Have you ever tried a new skincare product, only to discover that it makes your skin flare up with pimples? This could be your skin purging, or it could be your skin reacting to the product and having a regular breakout.
Purging is when your skin is adjusting to the new product. Persevering with the product will eventually make your skin better – in fact, the sudden crop of pimples means that it’s working as intended.
A regular breakout is when your skin is reacting because it’s sensitive to something in the product. It could be clogging your pores, or causing an allergy, or just plain old irritation. Continuing with the product will just make the situation worse.
If your skin is purging, you need to keep going.
If your skin is reacting with a breakout, you need to stop using the product.
How do you tell the difference? Here’s the lowdown:
How a pimple forms
To understand the difference between purging and plain old breakouts, we need to understand how they happen.
Firstly, we need to look at how a pimple forms. A pore becomes clogged – usually by dead skin cells that don’t detach and get to the surface properly – and forms what’s called a microcomedone.
Microcomedones aren’t visible at the surface of the skin. Sometimes they’ll develop into a whitehead, blackhead, pimple or full-blown cyst. Sometimes they’ll go away on their own without you noticing.
It can take up to 8 weeks for a microcomedone to surface.
Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Website, OpenStax College
How purging happens
Here’s how purging can actually work. If a product speeds up skin turnover (the rate at which skin cells are shed and replaced), then the entire cycle will be accelerated.
This means microcomedones will turn into whiteheads, blackheads, pimples or cysts more quickly, so you’ll suddenly see a rush of blemishes rearing their ugly heads.
If the product is irritating (which most skin turnover-accelerating products are), some microcomedones that weren’t going to show up might join the party too. This is because inflammation is one of the factors causing acne.
However, these microcomedones were in the skin before you started the new product, not new blockages caused by the product.
Now, remember how the microcomedone started as dead skin cells that didn’t detach and get to the surface properly? Products that increase skin turnover target this exact process to treat acne!
So as the product starts to work, less microcomedones should form, and after the initial angry-volcano stage your skin should become clearer than when you started the product.
How a reactive breakout happens
On the other hand, a reaction will occur when the product is either causing new clogged pores, or increasing irritation without an improvement in how your skin is functioning. This is because your skin is sensitive to it.
New clogged pores means more blemishes overall, while irritation means inflammation. These contribute to a larger proportion of your microcomedones flaring up.
There’s a small chance that your skin will get used to the product over time, but most of the time you’ll just cause further damage and it’s time to find a better product.
A lot of “all-natural” companies like to claim that their products are causing purging because your skin is detoxifying from all the synthetic chemicals you’ve been using previously – this is a big fat lie. Why would your skin suddenly get angry about having less synthetic chemicals on it? (Even if synthetic chemicals were bad – which they’re not!)
Related Post: Video: Are Natural Beauty Products Better?
Unless there’s something increasing skin turnover in the natural skincare product (e.g. fruit acids, which contain AHAs), the more likely explanation is that there’s an irritating ingredient giving your skin grief.
Related Post: Video: Are Natural Beauty Products Better?
Is it purging or a plain old breakout?
There are a few things to consider to work out if it’s purging or a reactive breakout, and therefore whether you should dump your product or persevere. A lot of the time it can be difficult to tell which it is, but hopefully these guidelines can help you narrow it down.
What sort of product is it?
Products containing active ingredients that increase skin turnover can cause purging.
Purging is a well-documented response to tretinoin, for example, although you won’t find the term “purging” used in the scientific journals (they use descriptions like “exacerbation of inflammatory lesions at the start of treatment” or “initial flare up of acne lesions (acne flaring)”).
Active ingredients and treatments that increase skin turnover include:
- Hydroxy acids: These are found in chemical exfoliants and include alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs, such as glycolic, lactic, malic, and mandelic acids), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs such as salicylic acid, lipohydroxy acid) and polyhydroxy acids (PHAs such as lactobionic acid and gluconolactone). Sometimes these can also be called “fruit acids”.
- Retinoids: These are derivatives of vitamin A found in many anti-aging products. Examples include retinol, retinal (retinaldehyde), tretinoin (Retin-A), adapalene (Differin), tazarotene, isotretinoin, retinyl retinoate, retinyl palmitate, hydroxypinacolone retinoate (Granactive Retinoid)
- Benzoyl peroxide: Found in anti-acne products including spot treatments, gels and cleansers
- Physical exfoliants: Scrubs, brushes, peeling gels (although these can also be irritating)
- Enzyme exfoliants: “Enzyme masks”, bromelain, papain, actinidin, pumpkin extract, papaya extract, kiwi extract
- In-clinic treatments like chemical peels, lasers, and microdermabrasion
Most other products, like moisturisers and cleansers without these actives, won’t be able to cause purging and it’s likely to be a breakout. You should switch to a different product.
Related: The Essential Guide to Exfoliation
Where are the breakouts occurring?
If it’s purging, it should only make pre-existing microcomedones come to the surface faster, so if you’re breaking out in places where you don’t normally experience breakouts, it’s likely that the product is wrong for you.
However, if it’s an irritating product, it could be making the type of acne you’re experiencing worse.
For example, an area where you used to have clogged bumps and whiteheads could start developing full-blown pimples thanks to the extra inflammation.
Related Post: How to Use Instagram as a Skin Diary
How long is the purge?
