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skin purging vs breaking out

well it is the age old question....and we're here to answer it for you

skin purging vs breaking out

If you think about it, our skin is pretty amazing. 

It can tell us a lot of things from whether it's dry and needs some major moisturising to when it's craving a face mask and much-needed pamper time. The tricky part comes when it's time for us to listen to what our skin is saying. Like if we're being honest here (always), it's often hard for us to remember to take the bins out, let alone listen to our skin when it's crying out for some tlc. 

And on the occasions that we do actually stop and listen, are we even sure we're giving our skin what it really needs? After all, it can be soooo easy to pop on some serum, massage it in and call it a day. 

But what happens when our skin stops behaving as it should and starts throwing temper tantrums in the form of angry, red pimples popping up over all your face? I'll be the first one to admit that when I break out, I start to panic, like is my skin reacting to my new moisturiser? Do I need to change up my skincare routine? Ahhh I wish my skin could talk to tell me what's going on.

Sometimes it's really hard to know whether your skin is purging (sounds gross, we know) or just breaking out, and with the introduction of new skincare products, both  of these conditions are entirely possible. However, while skin purging may sound like something you never want to experience whilst also giving you flashbacks of when you thought it would be fun to watch the horror movie where crime becomes legal for 12 hours (we're still getting nightmares), it's actually not that bad for your skin. 

Alright, alright, we can explain. 

what is skin purging? 

Skin purging basically refers to your skin's reaction to a specific ingredient within a product that triggers cell turnover, also causing your skin to exfoliate and bring congestion to the surface, creating (you guessed it) breakouts. 

The good news about skin purging is that it's temporary and your breakouts should last for less time than normal. It's also a sign that the new products you've introduced are actually doing what they're supposed to, that is, clearing inflammation and leaving your skin clearer, youthful and fresh. 

what causes skin purging? 

If you're trying out a new skincare product that contains ingredients that resurface skin like acids, vitamin c or retinols, then your skin's cell renewal process has been sped up, resulting in a breakout purely from clogged pores rising to the surface. 

The skin cycle, on average, lasts around 30 days so don't automatically think your skin is breaking out if your acne symptoms last longer than that. Skin purging usually lasts up to 6 weeks. If you're still experiencing breakouts after that time then congrats, your skin hates you. 

There's really nothing that can be done to stop your skin from purging other than avoiding new and different skincare products but that just sucks all the fun out of life so yeah no. However you can try slowly introducing a new product into your routine so your skin has some time to adjust. This could mean you're only using that new facial oil once in the first week, twice in the second and so on, until you're using the product as regularly as you'd like to. 

If your skin is experiencing signs of purging then just keep your skincare routine simple to avoid further inflammation while you wait it out. 

the types of acne you can look forward to seeing while your skin is purging

We've already established that skin purging isn't creating acne, more just speeding up the acne process (your pimples were already forming under the surface, it's just the outcome of purging means they rise to the surface faster). 

The acne that you may experience during this time falls under the umbrella of 'inflammation acne', and this could materialise in a bunch of different acne forms. Inflammation acne occurs when excess oil (or sebum if you wanna get technical) mixes with the super cute gunk, grime and dead skin cells inside of your pores that in turn, creates bacteria known as P. acnes. 

When your body gets a whiff of this bacteria, it brings out the big boys (white blood cells), dispatching them to the area and encouraging them to fight off the bacteria in the same way it would if you to get a scrape or cut on your skin. 

This is how inflammation occurs and why pimples are often red, swollen and pus-filled. This means that acne from skin purging can materialise as pustules, whiteheads, blackhead or cysts. But remember, skin purging pimples last only a short period of time so like, there is a silver lining. 

the differences between a skin purge and a breakout 

It's important to note that not every skin reaction to a new product is your skin purging. Irritation may occur on your skin if the product is clogging your pores or triggering an allergic reaction, and because of this things, breakouts may also appear. 

We know this is confusing but we've put together a little guideline as to what to look out for to determine whether your skin is just doing its thang (purging) or if your skin's hatin' life (breaking out). 


One of the main ways to determine whether your skin is purging or breaking out is the duration the breakout. As we've already touched on, the acne caused by skin purging will last a shorter amount of time than normal breakouts. If the new product that you're using is causing your skin to breakout for longer than 4-6 weeks then that's an indication that the product isn't working and potentially making things worse for your skin. 

location, location, location 

Acne as a result of skin purging will occur in the places where you usually see  breakouts so if you've suddenly got pimples on your chin when they've never been there before, that's a sign that your skin is breaking out, not purging. 

active ingredients 

Another indicator as to whether your skin is purging or just breaking out, is the active ingredients in the new product you're using. Your skin typically purges as a result of chemicals that exfoliate your skin like retinols, acids and acne-fighting ingredients. If you new product doesn't have these ingredients in it, then chances are your skin is experiencing a traditional breakout. 

While there isn't a sure fire why to speed up purging or to avoid it, we can tell you that post-purge skin is definitely worth the wait.