The how, when & why on skin purging

Skin purging – it’s the skincare dark (the deep, deep dark) before the light. 

What is skin purging? 

Skin purging is when you begin using a new active on your skin and your skin cells start turning over much faster.  It’s most likely to happen if you’re already prone to breakouts & start using –

  • a retinoid (or Vitamin A)
  • An AHA or BHA (like glycolic acid, salicylic acid & lactic acid) or
  • An acne treatment like benzoyl peroxide

It means that the new, healthy skin cells will find their way to the surface quicker.  Unfortunately, it does also mean that all the excess sebum, dead cells and bacteria are bought the surface quicker too.   

What does skin purging look like?

Purging varies in person to person, and it can look like blackheads, whiteheads, small pimples or even cysts.  Skin can also go dry and sometimes peel. 

If you do break out this should be in the places you would normally be prone to. If it’s in new areas it could be a sign of a reaction, but more on that later. 

How long does skin purging last? 

Your skin renews itself in cycles, which last about 28 days.  If you’re purging your skin should be over the worst of it in that time, but it could be up to 6 weeks depending on your individual skin and how quickly the cells renew.  If it goes on for any longer it’s time to speak to your dermatologist or GP if it’s on prescription. 

How to reduce the chance of my skin purging when I’m using a new active? 

The best way is to ease your skin into using a new product if it’s likely to cause purging.  This can either be by using it once every 2-3 days instead of every day.  Your skin can gradually get used to it, going in manageable steps, rather than from 0 – 100mph.  You can then work your way up to daily use after a few weeks once your skin has adapted. 

If you’re not using a prescription product it’s always best starting out with the lowest %. Once the whole bottle has been used and your skin has adjusted, then try the next strength.

How can I help my skin when it’s purging?

It’s best to keep your routine as simple as possible around the product causing the purging.  I keep my routine as basic as possible, but even more so when I’m prescribed something new by my dermatologist.  Stick to a cleanser for your skin type, a good moisturiser which is maybe slightly thicker than usual to help combat the dryness, and a facial oil to help keep the moisture in.    If you’re not sure what your skin type is or what a good basic routine looks like for your skin, you can use this free tool to find out.  

An SPF is an absolute must-have when using any active product.  They make your skin more susceptible to sun damage. Even if you’re not outside UVB rays can penetrate glass and damage your skin.  

While you’re purging it’s the time to take a break from acne treatments or exfoliators, as they’ll only aggravate your skin further. Make sure to check any face masks for actives in the ingredients list. 

How can I tell if my skin is purging or if I’m having a reaction? 

From someone with sensitive skin, I’m always cautious of a potential reaction when I start using a new product.  Even if you’re not prone to sensitivity, if you’re using a product you haven’t before there’s still a chance you could have a reaction – so how do you tell them apart? It can be difficult to tell but these are some things to look out for. 

If you aren’t sure if you’re having a reaction it’s always best to speak to your dermatologist (or GP if they prescribed it) and get some advice.  If it’s a product you’ve bought over the counter it’s best to stop using it. Then either look for a lower % product or visit a dermatologist for a prescription product which may be better suited for your skin.  

Purging can be a necessary evil, but understanding what it is and how you can help your skin can definitely make it more comfortable. 

For more skin advice, why not come over and join The Face Base Community – it’s free (and always will be!)

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