How to tell if you're Purging or Breaking Out

difference of purging and breaking out

 By VeganAcneSufferers

Many people believe that skin purging is a myth, but this is simply not true. Your skin can – and does – purge. It can, however, be difficult to tell if this skin purge is good for your skin, or if it simply does not like the new product you are using.

Your skin will not “purge” unless there is an ingredient in the product which increases skin cell turnover. 

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about skin purging and breakouts when trying new products, and what you should do if it turns out your skin is breaking out rather than purging.

Certain Acne Ingredients And Exfoliants Can Cause Purging

There are several ingredients and products that can cause skin purging which are listed below. Many skin care treatments will advertise these ingredients, but others may hide it in their ingredients list, so it is important to look through the ingredients label to see if your product contains these chemical exfoliants or acne fighting ingredients.

Some ingredients and products that can cause skin purging are:

  • AHAs & BHAs (glycolic acid, malic acid, salicylic acid)
  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Vitamin C
  • Retinoids (tretinoin, isotretinoin, retinol)
  • Exfoliants

Anyone who has ever used tretinoin or isotretinoin can attest that your skin does go through a “purging” phase. The skin will break out, usually quite a lot, but often in the usual breakout zones. For example, if you never get pimples on your forehead, your pores are likely  healthy in that area, so the skin would not begin to purge on your forehead. 


What Is Skin Purging?

A skin purge is a reaction the skin has to certain ingredients that are considered  exfoliants. These ingredients, namely retinols and acids, take away the top layer of dead skin cells so the new cells underneath can regenerate sooner than they would on their own.

This process of exfoliation and regeneration is known as cell turnover, which is a natural process the body goes through. These chemical exfoliants speed up the cell turnover process.

Unfortunately, this can cause breakouts and blockages to come to the surface sooner, as the skin underneath is brought to the surface.

Ingredients that may irritate skin can also cause what looks like purging.  This is because irritated skin is more likely to get inflamed and break out, but with continued use skin can get accustomed to the ingredient and not irritated anymore. 

What Does Skin Purging Look Like?

Skin purging can easily be mistaken for an acne breakout. Skin purging tends to look like clusters of small red inflamed bumps on the skin which may be filled with pus. They may also be surrounded by whiteheads near them. 

The good news, however, is that these breakouts are temporary. A real skin purge should leave your skin feeling looking refreshed and improved after a period of 5 weeks which is a sign that the products you chose are working.

How To Tell If Your Skin Is Purging Or Breaking Out

There are several ways you can tell if your skin is purging or if you are breaking out. Below is a checklist to help you determine which process your skin is going through right now:

  • If your skin breaks out more than normal, but in the usual places, and the breakout is getting progressively better, it is likely that your skin is purging.
  • If your skin breaks out more than normal, but not in the usual places, and it is not getting better, it is likely that your skin is breaking out.
  • If your skin breaks out more than normal in the usual places and it is not getting better, it is likely that your skin is breaking out.
  • If your skin is breaking out more than normal and you are using a new product that contains ingredients that stimulate cell turnover, it is likely that your skin is purging.
  • If your skin breaks out more than normal and you are using a new product without ingredients that stimulate cell turnover, your skin is likely breaking out.

How Long Does Skin Purging Last?

The skin’s average cycle lasts about 30 days, meaning every month, a layer of your skin cells comes off and new cells are exposed on the surface. Everyone’s skin is a little different and the skin cycle tends to slow down a bit as we get older. The difference is minimal but can cause changes to how long skin purging lasts.

Skin purging lasts for 4-6 weeks depending on your skin’s typical cell turnover cycle and how heavily the pores are blocked underneath the surface of the skin. If your skin is purging, the irritation will stop after that, as the clogged pores have had time to rise to the surface and clear out, leaving you with healthy, unclogged pores.

If your skin has shown irritation for longer than 6 weeks after starting a new product, you are most likely breaking out rather than purging.

purging skincare ingredients

What Do I Do If My Skin Is Purging?

Thankfully, skin purging should not last long and will stop within 4-6 weeks. 

