Confused By Sudden, Unexplained Breakouts? Your Skin Might Be Purging


Acne comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Closed comedones, popularly known as whiteheads, are also a form of acne. But the way you deal with them differs vastly from how you would treat a regular pimple. Acne can be hormonal, lifestyle-related, a result of breakout-prone skin types or even temporary! And a temporary flare-up that is often mistaken for acne is skin purging – a sudden and extensive breakout that results from trying a new product or procedure for the first time.

The root cause of skin purging is unique, so its management will differ from other acne solutions. For starters, skin purging is temporary and subsides faster than a hormonal or fungal acne breakout. This is why it is essential to understand why your skin is purging and then manage it. Here’s a quick guide you can follow anytime your skin starts to purge!

What is skin purging?

Simply put, skin purging can occur when chemical exfoliants like retinol and acids are introduced to a skincare routine. Exfoliants work by sloughing off the top layer of your skin, turning it over quicker than usual and speeding up the cell regeneration process for fresher, cleaner looking skin. This is why any blacked pores, gunk or hidden breakouts that are waiting under your skin pop up much faster. It is not as severe as cystic acne but still needs more attention than you would give a lonely pimple.

What does skin purging look like?

A common concern for many is how to tell purging and acne breakouts apart. In terms of appearance, purging can show up as blackheads, whiteheads or small skin coloured bumps under your skin. They are rarely painful or itchy. Also, skin purging occurs only in the areas that are hotspots of breakouts on your skin. This is opposed to actual acne that shows up as pustules, nodules, or cysts and can often show up in the most unexpected places. Just take note that if your sudden breakouts are itchy or feel hot, it means your skin is reacting badly to the product. In this case, you need to consult a dermatologist before continuing with the new product.

How long does skin purging last?

Skincare enthusiasts and dermatologists do have a number for how long it takes for the skin to turn over on its own. But in reality, it depends on the person. For some, their skin can purge for about a month, post which the inflammation starts to subside and their face starts to clear up. But some have also reported having to deal with purging for a couple of months. At that point, they need a lot of patience to stick with the treatment (it’s obviously working) and ride it out. Your skin’s natural turnover process gets slower as you age. There are also some hormone and lifestyle factors involved in deciding how long your skin will purge.

What to do when your skin is purging?

Even though skin purging does not have similar side effects indicative of aggravated acne, it can still make many anxious. This is why dermatologists caution against giving up on a new treatment just because your skin is purging. Because if you stick with it, your skin will get better. Having said that, there are ways to manage the symptoms around it. 

Purging is a sign of damage caused to the skin barrier, which is why closed comedones pop up so quickly on the surface. Include barrier building ingredients like ceramides in your routine. You will also have to maintain a good level of hydration in your skin to ride out the purge. And hyaluronic acid, glycerine, aloe vera, and Centella Asiatica infused products can help give your skin that dose of hydration. You can also contact your dermatologist to understand how to adopt a slower approach to the products – this will lengthen the treatment time but will keep your mind at peace. 

What are the ingredients and procedures that cause purging?

Ingredients and processes are crucial indicators of skin purging, so make sure you are label-checking for the same-

1. Retinoids like OTC retinol, prescription-strength tretinoin, adapalene and retinyl palmitate

2. AHAs, BHAs and PHAs like salicylic, glycolic, lactic and mandelic acids

3. OTC and prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide

4. Clinical chemical peels, carbon lasers and dermabrasion procedures

5. Physical exfoliants like scrubs, face towels, dry brushes, and powder enzymes

In conclusion, there is no need to get stressed out about a skin purge. It is manageable, not indicative of any severe underlying issue and will subside on its own. However, if you notice the purge extending beyond a couple of months with no sign of clearing up, take yourself to a dermatologist to get the issue rectified.

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