Is your skin purging or breaking out? Here's how to tell the difference
The term "skin purge" can conjure up images of dirt and grime being pulled from your pores, as seen in some videos where huge blackheads are expelled from pores or pus-filled pimples are removed from the skin. But in reality, skin cleansing is not as horrible (or should not be feared). A skin cleanse simply refers to the skin's reaction to certain products, namely retinols and acids. These particular ingredients are known as chemical exfoliants. As they remove the top layer of dead cells, new cells regenerate faster than they would on their own, which can bring blockages to the surface and cause irritation and breakouts. The good news about purging is that it's temporary.
What is skin purging?
According to dermatologists, skin cleansing refers to your skin's response to a specific active ingredient that triggers cell turnover, (causes) your skin to exfoliate and bring congestion to the surface. Skin cleansing typically occurs in response to chemical exfoliants and retinoids.
What are the causes of skin purging?
Since cleansing tends to signal an acceleration of the skin's exfoliation process, you will often notice what may be minor acne marks. Ingredients that cause skin cleansing promote skin cell renewal through exfoliation. It is generally said that the skin renews itself about every 28 days, but a retinoid or acid accelerates this process, which can lead to breakouts. Products or ingredients that increase cell turnover are known to cause the skin to exfoliate and bring congestion to the surface, resulting in purging.
Let's say you have a new product that you think can improve your skin, but you don't really want to deal with the consequences of the skin cleansing that comes with it. Unfortunately, not really. Dermatologists recommend slowly introducing a new product into your routine to give your skin time to adapt. For example, for a new retinol, try the product once the first week, twice the second week, three times the third week, and so on until you're using the product every day or two (depending on your skin's sensitivity).
Common types of acne when cleaning the skin
When you purify your skin by introducing a new product into your routine, you will almost always notice the breakouts that come with it. It may seem like it's the product that's causing your skin to break out, but because the ingredients that lead to the cleansing are simply exfoliating the skin, which leads to the production of new cells, which often happens, acne marks that have already formed come to the surface. They just appear faster than they would have. In short, the pimple was already there, so it can take weeks before you see it on your skin. Cleansing speeds up this process and often results in different types of acne, all of which fall under the heading of "inflammatory acne":
- white spots
- Black points
Inflammatory acne is a type of acne that encompasses a wide variety of acne types, as most acne symptoms, such as pimples, occur as a result of the body's inflammatory response. When excess oil, called sebum, mixes with dirt, like dead skin cells, in a pore, they sometimes create bacteria known as P. acnes. When your body detects this bacteria, it sends white blood cells into the area to attack the foreign substance, just as it would if you had a cold or a skin scrape. This is called inflammation, and it's why pimples sometimes look like this: red, swollen and filled with pus. When certain ingredients, such as retinol, work on your skin, they don't push bacteria out of your pores, but rather turn your skin cells to exfoliate them, which can irritate already inflamed skin. "A cleanse isn't necessarily about pulling out the bacteria, you're simply removing the inflammation that's causing your acne so your skin can clean itself. Topical products that routinely cleanse your skin are vitamin A and alpha and beta hydroxy acids.
How can you tell the difference between a skin cleanse and a rash?
When adding a new skincare product to your routine, it's important to keep in mind that not every reaction is technically a skin cleanser. Sometimes the product you are using can irritate your skin for another reason, such as clogging your pores, which can lead to acne, or causing an allergic reaction, which can lead to irritation. A rash on your skin after introducing a new product may not be a sign of cleansing, but it can be a standard rash, and there are a few things to keep in mind to help you tell the difference.
- Duration: The first sign to watch for is the duration of the flare-up. "The life cycle of acne (which occurs during a cleanse) is faster than that of a typical flare. It heals much faster than in a typical flare-up. If you start using a new product known for its cleansing action, but the breakouts last longer than 4-6 weeks, it may indicate that the product is not working for you or is making the situation worse.
- Site: Purging also tends to cause breakouts in areas where you normally see acne marks, so if you're irritated in new areas, it's probably not the purging.
- Active Ingredients: Another thing to keep in mind when determining if your skin is purging or breaking out is the active ingredient in the product you are applying to your skin. Purging is usually the result of chemicals that exfoliate your skin, such as retinols, alpha and beta hydroxy acids and acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. So if your skin breaks out after using something like a moisturizing oil, sunscreen or something that can clog pores like a comedogenic makeup formula, you're probably more likely to get a traditional breakout on your hands than a cleanser.
How do you treat a skin purge versus an outbreak?
When it comes to treating your skin during a purge, the best thing to do is actually the least satisfying answer you want to hear: just wait and see. Depending on how congested your skin is, a purge can take two to three weeks. In the meantime. Remember, purging is a sign that your skin care is working and doing the right thing. So be patient.