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Post in Besides Beauty

Purging or Breaking Out Article:

A really good article I found about the difference between "purging" and "breaking out". For all the beauty-product testers out there who automatically disregard a product because they get pimples a few days after using I encourage you to read the following. Or for anyone who needs to understand the difference.


Purging is only possible if you are using products with active exfoliants, such as AHAs, BHAs, scrubs, peels, or retinoids. Why? Because exfoliation causes your skin to push the blockages inside of it out to the surface. Therefore, you can’t really “purge” from using a new moisturizer or new sunscreen. If you feel like you are "purging" after using a new moisturizer (or new product without any actives), you are probably just breaking out from the product.


What is purging?

Purging is defined as a worsening of your current skin condition. That means if you have clogged pores, they may turn into red pimples and active acne. If you have small pimples, they may turn into nastier, bigger ones. This initial breakout generally subsides anywhere from 2 weeks (with BHAs) to 6 weeks (with retinoids) and your skin gets better from there on.

However, if your breakouts last longer than 3 months, the new acne you are getting is probably not from purging. With purging, your symptoms get worse and then get better. If they get worse and stay worse, that is not purging. And if it's not purging, then you need to consider switching to a different product.


Purging vs. Breaking out

If you use a new product and start breaking out in places you normally don’t break out, then you are probably not purging. For instance, if your forehead is normally clear but you start getting acne there after using a new glycolic acid scrub and the breakouts don't subside after a few weeks, you are probably breaking out from the product. It is possible to break out in new areas of your face during the purging process, but if these breakouts continue for a long time without improvement, then you are just breaking out and should discontinue product usage.


Purging vs. Allergic reaction

If you start getting tiny red bumps and/or itchiness, then those are probably signs of allergy or irritation. Allergic reactions to products will usually go away with hydrocortisone cream, so if you use hydrocortisone and you still have bumps in places you normally don't break out after a few days, then it's probably the product that is breaking you out.


Purging vs. Irritation

How can you distinguish between initial purging and irritation? After all, even when you are purging, your skin is probably red because pimples that form are red, right? Well, irritation usually makes your skin feel hot, prickly, and sensitive. For example, if your skin stings when you wash your face with your regular cleanser or use your normal products, your skin is probably irritated.

To tell if your skin is irritated or purging, you can stop using the treatment product for a few days. If your skin feels calmer after taking a break, then your skin was probably irritated. If your skin is the same after not using the product for awhile (you might have to take a break for a couple of weeks), you either didn't take a long enough break or you really are purging or breaking out (purging = shorter time, breaking out = longer time).

People often irritate their skin by exfoliating too much, causing the natural skin barrier to be disrupted and grow vulnerable to bacteria. Stripping your skin and over-exfoliating are ways to self-induce acne and is why some people see their skin clear up after doing "nothing" for awhile. You also don't have to use an acne treatment every single day in order for it to work. Treatments can be effective even if you aren't being aggressive with your skin.


When should you stop using a new product?

It's hard to tell when you should give up on a product because you never really know how long any initial purging will last (if you are indeed purging). I usually give a new product 3 months, but expect to see some very slight improvement after 3-4 weeks. If I am still breaking out after 3 months (or if I don't see any sort of improvement after 3 weeks), I switch to something else. Three months is enough time for your skin to renew itself and push the would-be pimples out of your pores. And if it's not doing that, then it's just not working.



There isn't a definitive way to tell if you are purging, breaking out, having an allergic reaction, or experiencing irritation, but the above points will hopefully help you figure things out a bit better. A rule of thumb is, if you feel like you've been "purging" forever, you are probably just breaking out.

RE: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

Wow! That was super helpful! Thanks so much for the info!!!

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

I love this!! Good information, and it makes sense!! It is good for all of us to be informed consumers. It seems like any time I have to return a product because it breaks me out, I get the old "well, any time you use a new product you r skin takes a while to get used to it, and it will make you break out" um, just makes me break out.  

Thanks for sharing this for all of us!! 🙂

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

Uggg, I hate breaking out and I am in late 30's...when does it ever end? 

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

Finally, someone clearly and accurately defines the difference between breaking out and purging. A lot of people just shout that purging isn't' real, its not true etc. But if you simply follow the science you realize when using exfoliating products, what is in your pores is going to come to a "head" at a faster rate than your skin was previously on its own. Personally, I have a lot of flesh colored bumps that are driving me crazy. I don't suffer from true acne and never have but definitely have clogged pores due to makeup. I just started using a glycolic acid cleanser and slowly all of my clogged pores are coming to a head. In the past I would be tempted to stop using the product, but I know now that it simply part of the process and I need to give the products at least 2 to 3 weeks before dropping it. Plus I am not experiencing any irritation, redness or sensitivity. 

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

This info is critical, I'm so glad you posted it Cyll!


I'd like to add that many kinds of facial massage regimens will often cause an initial purging as a normal side effect too, but then after that it is unfortunately not uncommon to react from the massage cream and it's heaviness and just break out. They have to have enough slip not to tug at skin and those ingredients are often enough to break out oily skin. 


At one point, though I did not have active acne, I had 3 cystic lumps and the Shiseido massage regimen was enough to bring them out and let them come to a head and resolve when no OTC pimple medicine, mask or scrub had any effect. It also refined my enlarged pores to look more normal with fewer blackheads. However my then-oily but not breakout prone skin began to get sensitive and develop small whiteheads from the massage cream. SMH


Now that I'm a bit older, dryer, my face and neck can't tolerate anything like a clarisonic brush or even a too-rough cloth or cleansing puff, (it likes the AhA and BhA acids) I've been thinking of going back to a facial massage regimen. I know my skin will purge again at the startup so it's kind of a pain to choose a 6-week/2 month time to just let it erupt.


