How To Tell If Your Skin is Purging or Breaking Out
I often get messages from people detailing how a product (or ingredient, especially in terms of coconut oil) makes their skin "purge" before it improves. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about our skin and purging versus breaking out, so I hope to put those to rest today once and for all, and help you decipher whether or not your skin is actually purging, or if it just plain ol' doesn't like the product you're using.
First, purging is not a myth. Your skin can and does purge.
But, not how you might think.
A lot of companies that boast being "all-natural" or "chemical-free" (see my blog post about the chemical-free myth here) also like to claim that their products cause purging due to some kind of a skin "detox". This is false, plain and simple. Essentially, these companies are using the guise of purging to mask the fact that it likely has less-than-ideal ingredients. That way, if your skin breaks out, they'll just tell you that it's normal, and that it's just purging and if you stick to it, it will get better. Your skin does not and will not "purge" unless there is some kind of ingredient in the product you're using which increases skin cell turnover, which we will get into next.
How Can I Tell If My Skin is Purging or Breaking Out?
Although it may seem so, the difference between purging and breaking out is unfortunately not always very clear.
Essentially, if a product speeds up the rate at which skin cells are shed and replaced, then it's possible that this product could be causing purging. If a product speeds up skin cell turnover, then the entire skin cell cycle will speed up as well, and clogged pores have the potential to turn into pimples much quicker. This only means that lesions that were already present, waiting patiently to surface, will surface all at once or in clusters.
But after this initial breakout or "purge", things should slowly but consistently improve, not only improve from the point of purging, but it should also improve your skin compared to what it was before you started the product.
Some ingredients and products that can cause "purging":
- AHAs & BHAs (glycolic acid, malic acid, salicylic acid)
- benzoyl peroxide
- vitamin C
- retinoids (tretinoin, isotretinoin, retinol)
For example, anyone who has ever used tretinoin or isotretinoin can attest to the fact that your skin does go through a purging phase. The skin will break out, usually quite a lot, but mostly in the regular places (if you don't ever get pimples on your forehead, you wouldn't usually purge on your forehead).
Conversely, if your skin is breaking out, your acne either consistently gets worse, or becomes worse and doesn't improve. Also, it's common to start breaking out in new places with these products, whereas with purging you tend to break out worse in the usual areas. In the past, as I've tried new products (dealing mostly with hormonal acne around my mouth), I've started breaking out on my forehead, on my cheeks, etc. This was a red flag for me, and I knew immediately it was a breakout caused by a product that wasn't suited for my skin. I was quickly able to tell that these forehead pimples were out of the ordinary, and that I needed to stop using that product. However, this is where things can become a little cloudy, because even breakouts can cause worsened acne in the usual areas. For example, if a product contains no active cell-stimulating ingredients, but contains an irritant like SLS or irritating plant extracts, the added inflammation can make acne in your usual areas even worse. This is usually when little blackheads and whiteheads turn into pustules and nodules. As you can see, this may make deciphering between breaking out and purging a little more difficult.
Regardless, keep this quick-reference in mind:
- if your skin breaks out more than normal, but in the usual places, and is progressively getting better - it's likely that your skin is just purging
- if your skin breaks out more than normal, but not in the usual places, and is not getting better - it's likely that your skin is breaking out
- if your skin breaks out more than normal, but in the usual places, but is not getting better - it's likely that your skin is breaking out
- if your skin breaks out more than normal, and you're using a new product with ingredients that stimulate cell turnover - it's likely that your skin is purging
- if your skin breaks out more than normal, and you're using a new product with NO ingredients that stimulate cell turnover - it's likely that your skin is breaking out
What Do I Do If My Skin is Purging?
Thankfully, purging shouldn't last long. Most purging lasts for only about a month, which is the amount of time that it takes for your skin to renew. If your skin is purging, you need to stick with the new routine/product - use it as much as you're supposed to, according to directions. Using products improperly can exacerbate purging and breakouts.
Remember that even if a product does have the potential ingredients to purge, doesn't mean it's just purging - these products still have the potential to cause actual breakouts and irritation, and this is why it's important to only try one new product at a time, and give it due time to work.
What Do I Do If My Skin is Breaking Out?
If your skin isn't improving after 6-8 weeks of use, you need to ditch that product immediately, because it's just not right for your skin for whatever reason.
Once you stop using that product, go back to your "normal" or old skin care routine before the new product to return some consistency and normalcy back to your skin before trying another new product. Now would be a good time to ante up your routine, as well - start cleansing in the morning and at night, use a good face mask like the Banish Pumpkin Enzyme Masque, use a good moisturizer full of antioxidants like this one, and don't over-do it with spot treatments.
Hopefully now you're well-equipped to understand the difference between purging and breaking out.