Purging Vs. Reaction

Sep. 25
Have you ever introduced a new skincare product into your routine only to find yourself breaking out after? I certainly have! If you’ve ever visited r/SkincareAddiction on Reddit, you’ve probably seen this question A LOT: “Is this product making my skin purge?” or “Is this purging or breaking out?” It can be very tricky to tell the difference.
Purging occurs when your product (likely an acid, exfoliant, or other active ingredients) increases cell turnover rapidly, and in doing so, brings up the dead skin cells and oils in your skin that create pimples. Purging causes your skin to get worse before getting better. Think of it this way: purging brings the pimples that you were going to get anyway to the surface much faster. So the pimple you would get a week from now, two weeks, three, all show up at once or almost back-to-back. Eventually, the purge will subside, and you will have clearer skin!
Here are some active ingredients or treatments that could cause a healthy purge:
  • Acids ( salicylic, glycolic, lactic, azelaic, ferulic, etc..)
  • Retinol ( tretinoin, retinoids)
  • Chemical Peels 
  • Benzoyl Peroxide
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Facials
  • Enzymes
A reaction to a product means that your skin doesn’t like it, causing you to breakout. You could be allergic to an ingredient, it could be clogging your pores or simply doesn’t work for you. A reaction won’t ever end until you cease the use of the product. It can be really hard to identify if your product is doing its job (increasing cell turnover rapidly), or if your skin is just having a poor reaction to it.
Types Of Breakouts
Breakouts from a purge are generally ones you are used to getting. They will show up in places you usually breakout. An example is if you normally get whiteheads on your forehead, expect to get more there during a purge. Or if you normally get cystic acne on your jawline and occasionally breakout with whiteheads on your chin, you can expect to break out in both areas more frequently.
Breakouts from reactions are typically different than ones you typically get. If you are experiencing papules and cysts when you usually only get blackheads, that’s a red flag that the product may not be for you. Or if you usually only breakout on your cheeks with pustules, and start getting painful cysts on your cheeks instead, it may be time to ditch the product.
How Quickly Your Breakouts Go Away
With a purge, the influx of new pimples will generally be less inflamed and go away almost as fast as they came on (think a few days at most). They should disappear much, much faster than your usual breakouts do. 
With a reaction, along with having irritation, inflammation, and different types of acne, these pimples will seem to stick around for a long time. They will probably linger longer than your normal breakouts and likely leave a scar behind due to the inflammation. 
Type Of Product You Introduced
Take into consideration what the new product is that’s making you purge or react. If your new product is a basic hydrating cleanser (no active ingredient like salicylic acid) then it shouldn’t break you out. If you break out from a basic cleanser, moisturizer, toner, serum, or other product, it’s likely a reaction to the product. Remember, a product needs to be increasing cell turnover and exfoliating to induce a healthy purge. 
How Long You've Been Using The New Product
Everyone’s skin is different. Even if you are having breakouts that are familiar to you and in your acne-prone areas, if the breakouts are lasting for more than 2-2.5 months, it’s time to try something new. Our skin naturally sheds dead skin cells around every 30 days (this gradually slows down as we age), so increasing this process with an active means that giving your skin at least 2 months to flush out potential breakouts is ideal. If your breakouts don’t begin to subside considerably 3 months after introducing your product, you’re likely reacting instead of purging. Here's an example of how a healthy purge looked for me a year ago after using prescription-strength Retin-A for 2 months:

Retin-A purge That Led To Clearer Skin!

Final Thoughts
If you find yourself in the middle of a purge, remind yourself that the results will be worth it in the end. And don’t be afraid to ditch a product that you believe is causing a negative reaction. You can help take care of your skin during this time by following a gentle skincare routine. Stick to a routine devoid of other actives like a basic cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen every day. 
*It’s very important to note that you should only introduce ONE new active product at a time. By introducing more than one product at the same time, you run the risk of not knowing which is causing you to purge or react, making it harder to figure out which one to eliminate. 
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