what is skin purging

What Is Skin Purging: Pros, Cons, and How To Best Treat It

Skin purging may look scary, but it's actually a good thing. Here's what causes it, and how it benefits your skin for the long run.
Updated: March 10, 2023
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Are you noticing some unwanted breakouts after starting a new skincare routine? It might be a sign of skin purging. While it sounds alarming, it’s actually a common process that can happen when introducing new products to your skincare regimen.

Today, we’ll explore what skin purging is, what causes it, and most importantly, how to deal with it.

So, let’s dive in!

What causes skin purging

Skin purging is a process where your skin breaks out or experiences a flare-up due to the use of new skincare products. It happens when these products speed up the skin’s natural exfoliation process and unclog pores, causing all the impurities to come to the surface.

Several factors can trigger skin purging. One of the main causes is the use of active ingredients like retinoids, AHAs, BHAs, and Vitamin C, which accelerate cell turnover and remove dead skin cells. This process can cause some irritation, leading to breakouts and redness.

Another cause can be switching to a new brand or product line with different ingredients. Your skin might need some time to adjust to these new components, leading to temporary breakouts. Additionally, over-exfoliating or using too many new products at once can also trigger a purge.

It’s essential to note that skin purging only happens in areas where you commonly get breakouts, and it usually lasts for about 4-6 weeks.  If you experience a sudden breakout in new areas, it might be a sign of something else.

Here are some common active ingredients that can trigger skin purging:

  • Retinoids (e.g., tretinoin, adapalene)
  • Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) (e.g., glycolic acid, lactic acid)
  • Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) (e.g., salicylic acid)
  • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
  • Benzoyl peroxide

Note that not everyone will react to these ingredients in the same way.  It’s always best to patch-test and gradually introduce new products to your skincare routine to avoid any adverse reactions.[1]

What’s the difference between skin purging and breakouts?

It’s easy to confuse skin purging with a regular breakout, but there are some key differences.

Skin purging usually occurs when you introduce new skincare products, and it happens in areas where you typically get breakouts. It’s a sign that your skin is adjusting to the new products and eliminating bad stuff.  On the other hand, regular breakouts can happen for a multitude of reasons. These include hormonal changes, stress, and diet. They can appear in different areas of the face, not necessarily where you usually get breakouts.

So, how can you tell the difference between skin purging and regular breakouts? Here are some signs to look out for:

  1. Skin purging usually happens within a few days of starting a new skincare product, whereas regular breakouts may occur randomly.
    It typically affects areas where you usually get breakouts, whereas regular breakouts can occur in different areas of the face.
  2. Breakouts can take a lot longer to clear up.
  3. Skin purging may cause small, whitehead-like bumps or blackheads, whereas regular breakouts may include pimples, cysts, or nodules.

The benefits

Skin purging may seem like a frustrating experience, but it can actually be a good thing for your skin. Here are some reasons why:

  • Skin purging is a natural process that helps to unclog pores and remove impurities from the skin.
  • By speeding up the exfoliation process, skin purging can help to reveal brighter, smoother, and more radiant-looking skin.
  • The use of active ingredients that can cause skin purging, such as retinoids and AHAs, have been shown to improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation over time.
  • It can help to reduce the frequency and severity of future breakouts by getting rid of the underlying problems that can cause them.
  • When done correctly, introducing new skincare products and experiencing skin purging can be a sign that you’re taking good care of your skin and investing in its long-term health and appearance.

Remember, while it may be a positive sign for your skin, it’s important to introduce new products gradually and patch test to avoid any adverse reactions.

Additionally, it’s crucial to listen to your skin and adjust your routine as needed to maintain its health and appearance.

The disadvantages

While skin purging can be beneficial for your skin in the long run, it can also be an uncomfortable experience.  Here are some possible disadvantages to keep in mind:

  • Skin purging can cause irritation, redness, dryness, or flakiness, especially if you’re using new products with active ingredients that your skin isn’t used to.
  • It can look unsightly, with small whiteheads or blackheads appearing in clusters on your face.
  • It may take time to clear up and require extra effort to keep your skin clean and hydrated during this period.
  • If you’re prone to acne or sensitive skin, skin purging can exacerbate these issues and make them worse.
  • In some cases, skin purging may not be the result of introducing new skincare products, but rather a sign of an underlying skin condition that requires medical attention.

How to best treat purging skin

There are several things you can do to help soothe and treat your skin during the dreaded purge. Here are some handy tips:

  • Stick to gentle, non-comedogenic skincare products that won’t further irritate your skin. Look for formulations that are free of harsh ingredients like alcohol, fragrances, and sulfates.
  • Avoid over-exfoliating your skin, which can make skin purging worse. Instead, use a mild cleanser and a gentle exfoliating product, like a chemical exfoliant, once or twice a week.
  • Keep your skin hydrated with a lightweight, non-greasy moisturizer. This can help to minimize dryness and flakiness.
  • Apply a soothing, anti-inflammatory ingredient like aloe vera or chamomile to help calm irritated skin.
  • Consider using a spot treatment to target individual breakouts. Look for ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, which can help to reduce inflammation and kill acne-causing bacteria.
  • Finally, be patient and gentle with your skin. Skin purging can take time to clear up, so try not to stress about it too much. Instead, focus on maintaining a consistent skincare routine that’s gentle and nourishing for your skin.


Skin purging can be intimidating and even scary, but it’s important to remember that it’s a natural part of the skin’s renewal process. When your skin is adjusting to new products or treatments, it’s common for it to purge impurities and breakouts. While this can be frustrating to deal with, it’s a sign that your skin is on its way to better health and appearance.

By understanding the various causes of this process, you can differentiate it from regular breakouts and take steps to manage it. While it can be tempting to aggressively treat your skin during this period, using gentle, nourishing skincare products is always the best course of action.

It’s important to be patient with your skin and give it the time and care it needs to heal and renew. Remember that everyone’s skin is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different products and treatments until you find a skincare routine that works for you.

At the end of the day, the key to healthy, glowing skin is consistency, patience, and a little bit of self-love. By taking care of your skin and being kind to yourself, you can achieve the beautiful, healthy complexion you deserve.

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This article has been reviewed by the in-field experts on our Medical Content Advisory Board to ensure everything is up-to-date and accurate.