Skin Purging Vs Breakouts: How to Tell the Difference

Imagine this, you start a new skincare routine with new products that are supposed to help only to discover that it makes your skin flare up with pimples. When this happens, there are two things involved skin purging or breakouts.

Skin Purging Vs Breakouts: How to Tell the Difference

According to Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, a board-certified dermatologist to Healthline skin purging as a reaction to an active ingredient that increases the skin cell turnover rate.

Skin purging can either be good or bad. The good part of skin purging is as dead skin cells slough off, fresh skin cells underneath is exposed revealing a clearer, better and younger skin. The bad part is that before the healthier skin is revealed – breakouts, allergies, inflammation and irritation of your skin occurs, unless the skin care product in question is stopped. 

Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson also notes that a purge period can give rise to all kinds of pimples that are different from one person to person “you can get a mix of whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, cysts and even the tiny ‘pre-pimples’ that aren’t visible to the eye called microcomedones”

Purging is caused by skincare products that contain the following ingredients

  • Retinoids (retinol, adapalene, tretinoin, tazaorolene, isotretinoin, retinyl)
  • Cleansing brushes
  • Vitamin treatments
  • Hydroxy acids (, lactic, glycolic, malic, mandelic, salicylic, lactobionic acids, gluconolactone “Fruits acids”)
  • Chemical peels
  • Benzonyl peroxide
  • Laser and microdermabrasion

These active ingredients increase the cell turnover to reveal a much healthier skin. But before these new, healthy cells can actually cycle to the surface, some other stuff that are not so glamorous can beat this new healthy cell to the top first – flakes, pimples (due to clogged up pores), excess sebum (oily skin) are common example.

The GOOD NEWS is that purging only last for a limited period. Once the pimples clear up, your skin will look healthier and clearer. Although it might be tempting to stop using these products its important to stick to it especially if its an Rx retinoid given to you by a medical practitioner – your skin will surely improve.

In conclusion purging can be simply decried as “Worse before it gets better phase”

How to Identify Purging

  • Purging clears almost immediately to 2 months max.
  • If you recently introduced a new medicated product to your skin regimen that increases skin cell turnover. Always check the ingredients of the product to detect the aforementioned active ingredients that are culprits
  • Purging always occurs defined in areas of your face prone to breakout – for most people this would be chin, forehead and nose generally called the oilier T-zone.

Be patient but if you experience breakouts more than 2 months contact a dermatologist (a doctor that specializes on the skin)

Breakouts aka Skin reaction

Skin purging and breakouts looks similar but are caused by completely different things. Breakout, like purging occur by introducing a new product to your skin regimen that’s unsuitable for you.

Breakouts appear as blemishes that’s attributed to ingredients such as

sunscreen fillers 

Contained in a new makeup or a new skincare routine (non-medicated) products.

Unlike purging that happens where you frequently break out – breakouts happen in a new area where you don’t breakout. The reaction increases skin irritation, inflammation and forms new clogged pored without an improvement in your skin. There’s a small possibility of your getting used to the product in question – but 90% scenarios your skin “won’t get used to it” causes more irritation, inflammation, sensitivity and even a deeper acne scar.

With purging your advised to continue the product but during breakouts, it’s best to STOP using the product as soon as possible.

In summary it’s a breakout if

  • Your skin feels tight, dry, itchy or red – These signs are general signs of inflammation and irritation. For you to understand this always check the ingredients of the product you are using. Skin care products containing active ingredients such as Vitamin C, retinoids, AHA’s etc. equals purging. But if you’re not using a medicated product (i.e. it doesn’t contain any active ingredient) and its so happens skin related issues like pimples occurs with irritation and inflammation then it is a breakout/skin reaction
  • It last long that six weeks. Purging from a product clears almost immediately while a breakout lasts loner than six weeks i.e. 2 months.
  • Breakout appear in news areas where you’re unlikely to see pimples, acne etc. if you notice a breakout on your chin.

If you’re still confused about deciphering between purging and breakouts do this –

  1. Mix with a moisturizer to reduce the harshness of an active product.
  2. Take a break. Give your skin enough time to calm, down from irritation and inflammation. If your skin gets better as soon as you stop the product, then you’ll know that’s not the product for you. If it’s a purge you’ll notice clogs beneath the surface of your skin – this is a sign to continue.
  3. Do not apply excess amount of medicated skincare products on your skin daily. Spacing out these active products is the safest or you could limit yourself to two product – giving at least 30 mins apart. You can also skip a day or two before applying.
  4. Consider switching to products that contain lesser amounts of active to the one your using. Contact your dermatologist.

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