Breakouts and “skin purging” may appear the same [and come with the same frustrations] but they are actually completely different. Skin purging simply refers to the reaction some skin has to certain products, namely, retinols and acids. These specific ingredients are known as chemical exfoliants, and because they slough off that top layer of dead skin cells, new ones regenerate sooner than they would on their own, which can bring blockages to the surface and cause irritation and breakouts. On a more positive note, at least you know that the products are doing what they are supposed to, which is bring the “junk” to the surface and clear the pipes (so to speak).  

Typical breakouts are a result of a variety of other factors such as excess sebum production, hormones, and using comedogenic products or oils.  This is different from a skin purge which would essentially help correct future breakouts (even though they might look similar).  

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do after a skin purge begins.  However, many dermatologists recommend slowly introducing new products into your regimen as a way of letting your skin adjust.  It is a common misconception with chemical exfoliants (such as the ones in Serum 11) that they are making you breakout but the reality is they are forcing the breakout to come to the surface quicker because the ingredients are promoting cell renewal. 

According to Dr. Sapna Palep of Spring Street Dermatology in New York City, there are a few ways to identify whether you are breaking out or purging.

  • Location: You should be breaking out in the same spots your normal do.  If you see signs in a new area that may be an indication that there is a reaction happening.
  • Time Frame: Purging has a much shorter life span than regular acne or breakouts.  If you start using a product with chemical exfoliants known for purging and the breakout is lasting for weeks on end, it may be a sign that you are having a reaction to the product (not purging).
  • Actives: The active ingredients are the biggest marker.  If you are using products that you know promotes purging you can at least start there.  If your hydrators or sunscreens, which may contain for example a comedogenic oil, are making you breakout it is very unlikely that your skin is going through a purge but rather a traditional breakout. 
Written by Allyson Welch
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