Purging should only last for about a month, since that’s the length of time it takes for your upper skin layers (epidermis) to completely renew itself.
If your skin isn’t getting better after around 6-8 weeks with the new product, it’s a good sign that it’s a breakout, and you should ditch the product.
How can I reduce the severity of a purge?
If you’re about to start a new product with an ingredient that can cause purging and you want to limit the severity of a purge, there’s some evidence that introducing the new product slowly can help.
Some strategies you can use:
- starting at a lower concentration
- starting with a smaller amount
- using it less frequently (e.g. once a week at first)
- washing it off after a few minutes
If your skin is tolerating the product without any purging or breakouts, you can gradually increase to the recommended usage.
Helping your skin function at its best will also reduce irritation and speed recovery. This means:
- ensuring that your skin stays hydrated with the use of humectant moisturisers and moisturisers in general
Related Post: Humectant Waters and Sprays: A Quick Fix for Dehydrated Skin
- using a gentle cleansing routine
Related Post: All About Cleansing & How to Choose a Gentle Cleanser
- using anti-irritant or antiinflammatory products
- protecting your skin from the sun
Related Post: My Emergency Routine for Treating an Irritant Breakout
178 thoughts on “Purging vs Breakouts: When to Ditch Your Skincare”
fab article thank you :)! I’ve always wondered why my skin gets so much worse initially when I try a potent new product and have never been able to decipher the difference xx
I’m glad you find it helpful!
I’m so confused- this broke down the specifics of what is happening but I am so lost as to when I should stop using the products…in both cases, is the take-away essentially that only time will tell and if your skin doesn’t improve by x number of weeks just stop using it, but you still have to just wait and see?
Yep! Unfortunately it’s hard to tell for sure but waiting and seeing is one way, looking at where the breakouts are occurring is another…
Hello , Can niacinamide cause purging too? 10 % with 1% zinc?
I’m just started to introduce salicylic acid cleanser in my skincare routine and its caused me purging right now. Should I stop using it or continue?
Hi. Should I stop to using the product that caused me purging? My skin is starting to peel of and drying right now.
Thanks a lot – this article is really informative. I am fairly prone to irritation, eczema and allergies so I keep away from more expensive skincare as in the past I have reacted terribly to some very expensive hypoallergenic stuff. My skin goes red fairly quickly and gets really angry overnight. Am I right in saying that a purge takes longer in developing?
Generally yes – but it’s also possible that a product is having two effects e.g. irritating AND increasing skin turnover, so you’ll see the redness and inflammation quickly, then the flood of pimples in the upcoming weeks. Sometimes a product that works might just be too irritating for your skin though, and you’re better off finding an alternative that works in a similar way but will spare your skin, even if perhaps it’s a bit less potent. Building up to the full strength product can work better as well – you can mix in a small amount of the product with your regular moisturiser at first, and slowly increase the amount you use (in medical-speak, it’s called “titrating up”).
This is exactly what I needed! I’m breaking out from the Banila Clean it Zero which is such a bummer, but I’ve got new pimples in atypical areas a week after starting to use it. What a bummer 🙁
How annoying! Luckily cleansing balms are getting more popular now so you have a bit more choice!
When is ur first time realizing that Banila is the cause? I’ve been using Banila since March 9 and just got the purging on my chin area these pas 7 weeks..?
Thanks for this post! I was actually wondering about purging vs. breakouts just the other day, so found the info here very helpful :).
Awesome, I’m happy to have helped!
This has been sorely needed in my life! You make it so easy to understand so I’m definitely going to be sharing this post. I’ve either encountered well-formulated products all my life or have really tough skin but now I’ll know if something isn’t working for me.
My dermatologist said I’m reactive to vit c, salicylic acid and Willow bark extract. What other people ng residents should I be aware of that might have the same effects in my skin because I develop rashes all over them bumpiness but tiny not like pimples at all and itchiness all over where I applied the products. I know I have more allergies I just don’t know what . Thanks
Correction: potential ingredients
From those ingredients alone, I can only think of other vitamin C derivatives (they have “ascorb” in their names).
I can relate with you😩. Urgently using this new product and my skin has rashes all over and it’s itchy
I have always wondered the difference between the two! this was really helpful 🙂
I’m glad it was useful!
Loved this post! So many people say certain products or tools such as the clarisonic cause purging and I’ve always wondered how legit that is.
I’ve always wondered too! I think in general physical exfoliation doesn’t cause much purging unless you completely neglected exfoliation before, but a lot of people buy the Clarisonic as their first foray into skincare and it recommends daily/twice daily use, so I can see it happening more.
This is an amazing article, simply because I’ve really known the difference between the two before. I absolutely hate the purging process of any product because I never knew if it was really purging or me reacting to the product badly. I’ve always thought “why go through a month of purging if it may not even end up being purging in the first place?” At least reading your post, I’m able to differentiate between the two better. Thanks <3
Thank you so much!
Does the ‘How long is the purge?’ section apply when I’m starting to see a purge? Or when I’m starting the new product?
After 2 weeks of washing my face with a cleanser with active (white willow bark), I notice more whiteheads on my chin area (where I usually breakout and where I had some cc).
The first week was fine, second week I saw a few whiteheads, then third week is when there are many whiteheads…
From when you’re starting to see the purge. Hope it gets better!
