All about purging

Sometimes after starting a new product, your skin can break out in pimples. Whilst this can be alarming, it can also be confusing. Why is it happening? Is it a sign the product is working, or does it mean that you should stop? Here we cover what purging is, how to tell if you’re purging or breaking out, and what to do about it.

All about purging

What exactly is purging?

Purging is when pimples develop or worsen soon after starting to use certain active ingredients, such as retinoids or alpha or beta hydroxy acids. It occurs as your skin adjusts to the ingredients, and is often a sign that they’re working. The reason it happens is that these ingredients increase how quickly your skin cells turnover. This means that any acne that was already developing under the skin is brought to the surface more quickly. The ingredient isn’t actually causing you to get acne that you wouldn’t have otherwise, it’s just making it appear faster, and all at once. Purging usually lasts four to six weeks. 

How is purging different from a regular break out?

Purging happens when your skin is adjusting to a new product, and usually settles down on its own after four to six weeks. If you continue to use the product, your skin should improve. If you’re breaking out because of a product, the break outs usually won’t improve with ongoing use of the product, and may even get worse. 

How do I know if my skin is purging or breaking out?

Sometimes, you can develop pimples after starting a new product because you’re reacting to it negatively. This could be because it’s too oily or comedogenic for your skin, or is just irritating your skin. 

So how can you tell if you’re purging or just breaking out? Well, firstly look at what’s in the product, and whether it contains ingredients known to cause purging, like retinoids and alpha hydroxy acids. Then look at where the pimples are developing. Purging should only really cause pimples where you usually get them. If you’re getting pimples in places you don’t normally have them, it may be a sign that it’s a breakout. Finally, purging will usually settle down after four to six weeks of using a product. If it hasn’t, it may be a sign that it’s a breakout and the product isn’t right for you. 

How can I prevent purging from happening? 

To reduce the likelihood of purging, always introduce new products slowly, and only ever introduce one new product at a time.

 Help, my skin is purging! What can I do?

In most cases, purging will settle with time, without you needing to do anything. However, you can try reducing how often you’re using the product that’s causing it, and slowly increase use once the purging has settled. If your purging is really severe, you could try having a break from the product that is causing it, and restart it gradually once the purging has settled.




Spotlight on Skin was created by award-winning Melbourne-based dermatologist, Dr Julia Rhodes.

Julia knows first-hand how overwhelming the skincare world can be, and that’s with over 10 years of experience practicing dermatology. Given that even she gets overwhelmed, she appreciates how hard it can be for those of you without a scientific background to make sense of all the information available, and choose products that are right for your skin…