Skin purging is a thing. Think of it like a spring clean for your complexion – it takes grunt and grit to get through but offers oodles of sparkly, shiny benefits once the job is done. Purging can result in pesky pimples but it’s not your run-of-the-mill acne, it’s more like the much-needed detox you had to have on the road to clear skin. But we see your dilemma: how can you tell if a sudden skin freak-out is a purge or a breakout? Here’s how to spot the difference:
Ah-ha! That’s how it works
Certain skincare ingredients can send your natural skin cell turnover into fast-forward mode, forcing the microcomedones underneath the skin’s surface to come up faster than usual. In other words, it’s your baby pimples ‘growing up’ at a speedier rate than they normally would on their own. That’s purging in a nutshell.
What ingredients cause purging?
Anything that makes your skin cells turn over faster can cause skin purging, so generally those with exfoliating benefits, such as retinoids (Vitamin A), Vitamin C (a very gentle acid that can slough off dead superficial skin) and hydroxy acids (glycolic acid, malic acid and salicylic acid). These ingredients all have one thing in common: they help you shed dead skin cells faster so that they don’t stick around and clog up your pores.
If your skin is purging, it’s usually going to do it in the same areas that you most commonly get spots anyway. That’s because the product is not causing pimples, it’s simply hastening an existing clogged pore to the surface – it would have eventually appeared anyway, but the purging effect of exfoliating ingredients speeds the whole process up.
Conversely, if you’re suddenly getting red angry spots in areas you don’t normally see any, and you’re not using a new skincare product that speeds up cell turnover, then it could be a telltale sign that it’s a reactive breakout rather than a simple purge.
The purging pattern
Not only does purging bring the spot to the surface faster than it otherwise would have appeared on its lonesome, that spot should also clear more quickly than a regular pimple.
But, quite honestly, that process requires some grit. It could take anywhere between two to six weeks and will generally go like this: If your skin freaks out at first but then improves after 4-6 weeks (and even looks better than it used to!), it’s probably a purge.
If your skin continues to stay red, itchy or irritated after six weeks with no sign of improvement, it’s a good idea to go and see a skin pro to check if you’re reacting to something. It’s hard to tell the difference at first, so the key is to be patient – if you give up too early you won’t get the full long term benefits of a purge.
Achtung! The red flag
Look closely at the colour of the spots: skin purging is often characterised by blackheads or small skin-coloured bumps, while acne tends to be red and swollen. But that’s not a hard-and-fast rule – purging can appear in the form of pustules, papules and cysts for some people.
Timing can also be crucial – if you usually get hormonal breakout around your monthly cycle, wait until that bout of breakout clears before using a new product. After all, you don’t know how your skin might react to something new on a good day let alone when it’s already unhappy.
What to do
A soothing skincare product with anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredients can help calm skin (potent native Australian extracts, such as Kakadu Plum are brilliant breakout fighters!)
Before you use a product, always check the label to ensure it doesn’t contain common irritants (things like fragrance, or petroleum). It’s also wise to apply sunscreen separately in case your skin reacts to certain types of SPF. Keep your routine simple – sometimes an angry skin outburst can be the combination of too many products with active ingredients that don’t like each other.
Above all, be patient. There is light at the end of the purging tunnel – the gorgeous all-clear-now glow you’ve been hoping for!