Thank you so much for the post, i do still confuse since i am a newbie for korean skincare. But at least, now i know that my skin is a sensitive type (i always give time to new product 2 weeks to see the progress) and each time the product give me red patches instead of Purging (no whitehead-or bumpy skin), so i already stop the product, then i read your post, now i know that my skin is reactive to the product, doesn’t it? so can i use aloe product to calming these red patches?
Red patches would be a reaction, yes! Aloe isn’t that good as an anti-inflammatory, I’d use something like colloidal oatmeal or allantoin instead, and keep it well hydrated and avoid actives until it’s healed.
seriously, I’m going crazy right now ’cause I don’t know what to do with my purging. I already have a facial skin without any visible acne, however there are acne marks and blackheads. So I researched and decided to use BHA and AHA however just after a day of application of BHA, I saw that the areas with pimple marks started to have new cystic acne and its just to painful. I stopped using the products but my face is not getting any better. What should I do with this? Should I continue using BHA and AHA since its just purging or should I stop? Thank you so much!
It shouldn’t purge after just a day of usage! It sounds like a reaction, but it could be due to the BHA or it could be coincidence.
Hi, I need your help to know if I’m purging or not. I’m using a kit with an exfoliater, a lotion and a mosturizer with aloe vera and salicylic acid. I have always used this but with long interruptions and for a short period of time. I have been using this for 2 weeks now and I have been breaking out from little bumps that I already had. Now I also have like 5 pimples in my cheeks and I didn’t have any bumps there. What do you think?
If you’re breaking out in a new place I’d say it’s a reaction.
Hi, Michelle. I’m looking for differences purging and break out. of the explanation, almost all said that purging does not occur in cleaning products. I had 2 days using a Korean brand named COSRX Low pH cleanser good morning. but the next day 5 big pimple appears instantly. whether the product may cause purging cleanser like that? I have to continue to use or stop?
A cleanser shouldn’t cause purging, but that’s also a very quick reaction. Maybe let your skin calm down and try it again? If it happens again, stop using it!
hey i recently changed to cosrx low ph gel cleanser too and ive got some cystic bumps between my eyebrows and on my chin, where i usually breakout. i found out that the cleanser have BHA in it so that could be why
Hi Michelle, such a brilliant post! I just started using the COSRX blackhead power liquid and have started purging. My goal was to clean up the stubborn blackheads on my face. I am confused as to how should I deal with the purging now? Do I use products to soothe them (snail mucin/essences/masks/DIY) or let them purge without any remedy? I am not sure how purging works if I try to calm it down instead of letting it all come out. I am totally confused. I am continuing to use the power liquid but I don’t want to end up scarring my otherwise clear skin. Can you please help? Thanks in advance!
Sorry for the late reply! I would try to soothe them as much as possible with anti-acne products, just like I would with any other breakout – my favourites are benzoyl peroxide and tea tree oil. And afterwards I’d use some anti-hyperpigmentation actives like AHAs, vitamin C and niacinamide.
Thank you so much! I had stopped using BHA in fear. Now I will begin again; pesky blackheads here I come!! (Evil laughter). P.S. keep up the good work! I wish my science classes were so good at school! I read your blog everyday at work 😉
Many people are allergic to tea tree oil — myself included. It causes a poison oak-like rash in those allegic — tiny fluid-filled bumps that ooze and crust and ITCH. The COSRX good morning cleanser has tea tree oil in it. I’d caution against treating your breakout with tea tree oil until you can safely rule that out as the culprit.
Thank you so so much this article is all about what I’ve been looking for! xoxo!
Yay I’m glad! 😀
does sunblocks cause purging?
They shouldn’t, unless they also contain an active that does (e.g. sunscreens that contain AHAs).
Im so confused. I’ve started using an all organic non chemical treatment but it’s over a Month and still I haven’t cleared. What’s confusig is it somtimes seems to get better then gets worse then gets a little better then spots come again. I feel like I’m getting mixed signals of both purging and breakouts.
What should I doooooo :((((
It sounds like it isn’t working and you’re just reacting to it! To be honest, most “non chemical” treatments are poorly researched and formulated, so I’m not surprised if it isn’t working.
Wow! Really great in depth article. It is always terrifying when you buy a new product and immediately flare up. I always tend to quit immediately, but your article has shown me the right way.
Thanks! I’m glad it was helpful 🙂
Hi Michelle really helpful article. I started using a salicylic acid face wash about a month ago. After one week I started seeing an increase in the number of spots in the usual areas. Most of the breakouts have been whiteheads but I have had 2 or 3 under the skin pimples which have taken longer to clear / come to a head. I have been using salicylic acid for over a month now so when can I expect to see an improvement as I feel my skin is worse than when I started. I am also using a toner and moisturiser, could this have an effect as I’ve heard over moisturising can can clog pores? I think it is purging from the salicylic acid though so am going to stick with it. Grateful for any help / advice.
You should see an improvement in the next 2 weeks if it’s purging, otherwise I’d say it’s a reaction.
Hi there, Michelle!
Recently, I’ve been using Klairs Supple Preparation Toner that mostly has good reviews and such. The product itself claims to soothe, reduces inflammation, hydrates, and protects the skin. But no, just no… Right now I have like five or more small bumps with those white-fat (?) inside. It confuses me bc I’ve been trying 2 new products, other one was The Face Shop Rice Bran Facial Foam which has strong scent. Well I thought that Face Shop would be the culprit so I stopped using it and pat my bumps with Klairs. It’s so wrong, my bumps look bigger and redder.
