 30 sunscreen and reapply every 2 hours, especially if your skin is peeling.
While it may not be the easiest or most helpful bit of advice, being patient is the main way you’re going to get through a skin purge. Don’t be too hard on yourself or pay too much attention to what you see in the mirror.
Make sure you maintain a regular, gentle skincare routine. If your purge feels too severe or seems to be lasting too long, stop using the product and consult your dermatologist.