If your skin is purging, you should stick with the new routine and or product that initially caused the purge. Use the product as much as you are supposed to according to the directions on the bottle. 

Remember that even if a product does have the potential ingredients to purge your skin, it does not mean that the skin is purging. These same ingredients still have the potential to cause breakouts. Because of this, it is important to only try one new product at a time and give it the full time to work, so you can determine which products your skin responds well to, and which cause breakouts.

What Do I Do If My Skin Is Breaking Out?

If your skin does not begin to improve after 6-8 weeks of using the new product, it is time to ditch that product immediately. For one reason or another, that product is just not right for your skin and causing breakouts. 

Once you stop using that product, go back to your previous routine before trying the breakout causing product.  This will give your skin time to return to normalcy and give you a baseline to start with a new product.

Because your skin is breaking out, now would also be a good time to up the ante on your normal routine, as well – cleansing in the morning and at night, avoiding overuse of spot treatments, and using a good moisturizer full of antioxidants is a great start.

How Can You Treat Breakouts?

Treating breakouts is a difficult battle that is unique to every individual. If you were using a new product before the breakout occurred, you should return to your normal skincare routine. If you did not have a skincare routine, you should wash your face twice a day – in the morning and at night – with a cleansing face wash.

Keep skin hydrated, exfoliate gently 1-3 times a week and try to get enough sleep each day. If your breakouts are not getting any better, it is important to see a dermatologist to help decipher what your skin needs to see results.

When you are breaking out, it can be tempting to pop pimples and zits that show up, but it is important to resist this temptation. Popping these zits can worsen acne and leave behind acne scars.

purging or breaking out 

 In general, use products that are right for your skin type. Dry skin types, for example, should use products that help soothe and moisturize the face and are usually fine with heavier products or oil containing products, while oily skin types should still hydrate but look for sebum controlling and water based products to add moisture back to skin.

Hopefully, now you're well-equipped to understand the difference between purging and breaking out.





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I first got acne in high school, and it came back in my early adulthood. I was able to struggle through those difficult times and come out of it a stronger, wiser, healthier person as a result. I'm here to help you do the same thing!

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Simi smith

Simi smith

Hello I need help, so I’ve been using a natural skin care but wasn’t working so much, so I introduced a retinol serum ans well as birth control and now I’m breaking out/purging I don’t know if it’s purging or breaking out I tend to break out all over my face at different times, but rn it’s all over and it’s also very dry rn.



I experience breakout for second time. But it is a lot at my forehead where it is started as tiny bumps and whiteheads. I dont know why it is happen. I just assume maybe it is because i change my facial wash and i go to facial and the product that they used for my face is not suitable for me. So, i try a new facial wash and it also does not give me any changes and i already used it for a month. Still there is acne at my forehead and sometimes there will ne acne around my cheek and above the lip area. Sowhat should i do?? I also want to try to used cosrx product that is aha whitehead power liquid lotion for my whitehead because i have a lot of it and i try to search how i want to get rod of it so they recommend this and also clay mask for my acne. Is that a good step ??for your info after breakout i try to make my routine more simple where i dont used my toner before becauss it contans lots of alcohol and i also wash my face 2 times a day because before this i just watch whenever i feel uncomfortable. I also try to avoid too much alcohol ingredients and dangeeous ingredient at my skicare. Your opinion is highly appreciated.



I would add that it’s important to reconsider duration of time when talking about whether something is or isn’t getting better, at least in certain cases. I used tretinoin (with AMAZING success) but it took 8 months and 7 of those were horrible purging. As far as I know that’s a pretty typical story for tretinoin users. Was it worth it? For me, yes. Acne I had had for ~12 years is finally gone. But if I had thought after 2 months that it must have not been working I’d have never gotten the results I desired.

Tiffany Norris

Tiffany Norris

One of the few products I know they actually work. I don’t have a severe case of acnes but sporadically my skin breaks out. Dermalmd Blemish Serum not only solved the issue but it also leaves a nice dry feeling on the skin that I particularly appreciate as my skin has the tendency to feel oily. It solved my issues in 3/4 days



This looks like good info.
Could you cite your sources?

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