I was just confused whether it’s just a normal purging or break out…
That Klairs Toner though, that’s kinda expensive :/
Please inform me if you can help
It sounds like a reaction!
Thanks for this article. I used to use products (recommended by my dermatologist) for 3-4 months all the while breaking out, and the whole time she would either say it was purging or the time of the month. I was so desperate for my acne to go that I listened to her!!! I know better now.
How annoying! Unfortunately some dermatologists are a bit clueless about skincare.
Hi Michelle! 🙂 So recently, I’ve been researching more about my skin type and I just wanted to clarify some things since I’m a total noob at these kind of stuff. I want to make sure that my skin type is actually what I think it is.
So, my T-Zone is pretty oily, more so the nose and my jaw is kind of dry. However, my nose does also peel sometimes despite it being oily. So, I came to the conclusion that I have combination dehydrated skin? I hope you could reassure me that I’m not wrong about that because I recently bought some new skincare products catered to my skintype.
They are the Mizon AHA & BHA Daily Clean Toner, Cosrx Natural Skin Returning A-Sol, Cosrx Blackhead Power Liquid, Beauty of Joseon Dynasty Cream and the Mizon Snail Recovery Gel Cream.
After using them, however, I started to notice tiny little white bumps appearing around my mouth. Reddish bumps became more prominent underneath my eyes, and pimples appeared on and around my nose.
I would like to ask is that considered the purging of the skin, or a negative reaction to the products?
Thank you so much for your help and informative posts! <3
Combination dehydrated sounds about right! Did you introduce the products one at a time? If not, then I recommend stopping them all and going back to your old routine until your skin is reset, then introducing them one by one so you can check which one’s the culprit, then you’ll have a better chance of working out if it’s purging or breaking out.
I really enjoyed the article as well, makes it a lot more valuable to read when it’s easy to understand and in depth 🙂
Actually, I’m also combination dehydration and am currently using an oil-based cleanser. Was wondering if it was bad to apply it on my t-zone which is oily?
Also the cleanser contains citric acid, so i think I’m currently in the middle of purging because after use, I get a little itchy and see more whiteheads on my skin-in places where I already had white heads, including my t-zone.
Was hoping if you could confirm this for me. Thanks so much!!
Oil on oily skin isn’t harmful 🙂
Is the citric acid at the top of the ingredients list? If not, it probably isn’t an active – citric acid is rarely used as an exfoliating acid, it’s usually for pH adjustment only.
thank you so much for this article. I only recently got into korean skin care. Its the first time i ever used vitamin C serum and i was quite shoked that i suddenly had so many whiteheads after only a few days. I took the serum out of the routine. But now I feel like i should include it again but maybe not everyday.
Vitamin C technically shouldn’t cause purging since it doesn’t increase skin turnover. If you want to include it I’d recommend less often and diluted with another product e.g. mix it in with another product.
Sorry, but can you clarify if vitamin C causes purging? You included it in the article under “Active ingredients and treatments that increase skin turnover” but in this comment you said it doesn’t increase skin turnover?
Asking bc I think I might also be purging from vitamin C. Previously I’ve been using it as spot treatment with no problem but I started using it as an all over serum and I’ve gotten some whiteheads and a big cyst on my cheeks where I usually have breakouts. Sorry if I’m missing sth here :/
Sorry, I got confused – yes it can cause purging!
Thanks for the clarification! And don’t worry it happens to the best of us ?
Hi Michelle . So I’ve started using Paula’s choice acne kit and my skin is breaking out in places I didn’t really get “break outs ” before . I’ve kind of been giving my skin a hard time so I don’t know what to do , I exchanged the first moisturizer for a lightweight one since the first one was too heavy and that was about a week ago , since then it’s been white heads more so all over (not like the deep pimples I had before ) I know was the lotion I exhanched . My question is , how do I know if it’s enough time to tell if these products are working or not ? You said the products if purging make you break out in your normal places I get hormonal acne . But I’m thinking maybe since this is more indepth acne line like aha/ Aba . Benzoyl and salasylic acid treatment it could be causing my skin to purge . I need help!
It’s hard to tell if you started using multiple new products at once! I’d recommend stopping all the new products and going back to your old routine until it’s settled down, then introducing them one by one.
Would niacinamide cause purging>
I would like to know this as well.
I’ve introduced The Ordinary’s 10% niacinamide to my routine and noticed an increase in spots on my chin 48 hrs later.
Yes it could, it increases skin turnover. Keep an eye on it!
omg this is literally a life-saver!! I LOVED the COSRX niacinamide but that was only some 3%, and the Ordinary’s is 10% ofc – I started using it only on my forehead and I’ll wait 2-3 weeks and see whether the nasty little spots disappear. I was just ready to ditch it because many sites claim that it doesn not cause skin turnover, though :/
I guess you’ll have to wait and see! The most annoying, but usually most correct answer for any purging vs breakout question… :\
Yes it could, it increases skin turnover.
Thank you for your post! This has helped me a lot.
If you have any advise on how to make the process more comfortable or quick, please share!
Introduce the new product slowly, and have some anti-acne products on hand! I like benzoyl peroxide and tea tree oil.
Do you normally use the teatree oil directly onto your face or mix it in with another product? (like an everyday cleanser).
