Health

How to know the difference between skin purging and breakouts

If you’re currently experiencing a brand spankin’ new breakout on your face, it may not be a breakout at all — it may be your skin purging. What exactly is skin purging, we hear you ask? “A skin purge is the process of the skin cleaning out its pipes,” board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Sapna Palep of Spring Street Dermatology in New York City, told Byrdie. 

Board-certified dermatologist Michele J. Farber, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group agreed, explaining to Well+Good that “Skin purging happens when new ingredients, like retinol, promote increased cell turnover, which causes clogging and worsening breakouts.” Farber added, “This is particularly the case as oil and debris that is trapped deeper underneath the skin comes to the surface.” Yikes!

But if skin purging can clog our pores and cause or (at the very least) worsen our breakouts, how are we expected to know the difference between skin purging and breakouts?

Skin purging often occurs when you introduce a new product to your skincare regimen

“A purge generally happens shortly after introducing a new acne ingredient, while a new breakout may occur with stress, your cycle, or introducing a new skin-care product like makeup, serum, or overly thick moisturizer,” Dr. Farber told Well+Good. In other words, if you’re experiencing a breakout after integrating a new product into your skincare regimen, it’s a good sign your skin is simply reacting to it (read: purging).

Another giveaway is if your breakout clears up faster than usual. “The life cycle of the acne (that occurs during a purge) is faster than a regular breakout,” Dr. Palep told Byrdie. “It will heal much quicker than in a typical breakout,” she added. While both breakouts and purging can bring pimples, blackheads, and redness to your skin, their location can be a big clue. According to Byrdie, purging typically causes zits in your most acne-prone areas. So, if you’re breaking out in new places on your skin, it’s likely not purging.

But be warned: “If you start a new product that is known for purging, but the breakouts are lasting longer than 4-6 weeks … it may signal the product is not working for you or actually making things worse,” Dr. Palep said. Ultimately, it’s all about monitoring your skin the next time you introduce a new skincare product.

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