The simultaneous joy and terror of using a new skincare product is unmatched (seriously, they should come up with a word for this feeling). Maybe we’ve finally found the serum that will take our skin from “okay” to “dewy dumpling”… or maybe we’ll wake up with some nice, juicy pimples.
But those two things are not necessarily exclusive, as in the case of purging. As they say, sometimes things have to get worse before they get better, so we just need to be patient and give our little serum the time it needs to work its magic.
On the flip side, if a product is making us break out, continuing to use it is not a good idea.
But how can we tell if a product is causing purging or clogging our pores? Although they may appear similar, there are some telltale distinctions between the two.
We tapped Renee Rouleau, celebrity aesthetician and founder of her eponymous skincare line, to—ahem—clear things up.
Purging vs. Breaking Out
“Purging can happen when you start using a new skincare product that increases the rate of cellular turnover,” Renee explains. “Because your skin cells are turning over more quickly, pre-existing clogged pores that might’ve taken weeks (or even months) to surface appear all at once. In short, you’re speeding up breakouts that were already going to happen at some point. Think of it as ‘cleaning out’ your pores. Whatever is already in there has to come out.
“Breakouts happen when a product or behavior is causing new clogged pores to form. This could be from using a moisturizer that’s too rich for your skin, not washing your face regularly, hormonal imbalances, or any other number of things.”
Signs of purging:
Renee says that you’ll only see purging when you introduce products with ingredients that increase cell turnover. “The most common culprits are exfoliating acids (for shedding old, expired cells) and retinol (for bringing fresh, new skin cells to the surface),” she explains. “Whatever is lurking in your pores will be pushed up and out faster when you’re using these ingredients.”
“Another good rule of thumb is to look at the location of the breakouts,” Renee says. “If you’re breaking out in the same areas you normally do, it’s more likely you’re purging existing clogged pores.”
She adds that, depending on the strength of the products you’re using and the severity of your clogged pores, purging should only last about four to six weeks. “If you’re not seeing any improvement after this point, you may want to regroup and reevaluate the products you’re using (or consult an aesthetician or dermatologist),” she advises.
Signs of a breakout:
“If you haven’t introduced products with any of the ingredients mentioned above (like exfoliating acids or retinol), it’s unlikely you’re experiencing purging,” Renee says.
Another major clue: “If breakouts occur in new areas, they’re less likely to be purging,” she adds.
How to Make Purging More Bearable
“Purging can be frustrating to work through, but the end result is rewarding. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to make the process more bearable,” Renee says.
“If you introduced exfoliating acids or retinol products, you can try using them less frequently. This will slow down the purging, but it will also draw the process out a little longer,” she explains.
“You can also use a companion product like Rapid Response Detox Masque to help manage purging,” she says. “This mask is hydrating and gentle enough to be used every day if needed. It helps manage the severity of breakouts by calming redness and inflammation. As a bonus, it has acne-fighting ingredients like tea tree oil and salicylic acid.” (P.S. Our wellness editor swears by this mask.)