I’ve dabbed a small amount onto affected areas and have also mixed it in with cleanser in the past,just wondering which way you suggest if I’m using it to soothe out the purging process.
Mixing it with something is safest. To minimise purging, less is good because less irritation!
Thanks so much for your article and responses to everyone! I just need confirmation of purge/reaction regarding my experience using a new Korean product: Whamisa Organic Flower Toner. I layered the product seven times at night and then seven times the following morning, and that was enough to cause whiteheads and bumps to appear all over my face, when my skin is typically clear.
Should I have eased into the product? Or is it just plain reaction to some ingredient?
Hi! Think you missed me 😀
Sorry for the late reply! I think it’s likely to be a reaction, but it’s also possible that your skin won’t react noticeably if you use less. Maybe wait for your skin to calm down, then try it again just once in a 24 hour period and see what happens?
You’re amazing! I did as you suggested and my skin has been fine. Thanks a bunch!
I’m so glad Ive run into your article because I was really confused about why I was suddenly getting some small bumps on my face while my actual prominent acne that was pre-existing was disappearing. I recently switched to the 10-step korean skincare routine and maybe my skin is not used to it yet. I use a toner with BHA, Missha FTE essence and its ampoule.
It’s always a bit scary starting on a new routine! Did you introduce the products one at a time?
Hi. I’m still a little confused. I recently started a glyconic(sp?) acid overnight mask. I have noticed an increase of cystic acne on my forehead (where I don’t normally break out). And on my chin (where I do normally break out). Is the product making me purge or break out?
Hi !!Thanks for your information. I have been using Oriflame’s Novage Brightsublime and after a week, a big bump appeared on my check. Normally I dont get pimples on my skin. Is it purging or breakout? your suggestion please! thanks.
Hi. I have used my lactic acid serum for almost one month. I noticed there are many acne on my cheeks (I was breaking out at the same place).Before using this serum, I dont have too many acne at one time. So I dont sure to continue using it or not. What is your opinion?
Hi Michelle ..such an amazing article u published .thank you and I came 2 knw da dfrnce btw purging and reaction.I had a dout am using neutrogena serum frm da past 5 dazz and I noticed acne on my cheeks it’s not a new place.. am not getting whether 2 continue or discontinue da product. Help me out is it a purging r reaction
Awesome post! I totally agree with your statement about detox – I HATE that word! But it made me think about sweating, sometimes that feels good and it seems like (if caring for your skin well otherwise) it would be good for your skin. Am I wrong?
Hi i recently got to use cosrx one step acne pad cleanser and aha 7. The first time I used it, small bumps appear the following day. I waited for a week to use it again, after the following day I got the worst rashes and small bumps all over my cheeks and one cystic forming acne on my chin. I am really devastated right now. All I can do now is just to wait my rashes and bumps to subside..
hello, for about 2 wks now i’ve been using the AHA/BHA toner from cosrx and 3 days ago i started using the cosrx salicylic acid exfoliator and their one step pimple pads as well. ive never used any AHAs or BHAs before so with the toner i used it twice a day for around 5 days and then i read that i shouldn’t use it so frequently so i’ve been using that every 3 days now. for the exfoliator and the pads, i used them twice a day but because of the really tiny breakouts i woke up to this morning, i’ve stopped using the exfoliator and i only used the pads once today. the whiteheads are only along my T zone and some on my cheeks. these are the areas where i usually get acne but im not sure if it’s purging or not because my skin is really itchy and is inflamed but its also bumpy and most of the breakouts have got whiteheads. im not sure if i should continue using my actives (maybe every 3 days i’ll use an active and switch in between products as i do) or stop them altogether
Hey, you are over exfoliating and it sounds very much like you have compromised your skins moisture barrier. You only need to incorporate one of the exfoliating products in your routine and only use it 2-3 times a week, especially while you are getting used to it. If you want to use multiple then only use each once a week.
For now I would stop using all the actives and go back to a simple wash, hydrate, moisturise routine. If possible and buy barrier healing products, there’s plenty of serums and creams on the market purposely for this. Look for ingredients such as Ceramides, amino acids, squalene, niacinamide, HA. Rose hip oil and jojoba oil also have healing properties. See how you are after 2 weeks of a healing routine and then introduce ONE active product back in IF your skin has returned to normal. If you ignore it will probably continue to get worse.
Thank you for this article. Really informative. I started usint vitamin C and aha/bha from korean skincare about a week ago and since then my forehead has been a mine field. It used to have only a few pimples earlier but not entire forehead is covered with painful bumps so I was confused if its purging or breaking me out. I guess I will wait for another 3 weeks to see if situation gets better or worst.
Good luck! New products are also a bit of a lucky draw :\
Hey Michelle, if ingredients that increase cell turnover can cause purging what’s the point of using those ingredients? Like why put my skin through a purging face if I can just use other ingredients that don’t increase cell turnover? Like for example instead of using benzoyl peroxide use tea tree oil or something like that. I would like to know your thoughts.
Increasing skin turnover is one way to treat acne, since one of the reasons acne forms is abnormal cell turnover. Speeding it up tends to normalise it.
