How To Tell if your Skin is Purging or Breaking Out
Pimples following a new product or treatment? Here’s how to tell if your reaction is positive, or whether there may be a problem.
You’ve heard us consistently saying things like ‘it often gets worse before it gets better’ but what the heck does that actually even mean?!
We know how disheartening it can be when you spend money on a new product or treatment and instead of making your skin better (as you’d hope it would) you end up breaking out. While breaking out is never fun, this type of reaction to a new product or treatment is quite common. When it comes to a breakout reaction, there is a clear difference between purging and breaking out, let's jump right in.
Firstly, what is skin purging?
Skin purging is a reaction that is triggered by active ingredients (generally when you start a new treatment or product) that encourages cell turnover. Cell turnover is the rate in which your skin naturally sheds and as this speeds up, you’ll notice your skin regenerating quicker than usual. This is the reason why a pimple that may have been lingering under the skin’s surface for a while will come to the surface. The increase in cell turnover encourages congestion to the out of the skin, which equates to a breakout, or in this case, a deliberate purge. Hold on though because a clear complexion is on its way!
What skin purging looks like
Your breakouts should just look like pustules or whiteheads.
Whiteheads are a small type of blemish that come and go fairly quickly. They look like pustules but have less infection around them so the raised part is usually just a whitehead (i.e visible pus) here you can simply and hygienically pop, and let the wound heal. Pustules on the other hand, tend to look like whiteheads too (which can make things super confusing) but the area around them is usually more red and more inflamed. Like a little painful mountain with a pus-y mountain top, not that cute, but eventually it’ll go away as long as you don’t pick and introduce more bacteria.
How long does skin purging last?
Yes and how long is a piece of string you may ask? The period of purging will totally depend on the person’s skin, the products their using, lifestyle factors and how much congestion may be lying beneath the surface. In a typical case, the purging period will usually sit anywhere between two to six weeks. However, if you have a lot of closed comedones (which are those small bumps on the skin that are caused by blocked pores) it might take longer, this is why relying on a good exfoliant in your routine is key!
The ingredients we use for skin purging
The actives we rely upon to generate a quicker rate of cell turnover are also the ones that are usually responsible for breaking out clients when not used correctly. A little disheartening we know but hear us out please...
Retinols and Retinoids
Vitamin A works deep within the skin and is effective in bringing congestion to the surface. It can also make your skin drier/flakier and dry skin can trap more oil underneath, which when not dealt with properly can cause breakouts.
One of our favourite retinoid products that is super gentle on the skin is Osmosis Calm.
We love to exfoliate here at James Vivian, this increase in cell turnover can often lead to purging in the days following. This is generally the worst with salicylic acid, as it penetrates deeper and is commonly used to clean out the pores. Salicylic acid works hard to attract oil and pull it out of the pores, which means with it it’ll bring the additional gunk under there too.
A salicylic acid-rich product we love to prescribe to congested skins, especially as a spot treatment is Société’s Blemish Clarifying Complex.
Benzoyl peroxide is another purging and irritating culprit, which is why you have to be mindful of the concentration levels that you use. Generally, you’ll find products range anywhere between 2.5-10% and stronger doesn’t always mean better. Redness, peeling and even stinging, are side effects associated with benzoyl peroxide misuse and therefore looking after your barrier with hydrating ingredients and ensuring your skin doesn’t dry out in the process is paramount.
How can you tell if your skin is purging or breaking out?
Firstly, think of the new ingredients you’re using and if any are listed above, what you’re experiencing could definitely be purging. Also take note of how long your breakouts last. Anywhere between two to six weeks is normal and if you’re experiencing breakouts lasting longer, it’s time to get in touch with your Dermal Clinician.
If your skin is breaking out and you’re also experiencing redness, itching, flaking, stinging or burning, then the new product or treatment isn’t the right thing for you, or isn’t the right thing for you now. Sometimes your breakouts can’t only be blamed on one new product or treatment either, but instead can be blamed on going too hard too soon with an entirely new routine your skin wasn’t ready for. Often this causes sensitivity, which is why it’s important to start introducing very active products slowly. Here is a great resource to help guide you through introducing Vitamin A slowly and effectively.
Also, we can never ignore internal factors like stress, travel, diet, sleep and our hormones. While these may be harder irritants to change, they are 9 times out of 10 affecting your skin more than you realise.
If you’re still confused about whether you’re purging or breaking out, a friendly chat with us will give you some clarity on the matter (hehe).
Get in touch or book a consult and we’d be happy to help.