What is Skin Purging and What Causes It?

by BiE - Beauty in Everything
What is Skin Purging and What Causes It?



Have you ever seen tiny pus-filled boils erupting on your face after using a new skincare product? Well, these uninvited eruptions might conjure up gross images in your mind, but don’t despair. This might be a sign of skin purging, not a breakout. Skin purging is a temporary reaction that occurs when you introduce certain active ingredients into your skincare routine. While it may seem counterintuitive, purging is actually a good thing!

Understanding skin purging is crucial in the world of skincare. It can help you differentiate between a temporary reaction and a negative reaction to a product. This knowledge can prevent you from abandoning a potentially beneficial product prematurely.

The Science Behind Skin Purging

Skin purging is triggered by specific ingredients in skincare products, most commonly alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), and retinoids. These ingredients are known for their powerful exfoliating properties. When you introduce them to your routine, the cell turnover rate is amplified.

Skin Purging

Normally, our skin pushes all the dirt, grime and gunk to the surface within 28 days to reveal fresh skin. Comparatively, the natural process of sloughing off the dead skin cells is slower. With the introduction of skin purging, all the trapped debris, oil, impurities find their way to the surface within 4-6 days, i.e. it exposes younger-looking, healthier skin by speeding up the cell turnover rate.

How Skin Purging Differs from Breakouts

While purging can look like a breakout, there are key differences to help you tell them apart:

  • Appearance: Purging typically results in whiteheads and small red bumps (papules). Breakouts, on the other hand, can encompass a wider range of blemishes, including deeper, more painful and swollen pimples (pustules) and even cysts.
  • Duration: Purging is temporary, usually lasting for a few weeks (up to 6 weeks in some cases). Breakouts, however, can persist for much longer, especially if they're hormonal or caused by underlying factors like diet or stress.
  • Location: Purging tends to occur in areas where you typically experience breakouts. While breakouts, on the other hand, can pop up anywhere on your face.

Skin Purging

By understanding these distinctions, you can avoid mistaking a temporary purge for a breakout and give your new skincare routine a fair chance to work its magic.

Common Causes of Skin Purging

As mentioned earlier, skin purging is a response to certain active ingredients in skincare products that accelerate the rate of skin cell turnover. Here are the main players:

  • Retinoids:These vitamin A derivatives are superstars in the skincare world, known for their anti-aging and acne-fighting properties. However, retinoids can also trigger purging, especially during the initial weeks of use.

Skin Purging

  • Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs):These water-soluble acids, like glycolic and lactic acid, work by gently dissolving the bonds between dead skin cells on the surface of the skin. This accelerated shedding can lead to purging.
  • Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs): Unlike AHAs, BHAs (like salicylic acid) can penetrate deeper into pores, clearing out dirt and oil. This rapid removal of congestion can sometimes cause temporary breakouts.

Products and Treatments Leading to Skin Purging

Now that you know the key ingredients, let's explore the types of products and treatments that can cause purging:

  • Anti-aging Products: Retinols and AHAs are frequently used in anti-aging products to target wrinkles, fine lines, and sun damage. While these ingredients deliver amazing results in the long run, they might cause some purging initially.
  • Acne Treatments: Many over-the-counter and prescription acne medications contain retinoids, AHAs, or BHAs. These ingredients are powerful tools for acne, but purging is a common side effect to be aware of.

purging on face

  • Chemical Peels: Chemical peels are professional treatments that use various acids to exfoliate the skin. Depending on the strength of the peel, you might experience some purging after the treatment.


It's important to note that not everyone will experience purging, even when using products containing these ingredients. However, if you do see an increase in breakouts after starting a new skincare routine, consider the possibility of purging before giving up on the product.

How Long Does Skin Purging Last?

The good news is that skin purging is temporary. It typically lasts for a few weeks, with most people experiencing it within the first 2-4 weeks of using a new product. However, in some cases, purging can persist for up to 6 weeks.

Managing Skin Purging

Skin purging can be frustrating, but the good news is there are ways to soothe your skin and minimize discomfort while it runs its course.

Tips to Alleviate Skin Purging Symptoms

Here are some strategies to help you manage skin purging:

  • Gentle Skincare Routine: Focus on a gentle skincare routine during purging. Use a fragrance-free cleanser, a lightweight moisturizer, and sunscreen every day. Avoid harsh scrubs or additional exfoliating products, as they can further irritate your skin.
  • Spot Treatment: You can use a gentle spot treatment containing benzoyl peroxide to target individual blemishes. However, avoid using harsh acne treatments that can dry out your skin.
  • Hydration is Key: Hydration is crucial during purging. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and use a hydrating moisturizer to keep your skin plump and supple.
  • Patience is Paramount: Resist the urge to pick at your skin! Picking can worsen inflammation and lead to scarring. Remember, purging is temporary. Be patient and consistent with your gentle skincare routine.

Preventing Skin Purging

While completely preventing skin purging might not be possible, there are steps you can take to minimize its intensity and likelihood. Here's how:

  • Start Low and Slow: Always introduce new products one at a time and wait at least a week before adding another. This allows your skin to adjust and helps you identify the culprit if purging occurs.
  • Patch Testing: Before applying a new product all over your face, do a patch test on a small area of your jawline or inner arm. Monitor for any irritation for 24-48 hours before using it on your entire face.

Avoiding Potential Irritants and Allergens

  • Fragrance-Free is Key: Fragrances are common irritants and can exacerbate purging. Opt for fragrance-free skincare products whenever possible.
  • Minimize Comedogenic Ingredients: Comedogenic ingredients can clog pores and potentially worsen purging. Look for products labelled "non-comedogenic" or "oil-free."
  • Alcohol Can Be Harsh: While some products contain alcohol for its drying effect, it can be overly drying and irritating, especially for sensitive skin. Opt for alcohol-free formulas.

By following these tips and choosing skincare products formulated for your specific skin type with minimal irritants, you can create a gentle yet effective routine that helps prevent or minimize purging.


Skin purging can be an overwhelming experience, especially when you're hoping for clearer skin. However, by understanding the science behind purging, the common causes, and how to identify it, you can navigate this temporary phase with confidence. Remember, purging signifies your skin is working hard to shed built-up impurities and renew itself. With proper skin care practices and a little patience, you can expect to see clearer, smoother, and healthier skin emerge after the purging subsides. So, embrace the purge as a sign of progress on your journey to achieving your skincare goals!

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