I started a new skincare routine to fit my weird combination skin more 5 days ago but now I suddenly got some sort of rash starting from my chin, along my cheeks and cheekbones (where I normally dont have many problems, it’s almost like a V shape starting from my chin up to my cheekbones and it’s not continuous, left and right have a different amount of rash). I also noticed that I got blackheads popping up there and that I got more blackheads where I would normally have them (forehead, nose, mouth, chin) and they became easier to remove. The rash doesnt burn, isnt swollen and isnt red. I checked the ingredients list and most of the new products I use stimulate skin renewal and have a lot of the hydroxy acids and vitamin C ingredients you talked about. Is my skin purging?
The rash doesn’t sound like purging – it sounds much more like a reaction! Did you introduce one product at a time?
I’ve been using Troiareuke Turn Over Cycle (TOC) toner for about 3 month, the brand is known for their good products for acne/troubled skin. But I notice I keep getting new acne almost every 2-3 days. I only use a regular moisturiser that is fine for me, and also as a spot treatment I’m using Ciracle Red Spot cream. I would like to know your thoughts. Should I continue the toner? Thanks x
It sounds like it could be breaking you out – it might be worth stopping it for a while and seeing if there’s a difference!
Hey Michelle amazing read! So what if your moisturuzer contains an active ingredient?
Hey thanks alot for the article
It’s been 2 days i have started using the new product for my face that’s neutrogena oil free wash for oily skin it’s the third day today and i have an irritating and painful bumb ok my right cheek I usually get pimples on my cheeks so i am going to stay and watch
I have been using various Charlotte Tilbury skincare products which friends have had amazing results with. I noticed my skin is breaking out with under the skin pimples at the moment. It’s only been two days? Do you think it’s a reaction?
I know it would be hard to diagnose over the internet, but I used a clay mask that I have used before and never had the reaction I had this last time. I have a relatively clean diet (mostly just raw foods and protein with minimal carbs) but all of a sudden, this last time I used the mask my back shot up with acne. It’s literally everywhere. It appeared about 12 hrs after I did the mask. Do you think this is purging or just a breakout?
To me it sounds like a breakout unless the mask has additional actives…
And I can tell the difference between purging and breakouts. At least I have the idea if ever I want to switch products. Thank you for providing this well-detailed information.
Yay! I’m glad I helped 🙂
Hi! I’m really hope you can help me! Your article is super helpful and I will keep referring back to it that’s for sure! I’m a new Mom, and have neglected myself as I adjust to this new life! I’m so embarrassed to say that I’ve gone days without washing my face. I haven’t had a consistent routine. My face has been pretty clear with the exception of recent forehead breakouts (little bumps). So, about a week or two ago, I committed to washing my face every night before bed. I’ve started to get pimples popping/appearing when I wake up in the morning (mostly just red inflammations that don’t come to a head). I can’t figure out if my skin is readjusting, or if it’s developed a reaction to the products I’ve been using. i need to figure this out before I possibly start breaking out like crazy. Unless this is just a readjustment period, which I’m really hoping!
Thank you so much for your time!!!
P.S. My skin is combination, but tends mostly to be a bit oily.
Hi there omg I love this ! But I was wondering if you could confirm one thing for me, I don’t know if I’m reacting or purging … I got a PCA PEEL, 5% salicylic acid and jessners I think. The day before the peel I had an okay well healed skin just a little white heads and clogged pores but after the peel I now how little red acne like inflamed bumps all over my face. I had clogged pores over my forehead and chin not so much on cheeks, in my opinion I’m purging cse I didn’t get a log of acne on my cheeks compare to my forehead and chin … should i be scared to get another one ? O don’t know what to doooo … oh I also got one like long time ago to but if I remember correctly the same thing happened !? I was also breaking out back then too … I was on aha and strong acne products from acne.org please make sense out of all this ??
It sounds like irritation! Are you happy with the results after the irritation dies down?
Can antioxidants cause purging to happen?
It’s very unlikely, although some ingredients that cause purging are also antioxidants e.g. retinoids.
Hi there. I’m having some concerns with the new skin care line I’ve been using. They says it’s an all natural chemical free products but I’m still not sure if I’m reacting from it or not. I have or I think I have sensitive skin. I’m getting small pimples but I’m also getting huge under the skin red bumps and they have actually gotten really big and hurt also. Redness on chin seems worse. I feel like my skin is very irritated with product but still not sure if my skin is purging or breaking out. Can my skin be cleaning it’s self out with the new product as other skin care just wasn’t doing the job and this product is going what it’s suppose to do but I’ve used other products and it worked wonderful and my skin never looked better and never had one Breakout. Can you help me try to figure out what’s going on?
Do they contain any of the actives listed?
As far as I know no they don’t.
And a couple of the products I use stays Helichrysum stimulates new skin cell growth and protects skin cell growth. The products I use also have essential oils in them.
Ahhh thank you so much! This article was a help as I have EXTREMELY sensitive skin and have never cleansed, toned or moisturised in my life until a few days ago when I decided to start taking better care of my skin, immediately after trying some of the face products from Sukin I noticed a few pimples on both cheeks cropping up. Despite having sensitive skin, I don’t get pimples (at all) unless trying new beauty products which has always just lead me to ditch them. I’ve always just assumed this was my skin reacting badly but do you think it’s possible this is purging and if I keep at a routine it might go away after a while?
Do they have actives?
The only active ingredients I could find based upon the list you provided above was citric (fruit) acids. These are in both the cleansing wash and toner I just began using.
I was just wondering wheter after ysing cosrx 96% snail mucin essence should break me out with these bumps that look like thier holding moisture in them..its just red or clear bumps on my cheeks one or two
Yeah I had the same problem… mine look like closed comedones – clear bumps here and there.
