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Skin Purging 101: Are You Breaking Out Or Is It Just Your Skin Is Purging?


There’s nothing worse than getting excited about using a new product just to see pimples pop up. How are you supposed to experiment with all the cool new skincare products out there if you’re going to just get flare-ups? Plus, it’s hard to tell exactly what in your skincare routine is causing it. A rash of red bumps could be an allergic reaction, clogged pores, microcomedones, or even just skin purging. The latter can be even harder to identify, which is where acne expert Julie Grosso comes in.

“There is a major difference between breaking out and purging,” says Grosso. “Skin Purging is when dirt, oil, debris, and bacteria come to the surface. Sometimes, your skin has too much of this within the pores, which will take multiple treatments in some cases or weeks of using your products to push the bacteria and dead skin to the surface.” The result can be pustules, whiteheads, blackheads, or cysts. Keep reading to learn what causes it and what to do about it. 

About the Expert:

Julie Grosso is the owner of The Adara Spa, an acne specialist, and esthetic trainer. 

So, What Exacting Is Skin Purging?

We all love our chemical exfoliants and retinoids (vitamin A). BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), such as salicylic acid, are especially helpful in clearing up breakouts. They increase cell turnover, which is usually a great thing. But sometimes, these chemicals can aggravate an area and cause congestion to come to the surface. It can happen to anyone but is most common in those with acne-prone skin. 

“Anyone who has acne can purge,” says Grosso. “Whether that is mild (under 10 lesions) or severe (more than 30 lesions). It depends on how deep that particular pore was clogged and what treatments and products we are using to push it out. Severe acne clients experience more purging because of how many lesions they have.” 

The Difference Between Skin Purging and a Breakout

Purging can also happen from popping your own pimples—or picking your skin—professional extractions, or chemical peels. If hands and tools aren’t sanitized correctly, bacteria and dirt can transfer into your pores. Grosso explains that using a spot treatment post extractions can help. It’s basically a process of elimination. If you’ve started using a new topical treatment, like a chemical exfoliant, or had an especially extraction-heavy facial, it’s likely skin purging. 

On the flipside, breakouts can be from hormonal fluctuation, diet, gut health, and stress. Regardless of the reason for the pimples, being gentle with your skin will help. “Remember not all breakouts want to be extracted,” warns Grosso. “Some are just swollen with water and oil, creating a natural barrier so no more bacteria comes in.” Popping pimples can not only lead to skin purging but also scars. 

What to Do About Skin Purging 

After you’ve identified your skin purge, you’ll want to baby your skin and heal the area. “Hydration is key,” says Grosso. “Typically acne clients are over stripping their natural oil barrier.” A sebum-reducing moisturizer such as FIRST AID BEAUTY Ultra Repair Oil-Control Moisturizer helps strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier, healing irritated areas without clogging pores. A dermatologist can point you in the right direction if you have skin type-specific concerns.

Even if you’re still breaking out, you’ll want to lay off the heavy chemicals that exfoliate your skin, like retinoids, alpha and beta hydroxy acids, and active ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. This isn’t forever—just until the skin purging has calmed down. Be sure to wear sunscreen to further protect the skin, and lightweight makeup, such as BARE REPUBLIC SPF 30 Tinted Mineral Face Sunscreen Lotion. Otherwise, just be patient and it’ll go away—we promise.

How to Prevent Skin Purging

The best way to deal with skin purging is to keep it from happening to begin with. But sometimes it just can’t be helped. “Skin purging is a part of the process,” says Grosso. “You should have less purging if you have a perfect balance of professional treatments and at-home skin care.” When treating her clients, Grosso “spot treats” the skin with a chemical peel and follows it with light therapy. This helps cut down on purging days.

You can spot treat at home, too. To prevent skin purging, try using a salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide right on the area that was extracted or where you usually experience breakouts. We love Z SKIN COSMETICS Acne Spot Treatment and GOODNDOC Acne Control Blemish Spot Treatment for the way they target acne-causing bacteria without irritating the skin. And remember, skin purging acne clears up faster than other breakouts so it won’t last forever. 

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Article Last Updated January 25, 2022 12:00 AM