I have some cleansing oil samples coming from Shu Uemura too, I've heard the oil cleanse method will also promote an initial purge.


I should probably just grab some Dermablend and resolve to go at it in January, after the holidays.

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

I just started using the Dr. Dennis Gross Retinol & Ferulic Acid Brightening Solution, and I broke out into cystic acne. I do have acne prone oily skin, but I've been keeping it at bay for the lat few years (after taking accutane, my skin calmed down immensely). I usually get about 1 tiny pimple a week, and maybe a large one around my period. But after starting this product, I developed 5 large, under-the-skin, painful pimples. It's only been about a week since I started using it. Do you think that's my skin purging? My skin looks so much brighter and fresher already, save for these cysts. 

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

I looked at the ingredients in the product to see if there are any "active exfoliants" which is does have, so according to the article it would be "purging" since purging only happens with active exfoliants.

The article says when using retinoids, allow 6 weeks for improvement. Anything longer is breaking out. I always test my products for a month & a half regardless. Like I stated below, skin cells regenerate every 35 days. I also test my products behind my neck and ears & if I breakout there as well it is a sure sign of purging.

On a side note: Accutane is a form of Vitamin A called isotretinoin. The Dr.Dennis product you are using has retinol in it which is also a form of Vitamin A.

Medicines & drugs are always quick fixes. They hide the problem but it never actually goes away, it keeps coming back. While you think your acne is under control using accutane once you stop or try something else similar you are bound to purge. Dr. Dennis is less harsh than accutane and although it may take longer to see results than a medicinal skincare product I encourage you to stick with it. But DON'T use accutane & DDG at the same time. Too much Vitamin A is a bad thing. It's one of the vitamins that can cause toxicity.

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

I wish I could have seen this about a month ago.  I had mystery skin condition after some changes in  my skincare routine.  Turned out to be over-exfoliation, but it took me a few days and a post here, plus a post on a FB hair group I belong to before i figured it out.  I can't tell you how much time I spent agonizing over ingredients, etc. when all I had to do was step away from the Clarisonic for a while.

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

Clarisonic ruined my skin for months!  I was too stubborn to realize that my awful inflamed acne wasn't just part of the "normal purging process".  Now I don't exfoliate at all and my skin is much better.

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

I hardly ever use my clarisonic. Seems like a waste of money these days 😞

But I love exfoliating! It's good way to remove dead skin cell build-up.

If you ever get back into exfoliation you can always try chemical exfoliants that have no granules. There is also gentle exfoliators which I use & you can also make your own with just cinnamon and water.

I have a couple pictures in my album of gentle exfoliators I use with great success. If interested, check them out & give them a try.

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

I think the most important key in skincare maintenance and achieving a nice complexion is understanding your own skin and its needs.  It has taken me 30 years to figure this out!  🙂  I have finely been able to "read" my skin to better understand what it needs to be happy.  I know that my skin does not like oily products and I should avoid them.  Also, right now with the weather changing, I know I need to bump up my moisture level.  I used an oil-free cream last night instead of my normal mattifying lotion. 


My skin has always been able to take exfoliation well and needs it often.  I can feel my skin and know when it needs to be exfoliated.  I use my Clarisonic nightly to exfoliate, deep clean, and remove all the dirt and makeup.  I may use it less this winter or switch to a different brush head.


I'm also showing fine lines and wrinkles around my eyes and forehead.  I changed my skincare products to address these issues.


I'm still learning and all the information from everyone on BT has helped so much!  I read Dr. Leslie Baumann's book, The Skin Type Solution,  a few years ago.  She categorizes skin into 16 different skin types.  I am oily, sensitive (acne), pigmented (freckled), and wrinkled (need anti-aging products).  She gives you skincare ingredients and treatments that can help your skin and also ingredients/treatments you should avoid.  She has a website where you can take a questionnaire to determine your skin type.  The book was written in 2006, but it still has a lot of valuable information.  You might can find it in your local library.

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

Just when I thought I figured out my skin, a thing called menopause came along! 😉

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

Too funny!

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

Wow! Thanks so much! This purging/breaking out subject can be very confusing.. this makes it so clear now. 🙂

Wow! Thanks so much! This purging/breaking out subject can be very confusing.. this makes it so clear now. 🙂

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

Great article!  Even at 49, I still have acne issues and have to be very careful trying new products.  I try only one new product at a time.  That way, I can better determine if a product is causing breakouts or not.  Needless to say, I have a lot of foundation, primer, and skincare samples that have piled up for me to try.  Skincare products are much more difficult to determine because you're not quite sure if you are purging or reacting to the product. 


I think 3 months is a long time though to keep using something that may be causing breakouts.  Especially for me, since I don't usually have acne using my normal skincare and makeup products.


Thanks for posting!

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

I agree. I think three months is too long especially if you are purging/breaking out. I generally test my products for a little over a month.

In one of my college programs we were talking about how our skin cells regenerate every 35 days. Our skin being the largest organ in the body is also the fastest way to absorb nutrients & of course, the products we put on. So I would say 50 days is adequate enough to see results past the purging stage or find out if you're really just breaking out.

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

Hi, Cyll!  Thanks for sharing this information!  I'm in the same boat as @wingatprsct.  I also think 3 months is a bit long to let your skin be under those unpleasant circumstances.  I think it's important to know that your skin cells turnover in 35 days so you can take that into consideration as you contemplate what to do and what may be going on.

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

How is everyone hearting now? I keep trying to and can't.

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

@beautylovingirl We are working on the issue.  For now, if you switch to linear view you will be able to heart comments.

Re: Purging or Breaking Out Article:

How do I switch to it?

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