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what causes skin purging

What Causes Skin Purging and How to Know If it’s Happening to You

Don’t know if your skin is purging or simply breaking out? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about purging and what’s causing it.

Sometimes, things have to get worse before they can get better. This applies to life in general, but can also apply to situations involving your skin. Specifically, skin purging. 

Skin purging happens when you introduce a particular product or ingredient into your routine and your skin starts to break out. But this isn’t your typical stray pimple here or there, in this case, it’s a whole crop of them. “A breakout can appear after you eat junk food or from stress,” Dr. Jessie Cheung, an Illinois-based dermatologist, explains. “A purge is more a class of pimples graduating at the same time and coming to the skin’s surface.” The thing that prompts these pesky breakouts to show up is ingredients that are meant to promote cell turnover, like retinoids, glycolic and salicylic acids, and chemical peels. “Usually when you start using those products for the first time, you’re prompting that cell turnover and the pimples—or the clogged pores—come to the surface at the same time,” Dr. Cheung says. “It’s kind of like resetting the skin cycle.”

Because the skin needs time to reset and, essentially, push the gunk out of your pores and adjust to the new products, purges can last for around six weeks (it usually starts in the first couple of weeks of using a new product). But, Dr. Cheung says that it shouldn’t go on for more than two months. If it does, your skin simply might not agree with the product or there could be something else going on.

Over-exfoliation is often confused with purging, so reassess your routine and see if there are any products, such as a chemical exfoliant, that you can pull back on. Read more on that here.

“Dermatologists know that skin is the window into your internal health,” she says. “So, yes, you may just have a regular pimple from trying some new products, but we like to say ‘okay, is this issue going on due to things beyond skin? How’s your internal health? Are you deficient in your iron?’ Your skin needs nutrition to function and heal. So, maybe you notice the purge coinciding with some hair loss or you’re gaining weight or you’re getting more dried out than usual, there’s always something internally that we can work on.” And in that case, it’s best to go to your dermatologist for advice and guidance. 

In some cases, a person might not want to deal with the process of purging and instead forego using the product altogether. You can totally do that, but Dr. Cheung says it’s best to let the purge run its course. “If you stop using the product that ignited the purging, it should slow down, but sometimes once you start the fire it will keep on going no matter what,” she shares. “If you stop using the product, it can continue on for a month or so for some people.” There are things you can use to calm down some of the breakouts, like topical antibiotics and steroids or anti-inflammatory products. Again, Dr. Cheung suggests consulting your dermatologist on what might be best for your situation. 

The worst thing you can do, in the thick of a purge, is to attack it with other products. “There are some people who, as soon as they notice that they’re purging, they go crazy and they’ll throw everything at their face to calm things down and that sometimes makes it even more angry and irritated and dried out,” she says. If anything, she suggests simplifying your routine which will avoid intervening with the purge and help it along. “Initially it may look horrible, but over time you’ll get better,” Dr. Cheung says. Just remember: Patience is a virtue and good skin doesn’t happen overnight.

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