Breakout vs. Purging: How to Tell the Difference

Woman with skin problems

The skincare-obsessed knows well how a new product can send the skin into a full-on freak mode–pimples, redness, and bumps everywhere. The challenge here is to know whether the skin is purging, which is the good kind of flare-up, or reacting badly, which should tell you to stop using the product.

When It’s Purging

Most people experience purging when they use retinoid, enzyme treatment, or exfoliating scrubs and peels. You might also notice acne breakouts after going through professional dermatological procedures like chemical peels or laser resurfacing treatments. Dermatologists in Salt Lake City note that the flare-up results from the products shedding dead skin cells faster, releasing sebum and debris trapped in the skin. It also speeds up the process of pre-existing clogged pores erupting to the surface, becoming the visible acne.

Given this, there’s a good chance that you’re experiencing purging if the ingredients in the product you use speeds up skin cell turnover. For this, it’s helpful to consult your dermatologist on what to expect in the next days or months. If you’re breaking out in pimple-prone areas, it’s also most likely skin purging. This will last for about two months, and after that, you get to enjoy clearer skin.

When It’s Reacting

A reactive breakout, on the other hand, results from using products that cause new clogged pores. People often experience this when they apply products that contain surfactants, oils, and silicones. So check the ingredients first to prepare for the side effects. Remember, if there’s no ingredient in the product causing increased cell turnover, and you still experience flare-ups, then it’s a sign of the skin reacting adversely to the new skincare product.

The duration of the breakouts also matters. If your skin stays red and pimply after two months, you’re less likely to see improvement. In fact, you can only expect further damage to skin when you don’t discontinue use.

Trying out a new skincare product can drive your skin to a “good” or “bad” breakout. Consult your dermatologist to know for sure if the items you use are safe and effective in bringing out your best skin.