Skin Care

Skin Purging: A Mistaken Case Of Skin Breakouts! 

Ever wondered why your beauty products are taking you to pimple land? How to know if it is your usual breakouts or your skin purging?

Written by Rani Premkumar

On Mar 9, 2023 – 10 minutes read

Skin Purging-Feature

Skin issues and complexion were the least of my worries until I reached my teens. Then the obsession with a porcelain complexion and flawless skin slowly crept in. I started to see imperfections in my nearly perfect skin and started searching for the elixir that had the potential to make me a Cleopatra! I am sure you can relate!  

I was not willing to be the Pecola that kept praying to have the ‘bluest eyes’. I took proactive steps. That’s when I started marring my face with experiments that led to breakouts on my skin. I cursed the manufacturers that made me pay through my nose for the product, which eventually ended up in the trash, because not only did it not deliver what it promised but also made my skin sandy with pimples. The same pinch for that?? Now that I am aware of skin purging, I feel remorseful about the money and the products I threw away in my beauty quest.  

What Is Skin Purging?   

As much as we want our wrinkles and acne to vanish in the snap of our fingers, skin care regimens take time. And what is worse? The skin may look worse after the use of precious salves. Damn it!  

Blame it on skin purging! 

Say what? 

Yup!  It is a temporary acne flare-up caused by the introduction of a new product to your skincare routine. Even a facial can get your skin purging. You are damned especially if you have pimple-prone or sensitive skin. Skin purging comes up when we incorporate a new skincare product into our skincare routine, which results in rapid skin cell turnover. It usually will subside in four to six weeks’ time. To what end? It is to bring out the fresh skin cells underneath to reveal clearer, supple, and younger-looking skin. So before the healthy new skin cells show up at the skin’s surface, some other stuff like flaky skin cells, sebum, build-ups of dirt, etc. will come out creating the sensational ‘skin purging’.  

What Is Skin Purging?   

In layman’s words, skin purging leads to the hastening of skin renewal. Skin renewal happens every twenty-eight days, but skin purging leads to speeding up the process. Skin purging is often likened to the process of cleaning pipes, here pipes being the pores of the skin. This brings the congestion to the surface as the ingredients of the product increase skin cell turnover and cause it to exfoliate faster.

Skin purging causes the dead skin cells to come to the surface, causing the skin to peel off because the surface layer of the skin sheds more quickly to expedite its recovery as they push everything to the surface. The skin may also appear red with a range of whiteheads, blackheads, hard bumps, and pustules in clusters, making the skin look like a pineapple’s outer layer while having a sandy texture. It even brings out pre-pimples known as micro-comedones that are not visible to the eye. The skin may appear dry and will peel off easily. 

Skin purging is in fact a positive sign that your novel skincare addition is effective. 

Causes Of Skin Purging 

Skincare products that contain active ingredients to target specific skin issues like wrinkles, crow’s feet, uneven skin tone, acne, aging skin, etc. could cause the skin to purge. The most common ingredient which causes skin purging is retinol, which is a form of Vitamin A, a universal ingredient in almost all skin care products. Other magical ingredients include alpha hydroxy acid, beta hydroxy acid, benzoyl peroxide, Vitamin C, tazarotene, lactic acid, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, etc.

Causes Of Skin Purging 

Though skin purging is not a norm with all skincare products addressing specific issues of the skin, it sure is a wingman of some like retinoid, which may range from retinol which is prescribed for acne-prone skin, to topical tretinoin, and isotretinoin which is taken orally. Other agents which bring about skin purging are exfoliating acids and chemical peels. These specific ingredients help slough off the top layer of dead skin cells and cause the regeneration of new ones sooner than in its normal course. This fast-track process brings out blockages and causes skin irritations and breakouts. 

How Long Does Skin Purging Last? 

The duration is variable according to each person, though it may be generally stated that skin purging may last 4- 6 weeks, after which the ingredients will be well received by the person to show visible improvements. The initial symptoms have subsided, and the skin will appear smoother, even, and brighter. 

Skin purging Versus Skin Break-outs 

Skin purging is a natural reaction of the skin to an active ingredient in a targeted skin care regimen, which brings out the unwanted elements lurking under the skin surface for a better end. Breakouts are always unwelcome guests. They appear as an inflammatory response from the body when excess sebum, dead skin cells, dirt, grime, etc. create bacterial growth. To counteract this, the body sends white blood cells into the area to attack foreign substances which are seen as invaders. This causes inflammation and red, swollen pus-filled breakouts. 

An allergic reaction to a product that is not a peel or retinoid is never to be confused with skin purging. It should be seen as skin sensitivity or allergy at the most. If there are breakouts or dryness in the areas of skin where you normally do not break out, it is a reaction rejecting the product. It indicates that your skin is not welcoming the product in, hence you should do your skin some favor by ditching the product. 

Skin purging, on the other hand, will show up in areas where you break out frequently. We all have our pimple zones. If after using targeted creams, it breaks out or dries up in those zones, making it look flared up, it is purging skin. Have no doubts. 

Though skin purging is often mistaken for a case of breakouts, here is a streamlined approach to differentiate both from each other.

