What is skin purging?

Skin Purging And Breakouts

Here’s how to tell if you’re purging or breaking out

Beauty Crew Beauty Writer / November 29 2019

Our skin is pretty incredible - it can tell us a lot of different things without having to whisper a word. Whether it’s thirsty for some moisture, needs a hit of vitamin C serum, or craving a good masking sesh, it’s usually pretty easy to gauge what your skin needs.

But one thing that can be confusing? Knowing why you’ve suddenly got a face full of pimples. More specifically, determining if your skin care products are causing your skin to purge, or if you’re just experiencing a normal breakout.

To get to the bottom of it, we enrolled the help of Biologi’s Dermal Specialist Lucy Kuper to find out everything we need to know about skin purging – including the products to look out for and how long it’ll last.

What is skin purging?

You know how you start using a new product and then your skin just goes into full freak-out mode? Well, you might be in the midst of a skin purge. “A skin purge is essentially a ‘skin detox’ or an adjustment phase where new products speed up the skin cell turnover rate, causing an array of temporary side effects like blackheads and pimples,” explains Kuper. “It is the skin reacting to the active ingredients in the product, increasing cell turnover and pushing all hidden commodities to the skin surface. Whilst a ‘skin purge’ might only sound like a bad thing, rest assured that it has many positive benefits (you just need to be patient).”

What are the benefits of a skin purge?

In a nutshell, a skin purge helps remove all the gunk that’s chilling underneath your skin. Gross, right? According to Kuper, it’s actually a pretty necessary process. “The reason a skin purge is beneficial is because certain skin care products, especially synthetic products, can get clogged in pores and build up over time. This can eventually be the cause of various skin conditions like dermatitis or irritation,” explains Kuper. “If you are using synthetic products, at some point you should eventually ‘purge’ these toxins from the skin cells.” 

“Many people don’t realise that our skin cells can retain toxins which, when built up over time, can cause an array of negative side effects. Due to the cellular turnover during a skin purge, the surface layer of skin begins to shed more quickly, so our skin expedites its recovery and pushes everything to the surface. This usually happens if you have clogged pores, which can cause pimples, or if you have excess sebum or smaller pimples, which can then turn into larger ones.”

What’s the difference between skin purging and a breakout?

So, how do you tell the difference between your skin adjusting to a new product and a full-blown breakout? While it’s not always clear, Kuper says assessing your appearance (and your routine) can help you figure out what’s going on with your skin. “There are a couple of differences, with the main one being how long each last,” says Kuper. A purge should really only take a full skin cycle to do its job of skin renewal (this usually takes six weeks), however a bad reaction or breakout can linger on. “The other difference is that a purge will often result in areas where you would normally frequently breakout, however a breakout or bad reaction happens in a new area where you wouldn’t normally breakout,” explains Kuper.

“A person who hasn’t given their skin a good detox in a while will be more prone to purging, or someone who has used synthetic products consistently could be more likely to go through a purge,” adds Kuper. 

What type of products may cause skin purging?

According to Kuper, skin purging only happens with certain products – generally those that work to increase cell turnover such as retinol or a hydroxy acid. “There are a range of products that can cause skin purging and often these can be the same products that are the most beneficial and powerful for your skin. Products that are high in active ingredients, like retinoids, vitamin C or tartaric acid can often cause the skin to purge, as can exfoliating hydroxy acids, such as AHAs, BHAs and PHAs. If you’re worried about going through a skin purge, just introduce the new product slowly and this can reduce the severity,” says Kuper.

If you want to purge your skin, Kuper recommends introducing a natural product into your routine that is potent with actives. “Biologi’s Bd Face Luminosity Serum is a 100 per cent active, natural and organic plant extract serum that can encourage the skin to purge. It essentially allows for a release of build-up and toxins from the skin to expose fresh skin cells from underneath and reveal cleaner, younger, and more luminous skin.”

How long does a skin purge last?

While everyone is different, Kuper says purging can be a pretty lengthy process. So, if you’re purging your skin on purpose (we don’t blame you, those benefits sound so good!), make sure you don’t have any major events coming up. “Typically, most experts suggest that a skin purge should be over in about four to six weeks. Any acne or blemishes that result from a purge will normally grow and heal faster than a regular pimple or breakout,” says Kuper.

If things still aren’t looking great after a few weeks, or if they get worse, it’s a good idea to check in with a dermatologist to make sure you should still continue.

Struggling with pimples? Dermatologist Dr Dennis Gross told the hosts of Get Lippy the best way to deal with hormonal acne. Hit play on the  ep below to find out more.

Have you ever tried skin purging? Did it help get you on the path to clearer skin? Let us know in the comment section below.

Main image credit: @taylor_hill

Erin Docherty is a Beauty Writer for BEAUTYcrew, Beauty Editor for Women's Health magazine and a Grooming Writer for Men's Health magazine. She has a keen interest in cosmeceutical skin care and is currently working on minimising her 9-step skin care routine – because ain’t nobody got time for that. When she’s not writing about the latest beauty news, or applying copious amounts of serum, you can find her spending all her money in Sephora.