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Notes on Skin Purging vs Breakouts

When we incorporate a new active ingredient into our routine, the skin can invariably take time to adjust. With many of these products boasting to brighten, even out or smooth the complexion, it can be alarming when upon first usage they seem to do the exact opposite. Experiencing some level of irritation is absolutely normal when introducing a new product or active, and will often subside in a matter of weeks. Though, it’s important to be aware of the difference between your skin adapting and reacting. Below are a few tips and trips to see you through this fleeting time and onto a clearer, more radiant complexion.

What is skin purging?

Skin purging is unfortunately common when introducing a new active. Think redness, dryness, increased sensitivity, whiteheads, blackheads and congestion. Short term side effects may be less than ideal, but skin purging is actually a positive thing because it’s bringing up deep seated impurities onto the skin’s surface and will ultimately result in a clearer complexion.

What causes skin purging?

Retinoids, exfoliating acids and chemical peels are usually the culprits behind skin purging. These active ingredients put skin cell turnover into overdrive, causing the skin to renew at a much faster rate than usual. Along with shedding away dead, dull layers of skin, these products coax impurities out of the pores, pushing them up to the surface.

How does skin purging differ from simply breaking out?

Break outs, on the other hand, can happen when you’re having a reaction to the product. You may experience some of the same symptoms as purging, along with pimples, papules, pustules and cysts. These tend to appear on the face where you don’t usually break out, whereas purges crop up in areas where you already break out, and will persist for a prolonged period of time (purges, meanwhile, appear and disappear quickly). If your breakouts are lasting for longer than four to six weeks—the time in which it takes for the skin to naturally renew itself—chances are the product isn’t right for you and is causing a reaction.

How can you care for the skin, while it is purging?

Helping the skin during the purging phase is usually centred around a slow and steady introduction of new products coupled with using gentle, nourishing products that hydrate and comfort. Keep things simple as your skin adjusts – a gentle cleanser, a non-occlusive cream and your suncare will support your complexion as it grows to understand and make use of the new actives you are incorporating. As always, be sure to incorporate any new active ingredient into your routine gradually (using it just a few times a week at first) and at a low dosage.