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  5. Skin Purging Or Acne? Know The Difference Before Opting For Treatments

Did you think all acne is bad? What about the pimples that occur when you start using a new product? Well, this kind of breakout, called purging, is more necessary than you'd imagined!

When your skin is in the midst of a purge, it is actually getting rid of all the harmful toxins with the help of a few ingredients. Let's tell you all about this vital skin process.

What Is Skin Purging?

When you use a certain new product, it brings all the dead skin cells, bacteria, oil and dirt that are beneath your skin to the surface, before getting rid of them. This leads to breakouts, which is known as purging.

Purging often occurs when you use retinoid creams [1] or chemical based exfoliators for acne or anti ageing [2]. They throw out all the accumulated dirt, dead cells and chemicals absorbed and stored by your skin. So, though you may have a breakout initially, purging is actually good for your skin.

What Does Skin Purging Look Like?

Damaged facial skin with redness

Purging breakouts look like tiny, red bumps on the skin that are painful when touched. Often, there may be whiteheads and blackheads that appear along with the bumps.

What Causes Skin Purging?

Close up photo of acne prone skin problem

While several products and chemical procedures can cause skin purging, usually, the presence of alpha hydroxy acid [3] and beta hydroxy acid [4] in exfoliators are common causes. These exfoliate the inner layers of your skin by making them slightly loose on application and clearing dirt and oil.

Other products that contain benzoyl peroxide [5], lactic acid, retinyl palmitate [6], retinol, tazarotene [7], vitamin C, glycolic acid and salicylic acid also cause skin purging. Chemical peel and laser treatments such as microdermabrasion are also known to produce a similar effect.

These ingredients are known to cause skin purging because their function is to help your skin generate new cells in place of the old. Some detox masks and other facial masks can also get your skin to purge if they contain any of these ingredients.

How To Deal With Skin Purging?

The woman is pointing at the acne on her face.

Your skin is at its most sensitive and vulnerable stage when it is undergoing a purge. You cannot stop the process. So you have to be patient till it heals. Meanwhile, here are some tips and precautions you can follow to minimize or speed up the process:

  • Every time you start using a new product that has active ingredients, do it gradually. First, use it on a small patch of skin in tiny amounts. Or, use it all over in small quantities twice a week. Increase its frequency as your skin gets comfortable.
  • Don’t touch your face and avoid popping the pimples.
  • Keep your bed linen and pillow covers clean at all times.
  • When your skin is purging, keep soaps, exfoliants and products with harsh chemicals away from it to prevent further irritation.
  • Try and not go outdoors during peak sun time to protect your skin from the UV rays. If you must step out, use an effective, non-greasy sunscreen.
  • Avoid the use of any products that can dry your skin further.
  • Opt for a hydrating facial if you can with mild hypoallergenic products for relief.
  • If you wish to minimise the effect of purging, you can use the new products that have the actives in diluted forms.
  • To prevent a full on breakout during a purge, choose a product that doesn’t work too fast.
  • You should not use other skincare products when your skin is getting used to a new product that has caused purging.

How Do You Know If Your Skin Is Purging Or Breaking Out?

While purging is a detox of the skin, where it is pushing out all the stored toxins, breakouts are the toxins stuck in your skin that are leading to acne and blackheads. A breakout could also indicate an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients, rather than a cleanse.

If you have skin prone to acne, it can be difficult to tell if it is a breakout or a purge. We have listed the signs below that tell you whether your skin is purging or breaking out.

Signs Your Skin Is Purging

Signs Of A Breakout

Purging pimples do not leave marks or blemishes on your skin. It actually heals the skin to form fresher skin cells.

Breakouts don’t benefit the skin; they leave marks and blemishes when they go.

The cell turnover is faster to remove dead cells. Purging can last for anything from one or two weeks to one or two months.

Breakouts can last a while; there is no time period that indicates when the breakouts will go away. The cell turnover speed is usual.

The purging of the skin starts after a few days of using a new product.

In a breakout, the appearance of the acne and blackheads can be concentrated on any area of the face.

Purging appears uniformly all over the face.

If you are using products that don’t contain any of the above-mentioned ingredients, it is not purging.

A reaction to the cream applied could manifest as a rash, but it doesn’t mean you are allergic to the product. It usually happens when you use an exfoliant that lists retinol as an ingredient.

A sudden appearance of acne after using a skincare product for over six months to a year indicates a breakout and not skin purging.

How Long Does Skin Purging Last?

Skin purging can last for anything between a few weeks to a few months. It is a faster paced cell turnover process.

Cells are replaced in about four weeks in an adult around 30 years of age. As we get older, the cycle takes longer. Exfoliators with purge causing ingredients make skin purging last the entire duration of the cell renewal cycle. In some cases, it might last a few weeks longer.

Wrapping Up

When your skin is going through a purge, don’t control or try to stop it. It is actually good for your skin as the process is removing all the excess dirt and bacteria lodged in the inner layers of your skin. But, it makes sense to know whether it is a purge or a breakout. Go for solutions accordingly.

Begin By Knowing Your Skin

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