BreakoutsSkin Purging 
Happens in new areas which are not where you usually have acne or breakouts Happens in areas where you normally break out
Can use a spot treatment Should not use a spot treatment or it will flare up even more
Breakouts due to an allergic reaction to products should be ditched.The usage of Products causing skin purging should not be discontinued 
Takes up to eight to ten days to appear, swell and shrink away.Disappears faster than normal breakouts 
Tampering will cause scarring Tampering will cause scarring, here too!
Breakouts may cause scarringThe end result will be smoother, younger skin
Treatment neededNo treatment is necessary. It should be left on its own
If it is a normal skincare thing like sunscreen or hydrating oil or moisturizer that is the cause, then it could be a breakout.Specific Ingredients like alpha and beta hydroxy acids, retinol, and salicylic acid cause skin purging 
Discontinue the use of the product causing breakouts as it may be clogging your pores or creating allergic reactions.You should not discontinue the usage of the product and wait for the skin purging to subside on its own.

How Can We Prevent Skin Purging

Yup! We all know that it is quite a buzz kill to show a marred face to others. That the turmoil does not decrease with age is a sad reality. To show a face that is undergoing skin purging, at a party or a gathering will be too insulting. The working woman needs nothing else to sink into an inferior role instead of showing her confident self at the workplace. Teens will have the lowest phase in their lives and may cost many love interests. ‘Beauty is skin deep’? Not quite. So how can we prevent skin purging? 

You should take it slow. Whatever ingredients you are putting on your face, you should go in baby steps. For instance, if you want to make retinol a part of your skincare regimen, you can slowly introduce it to your skin by applying it once or twice a week, then increasing the frequency. This process of going slow is termed the ‘ease in’ method by dermatologists. As for exfoliating acids, you could start applying them once a week and never overdo it beyond two or three times a week, max! Chemical peeling as a part of facials can be done once a month. The same applies to bleaching your skin. 

How To Deal With Skin Purging? 

Skin purging, unlike breakouts, does not need treatment. But you could always use ingredients to soothe and calm your skin. Ayurveda also has a lot of remedies for soothing the skin. Using green gram powder instead of soaps with harsh chemicals, and the application of red sandalwood paste to soothe the skin are all easy remedies Docs would advise sticking to basics like a sulfate-free cleanser, soothing moisturizer, and sunscreen along with the product that caused the skin purging. Do make sure to wash your face twice a day, with a mild face wash or baby soap. As much as you want to discontinue the usage of the villain, you should stick to it faithfully, for skin purging is just a temporary phenomenon. Bear in mind that it will get worse before it gets better.  

How To Deal With Skin Purging? 

While waiting for the recovery, you should keep your hands off the face, as tempting as it would be, and avoid scrubbing your face. Purging skin will also be sensitive to sun exposure, hence limit sun exposure or wear sunscreen to prevent tanning, reapplying it every three to four hours. 

You should also adhere to the basic Trinity of CTM- cleaning, toning, and moisturizing. It need not be mentioned that you can continue the innocuous CTM routine- morning and night. Using a mild cleanser, cleanse the skin and follow it up with a hydrating toner(1). As far as moisturizing is concerned, experts say that moisturizing creams are heavier, and moisturizing serums are a better option as they are usually smaller molecules that are meant to be absorbed into the deeper layers of the skin. A potent antioxidant serum is also gold when it comes to purging skin. 

How To Stop Skin Purging Immediately?

There are no miracles here, girls. It is best to leave the skin’s purging cycle on its own. For us, six weeks may seem like an eternity, but it is worthwhile towards the end. In the meantime, there are a lot of other things you can do to help your skin go through skin purging in a smooth way. It is quite natural to pick at acne, which is a sure way to cause permanent scarring. It also extends the skin purging period as it takes longer to heal the inflicted damage. Another tip would be to keep away from products that will dry out our skin. Spot treatment products also should be shunned as they are, in essence, exfoliating agents like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. These products could agitate the already flared-up area. 

Having a hydra facial will help speed things up, as it vacuums up impurities while infusing the skin with targeted serums that will address the specific concerns of the skin. This also is not an option if you have sensitive skin, as your already purging skin will feel that the facial is too much to handle and may act out even more vigorously. 

How Long Is Too Long? When Does Skin Purging End? 

As frustrating as it must be, skin purging occurs when an ingredient attempts to hasten up the skin’s pace of renewal and shedding, lasting about one full skin cycle or twenty-eight days. It is claimed by dermatologists that it will be over within four to six weeks of starting a new regimen of skin care, depending on how congested your skin is. 

A bonus tip to those who are undergoing skin purging will be to use a color corrector followed up by a full-coverage concealer from a reputed brand, of course! This will help you not to lose face amidst skin purging. Make sure you do not agitate the skin during purging. So sunshine!☀️ Shine bright and confident. The world wants women to beautify its existence. We know it; we strive for it and yes! WE ACHIEVE IT! ❤️ 

  1. The Authors. Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on behalf of The American Society of Plastic Surgeons. (2006). Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. [Online] Available at:
  2. PeaceHealt. (2023). benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid (topical). [Online] Available at:

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Rani is a women’s lifestyle coach with a knack for translating high fashion into accessible, everyday looks. She has helped countless women embrace their personal style, fostering confidence and self-expression.

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