Shout-out to all our skincare enthusiasts out there. We see you. We know you. We are you. But have we all considered that every time we switch up our products, test something out, or do a treatment, we are subjecting our skin to a possible purge? Which is exactly what it sounds like: a detox, a deep clean, an out-with-the-old. How that manifests, sadly, is typically a breakout.
A purge breakout is the ugly proof that whatever we’re trying out just might be working … or at the very least, our skin is trying desperately to assimilate, acclimate, and adjust to a new slurry of active ingredients. It’s also a common sign of exfoliating products. When we exfoliate, our skin cells turn over to reveal the newer skin beneath. Most pimples aren’t an instantaneous experience; many of them live below the skin, waiting to surface, so when we exfoliate we expedite their arrival.
However, purging rarely behaves the same as a hormonal or bacterial breakout, and shouldn’t be treated the same. That cluster of pimples around your jawline and forehead close to your period? Likely not a purge. Blackheads on the T-zone? Probably not a purge. So how do we know?
How to tell if you’re purging.
Purge breakouts are typically red, small, and sensitive bumps that can transform into whiteheads pretty quickly. They aren’t huge blistering boils, and they aren’t deep cystic undergrounders (thank Goddess). But they also can’t be precluded. We have to ride them out, especially if we are continuing to use the new products in question.
For example, new users of prescription retinoids will likely experience small papules and pustules in a red rash for the first few weeks, or even months of use. That’s because prescription-strength retinoids are pretty intense—irritation is not only common but expected, and can’t be sped up or prevented.
If you’re concerned that the product in question isn’t working as intended and you’re only purging, for a prolonged amount of time, it may be the moment to consider if continuing the new product is worth it. Chronic irritation and inflammation are not good for the skin barrier and can develop into dermatitis, which is typically a longer battle.
However, if you’re committed to the new product/ingredient and want to ride it out, try cutting back on other products in your typical routine that contain intensive active ingredients. Inflamed skin begs to be soothed, so adding more treatments can only intensify the issue.
Stick to cooler temps. Inflammation is essentially heat, and will intensify if you use hot water to wash your face or do a steam. It may be tempting to steam the skin to get rid of a purge breakout quicker, but remember that you can’t speed up the process, so the heat may only exacerbate the redness and tenderness. Use only cool water to rinse and cleanse the skin, and try an ice roller or cold compresses on the purging area to reduce redness and any swelling or pain.
As a rule of thumb with all breakouts, but especially during a skin purge, resist the urge to pick. Creating scarring and scabbing increases the redness and irritation, and could cause a purge to layer with a normal bacteria breakout due to exposed and wounded skin paired with incessant touching. It’s not an exciting solution, but your best bet is to leave it alone and ride it out.
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