Purging vs breakout: How are they different?

ANY bad skin days would usually involve the appearance of unseemly acne on the face. But are all pimples bad?
Here is where the notion of “purging” come into play. And it is important that we discern them from your typical breakouts.
Read on as we deep dive into the basics of this condition.

What is skin purging?

So, you’ve just tried that new serum that you’ve always had your eyes on. But in the next few days, you begin to notice that your skin begin to flare up.

The above is a classic case of “purging”. According to dermatologists, a skin purge happens when our skin is in the process of adapting to new skincare products.

That surge of acne means that the serum or retinol cream is working its magic. The key is to continue using the product and persist through the purging process. It’s bound to get worse… before it gets better.

How do you tell if it’s just a breakout?

A common breakout is typically related to an array of factors: stress, hormones, lifestyle and hereditary genes. 

It’s also possible that your skin is telling you that your pores are seriously clogged. All that clogging results in microcomedone that develops into your whitehead, blackhead, pimples and — gasp — cystic acne.

A microcomedone’s life cycle is usually eight weeks, culminating in the appearance of bumps on the skin surface.

What causes purging?

The keyword here is “skin turnover rate”. Skin turnover is defined as the time whereby old skin cells are shed and replaced by new ones.

In the case of purging, the skin turnover cycle becomes accelerated. This leads to all those unseemly whiteheads, blackhead, pimples and cystic acne forming at an unnaturally quicker rate. 

Which part of the face does purging happen?

Usually in areas where you have existing microcomedone. This means areas where you usually get breakouts. A purge will make all those zits come to the surface faster.

How long is the purging process?

The timeframe you’re looking at should be about a month. During this period, patience is indeed a virtue. However, if you see no signs of improvement after six to eight weeks, it is sign that you should ditch the product.

Why is purging good for the skin?

Look at it this way: A purge accelerates the formation of microcomedone to the surface to treat pre-existing acne. By getting the gunk out of the way faster, so to speak, should clear the path for clearer skin days ahead.

Which ingredients cause purging?

We’re talking about active ingredients here. These include a long list of the following: benzoyl peroxide, enzyme exfoliant, retinoids (retinol, tretinoin, adapalene, isotretinoin), hydroxy acids (glycolic, salicylic, lactic, malic) and even treatments such as chemical peels and lasers.

The aforementioned ingredients are usually present in serums and treatment creams. Other products such as cleansers and moisturisers usually lack active ingredients, and thus, should not cause purging.

How to minimise the effect of purging?

For speedy recovery, keep your skin hydrated with a liberal use of moisturiser. Also, keep your cleansing as gentle as possible (no exfoliating cleanser or anything of that sort). And remember to protect your skin when you’re outdoors with sunscreen.


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