The term "skin purging" can conjure up images of gunk and grime being extracted from your pores, as seen in some videos of huge blackheads being pushed out of the pores or pus-filled pimples being pulled out of the skin. The real deal when it comes to skin purging, though, is that it's not nearly as horrific (or should be feared). Rather, a skin cleanse simply refers to the skin's reaction to certain products, namely retinols and acids. These particular ingredients are known as chemical exfoliants, and because they shed that top layer of dead skin cells, new ones regenerate faster than they would on their own, which can bring blockages to the surface and cause irritation and breakouts. The good news about purging is that it is temporary.

What is skin purging?

As per dermatologists, skin cleansing refers to your skin's response to a specific active ingredient that triggers cell turnover, (causes) your skin to exfoliate and bring congestion to the surface. Skin cleansing usually occurs in response to chemical exfoliants and retinoids.

What causes skin purging?

Because a cleanse tends to signal an acceleration of the skin's exfoliation process, you will often notice what may be minor acne marks. The ingredients that lead to skin purging promote the renewal of the skin cells by exfoliating. The skin is generally said to renew itself about every 28 days, but a retinoid or acid will speed up that process, which can lead to breakouts. Products or ingredients that increase your cell turnover are known to cause your skin to exfoliate and bring congestion to the surface, causing a purge.

Let's say you have a new product that you think can improve your skin, but you don't really want to deal with the aftermath of the skin cleanse that comes with it; is there anything that can be done to prevent a cleanse? Unfortunately not really. Dermatologists recommend to slowly introduce a new product into your routine to give your skin some time to adjust. For example, for a new retinol, try the product once in the first week, twice in the second week, three times in the third week, and so on until you use the product every day or every other day (depending on how sensitive your skin is).


Common types of acne during a skin cleanse

When you purify your skin as you introduce a new product into your routine, you will almost always notice the breakouts that come with it. It may seem like the product is causing your skin to break out, but because the ingredients that lead to cleansing simply exfoliate the skin, leading to the production of new cells, which often happens, acne marks that have already formed come beneath the surface. just show up faster than they would have. In short, the pimple was already there, it sometimes takes weeks before you see it on your skin. A cleanse speeds up that process and often results in different types of acne, all of which fall under the umbrella of "inflammatory acne":

  • pustules
  • whiteheads
  • Blackheads
  • Cysts

Inflammatory acne is a type of acne that encompasses a wide variety of acne types, as most acne symptoms, such as pimples, occur as a result of an inflammatory response of the body. When excess oil, called sebum, mixes with dirt, such as dead skin cells, in a pore, they sometimes create bacteria known as P. acnes. When your body detects this bacteria, it sends white blood cells to the area to attack the foreign substance, as it would if you had a cold or a scrape on your skin. This is called inflammation, which is why pimples sometimes look like this: red, swollen, and filled with pus. When certain ingredients, such as retinol, work on your skin, they don't push bacteria out of your pores, but instead turn your skin cells to exfoliate, which can irritate the already inflamed skin. “A cleanse isn't necessarily extracting bacteria, you're just removing the inflammation that's causing your acne so your skin can clear itself. The topicals that routinely clear your skin are vitamin A and alpha and beta hydroxy acids.

How to tell the difference between skin cleansing and a breakout

When adding a new skin care product to your routine, it's important to keep in mind that not all reactions are technically a cleansing of the skin. Sometimes the product you use can irritate your skin for another reason, such as clogging your pores, which can lead to acne, or cause an allergic reaction, which can lead to irritation. A breakout on your skin after the introduction of a new product may not be the sign of a cleanse, but it could be a standard breakout, and there are a few things to keep in mind to help you spot the difference.

  • Duration: The first sign to look out for is the duration of the breakout. “The acne life cycle (which occurs during a cleanse) is faster than a regular breakout. It heals much faster than in a typical outbreak. If you start with a new product known for clearing, but the breakouts last longer than 4-6 weeks, it could indicate that the product isn't working for you or is actually making things worse.
  • Site: Purges also tend to cause breakouts in the areas where you normally see acne marks, so if you're irritated in new areas, it's probably not the purge.
  • Active Ingredients: Another thing to keep in mind when navigating whether your skin is purging or breaking out is the active ingredients in the product you are applying to your skin. Skin cleanses are usually the result of chemicals that exfoliate your skin, such as retinols, alpha and beta hydroxy acids, and acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. So if your skin breaks out after using something like a moisturizing oil, sunscreen, or something that can clog pores like a comedogenic makeup formula, you're probably more likely to have a traditional breakout on your hands than a cleanse.

How to treat a skin purge vs. an Outbreak

When it comes to treating your skin during a purge, the best thing you can do is actually the least satisfying answer anyone really wants to hear - all you have to do is wait and see. Depending on how congested your skin is, a purge can take two to three weeks. In the meantime. Remember that purging is a sign that your skincare is effective and doing the right thing. So be patient.