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Testing out a new skin routine can be tricky territory. Between the seemingly endless surplus of products available everywhere today— cleansers, oils, balms, toners, serums, masks and more — figuring out what products work for you can be a daunting challenge. Trying a new product can sometimes lead to a flare up with pimples. Is your skin purging orbreaking out? We break down the mystery behind skin purging and how you can learn to identify the difference and how best to treat it.


First off, let’s talk about pimples. 


Pimples — also known as zits or spots — are a normal part of experiencing acne. Before a pimple is fully formed on the skin, it starts as a microcomedone — essentially, a small, flesh colored acne papule not visible at the skin’s surface. Microcomedones can develop into blackheads, whiteheads or full-blown cysts. Sometimes they’ll go away without you noticing. In essence, certain products can absolutely helpaccelerate a breakout or skin purge, but they don’t solely on their own cause them. When you have a skin care product or routine that works for you, less microcomedones should form underneath skin, allowing for less acne and irritation to form — which is what we’re all aiming for, right? 


So what is skin purging? 


Skin purging is the process when testing out a new skincare product or regimen results in amplified pimple formation. Essentially, your already clogged pores underneath the skin (called microcomedones) will activate together to cause one big, breakout at a faster rate than normal, hormonal acne formation. (yikes!) 


What active ingredients cause skin purging?


Products containing certain active ingredients that increase skin turnover can cause purging. Below is a list of ingredients to look for.


  • Retinoids (retinol, tretinoin, adapalene, tazarotene, isotretinoin, retinyl palmitate)
  • Hydroxy Acids (citric, hydroxycaproic, mandelic, salicylic, gluconolactone, glycolic, lactic, lactobionic, and tartaric)
  • Benzoyl Peroxide
  • Chemical peels, lasers and microdermabrasions
  • Other exfoliants(scrubs, brushes, enzyme exfoliants like papain and bromelain)


What’s a normal acne breakout? 


Anormal acne breakout is caused by when sebum or natural face oils, clog your skin’s hair particles resulting in unwanted blemishes — such as whiteheads, blackheads and pimples. Factors such as excess oil production, clogged hair follicles, bacteria and an excess of hormones or diet can cause acne breakouts.


So how do I know if I’m experiencing a breakout or a skin purge? 


If you find acne popping up in spots it normally doesn’t after testing a new skincare product, that result is most likely a form of skin purging. When acne is hormonal or regularly induced from poor diet or stress, those spots typically always appear within the same area. 


How can I reduce the severity of the purge? 


There isn’t any all inclusive way to properly treat a skin purge. As long as there is no increased irritation or inflammation, the best remedy is to be as gentle as possible with your skin and push on for the rest of the month. If it isn’t getting any better after 6-8 weeks, ditch the product.


It’s always helpful to remember that patch testing products before using them on your face is a preventative measure one can use to try and catch potentially irritation. (Dab a small amount of the new product on another part of your body before committing it to the entirety of your face.) The sole bright side to experiencing a skin purge is that the lifecycle of acne caused by a purge is a much faster succession than that of normal hormonal acne. The worst will be over before you know it.