Thanks very much for this!! Can I ask your advice please?
I recently stated using RetinA 0.025 once a week. I have normal skin, never had breakouts or spots before.. I am using it for anti-ageing.
Since using it I am having breakouts on my forehead, chin and cheeks. I’m confused if I’m having a reaction or a purge as I never get spots so I can’t say they are in a ‘usual place’.
I don’t mind pushing through it if this is a standard reaction on normal skin but I’m concerned I may be doing some damage if I continue!!
I’m trying a new essence with propolis & glycol. First night, i put it on my jawline & neck and the result was amazing, it feels soft. The next day i put it on my face and when I woke up I have tiny pimples in my cheeks, forehead and chin (which is where my pimples usually are), do you consider it purging? & do i have to try incorporating this product every other day (slowly) or continue using it everyday?
I would guess that’s a breakout.
Thank you for this post! I recently started using a couple if the Ordinary’s products and noticed the last few days I have small black heads on my chin… I first thought it was just the bad stuff all coming out because I am actually looking after my skin more by then worried maybe it was blocking my pores! So this post was great for me
Thanks for the article…Its really helpful.
I had not being using any face wash since a while(20-25 days). I have just started using a new face wash from kiels. I started using it twice a day 10-12 days back. the first 4-5 days i experienced a clearer skin as then suddenly i have been getting these small pimples on my face. So I reduced the usage to once every morning.
But i am also experiencing a better skin on areas other than these acnes or pimples(not sure what it is), but these small pimples are a spot of worry for me now. How do i get to know that this is purging or the product is reacting? Very confused.
It might be worth trying it out for longer and seeing what happens.
I’ve had used an organic product (serum). when I’m using it I’ve got alotta pimples, but my skin was getting better, but the pimples still the same. was that purging?
and, is it possible that sunscreen may cause purging?
thank you in advance
Thanks for this article, Michelle! I’ve been using a benzoyl peroxide face wash with moderately positive results for a little over a month and just started incorporating Pixi Glow Tonic into my skincare routine about two weeks ago. My face has been looking pretty bad over the past few days so I was hoping the fabled “it gets worse before it gets better” thing was happening here! I usually breakout around my hairline, near my ears, and on my chin and that’s definitely where it’s happening now, but more intense. I’ve heard awesome things about glycolic acid and really wanted the product to work for me so I’m glad it sounds like my skin should start getting better soon!!
Hi Michelle! Great article, thanks!;)
Question: do you think niacinimide can cause purging? I’ve been using The Ordinary’s Niacinimide 10% + Zinc and my skin gets red after each application, plus I started having little tiny pimples on my T-zone…
It can increase skin turnover so yes, that could be it.
Is itchiness pretty indicative of an allergy/reaction? I think I’m currently experiencing both purging and a reaction. I’m getting more acne in usual areas, but the same areas also have patches of slightly red, itchy bumps that don’t seem anything like acne and are relieved by hydrocortisone.
Not necessarily – some irritating things aren’t a reaction, but in general there’s probably going to be a better product for your skin that doesn’t irritate.
I’ve been using a Peter Thomas Roth 2% salicylic acid face wash. I am torn with it being purging or a reaction as I’ve had signs of both. I understand that the acid will increase cell turnover but at the same time I am breaking out in areas I never would before. It’s been 7 weeks. I don’t know if I should keep using the product, try and switch to a lower percentage salicylic product or fine something new all together.
At that point I’d try a different product. You may also find that if you take it out of your routine, it mightn’t even have been that product at all!
This is a great post, just the information I was looking for! I do have one question though. Could increasing the percentage of an active cause purging? For example, I recently tried switching from a foaming cleanser with 0.5% salicylic acid to a cream cleanser with 2% (from the same brand and product line), and started breaking out. I didn’t wait it out long enough to see if it got better, but I’m considering giving it another try. I would guess that yes a higher percentage could cause purging, as I would think a higher percentage would cause quicker turnover, but just curious if you know. Thanks!
It could, but I would probably blame irritation first.
Would you be able to supply scientific support of your claims in this article, please? Citing anything evidentiary would be helpful.
Your article appeals to common sense, but without being able to weigh all pertaining information, it’s rather difficult to determine validity.
Is there any purging with physical sunscreens? “Ego sunsense sensitive invisible spf 50” has active ingredients listed as 15% zinc oxide. It also contains 3% Nicotinamide (Not mentioned).
If it contains ingredients that can increase skin turnover then yes, but normally they won’t.
Uh… I don’t know if you’re still reading comments to old articles but I read this and your Klog post (thank you, by the way… you explained what the heck was going on with my face) and while reading it I realized it sounded eerily similar to someone else’s article I just read–which was posted AFTER yours: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/does-skin-really-purge-when-using-new-skincare-products-skelly
Thanks for the link! This happens quite a lot unfortunately, I wouldn’t be surprised if she based it off this – she’s linked to my blog as a source quite a few times in other articles.
Hello Michelle,I’m still new to this skincare things, so please help me clarify something.
I underwent a chemical peeling the just two weeks ago. Second time, for the first week, My skin became clearer and better bit I bought Hada Labo premium whitening toner yesterday and suddenly in the evening, I saw a lot of pimple building up, one that is white and have pus inside.. I’m a bit confused if my acne building up is because or the purging from the chemical peeling, or irritation from the toner..
Hi, Im kinda freaking out right now… I tried the ordinary aha&bha peeling but I got very terrible allergic reaction all over my face. Very itchy, redness and bumps. Cant go yet to dermatologist so don´t know what to do. Any advice u can give? Thanks
I have just started using Vitamin C serum today. After a few hours, my face breakout with a lot of pimples. However, this symptom is kind of similar to what happened after I dermarolled my face. I’m not worried and will continue to use the serum daily 😉
would aczone or dapsone cause purging?
Hey I started using the body shop tea tree oil which claims to be used for acne treatment..I have been using this product for more than a month and my pimples just got worse and it’s beginning to itch too ..!! Is it purging?? Or should I ditch the product??
Hi! I just changed into a new skin care and it includes rosehip oil. Im currently on my second week and there are some pimples popping out and im getting worried if im breaking or just a purge?
I’ve been using Peter Thomas Roth’s Retinol Fusion 1.5% every night for the last 11 weeks, and I’m still getting a breakout or purge on my forehead. I only use the stuff on the forehead, at the corners and underneath my eyes, and on either side of my mouth. Before I started using the stuff, I was prone to pimples on the forehead and would usually have one or two at a time. About a week into using the retinol, the pimples suddenly burst out into like 30-60 little dots that were mostly flesh-coloured but occasionally reddish. Since then they’ve disappeared and new ones have reappeared in like a freaky time-lapse sped-up process, but they’ve never gone away entirely. I know a purge period is supposed to last a month or two at most, but I wonder if strength of the product and your own skin renewal rate could have some bearing on how long it lasts, because it does behave like a purge – it didn’t appear instantly on beginning the product, all the pimples are basically in the same stage, and it was an area where I was prone to a couple pimples in the past. Also, I’ve been using it around the eyes and I’ve never had a single pimple in that area. Around the mouth I would only very occasionally have pimples before retinol – in that area I’ve only experienced a slight increase. What is going on? Do I have to quit using this stuff? It was like $95. Since I was using it to try to improve some fine lines on my forehead, if I’m willing to put up with the pimples, should I continue using it for the effect on the wrinkles (which should be kicking in soon, as I read it starts having a visible effect in about 3-5 months of use), even if it’s irritation and not a purge? I sure hope the pimples would clear up after I stopped using the product… I specifically chose this product because it has very few ingredients, had no fragrance, and was supposed to cause little irritation.
Thank you for the article, it was very helpful! I’ve been wondering about the difference for some time now, and came to the same conclusions on my own. So glad I got it right 🙂 I noticed one interesting thing though – I never have problems with oils or Dermalogica products (though I usually buy their “calming” lines). Could it be that oils have a calming effect on skin generally? And if so, then why?
Hello, I have been using Apple cider viny toner and after one month of use I started getting the “purge”. First, they happen and leave almost overnight. Not huge cysts but small to medium or sometimes big pustules. It’s been 8 weeks yesterday since I started using the product and my concern is I am still breaking out like 1-2 new ones. My skin feels great (no new blackheads, white bumps are clearing and the surface is wonderful) but my concern is should I stop using or keep on going?
Thank you so much for publishing this, it was so informative and answered so many questions I’ve had while I started to introduce some new products into my skincare routine. I was wondering though, I’ve had this random red spot on my cheek that’s been there for over 3 months and it’s got no texture (looks like pigment). Not until I started to use aha and bha into my skincare it started to feel like a small pimple like bump. Could this be the definition of a microcomedone coming to the surface? Thank you!
Great read as always! need some help here 🙁
been using benzoyl for a long time and it was great until it seemed to stop working so I introduced salicylic acid, mandelic acid and the first few days my face started to clear then starting week 2 I’m getting sandpaper-like tiny skin-colored bumps all over my face and I’m dying to know could I be purging even after having just recently switching from used benzoyl for a long time?
I’ve been using niacinamide for almost 5 weeks and after day or two my face started breaking out its been same since. I never had acne like this and i have redness on some parts of my face. What do you think is my skin irritaded or allergic to niacinamide or is it all normal?
It might be the specific formulation – a lot of people report breaking out with The Ordinary’s niacinamide but not with other brands.
I began using stratia LG in hopes of it repairing my barrier— while it did repair my barrier in just 2 days, I noticed new cystic acne (2 of them) around my chin and upper lip and now I’m confused if this is a breakout or not because I normally get acne there! I’m not using any active in my skincare routine currently so it definitely can’t be purging. What do you think I should do? 🙁
Thank you so much for this enlightening post, I have significantly got some thing right here and I will bookmark this page for your next upcoming post.
Hello! I started using The Ordinary Niacinamide less than a week ago and hindi ko if it’s purging or breakout – naging pus yung nag-iisa kong pimple, nagkaroon din ako ng small bumps and blackheads. Shall I stop using it? Parang gusto ko na magpaderma. TIA
I have been using tretinoin 0.025 for over 6 months and there was no purging but my skin cleared up. However, I still had clogged pores and texture so I choose to start a product with hydroxy acid. My skin texture and overall brightness are better but I started breaking out a lot. I did not purge when using tretinoin so I am not sure if I am purging with the addition of a hydroxy acid or if the hydroxy acid is causing irritation to my skin.
Hi! I’ve been using a rejuvenating set for one week and I don’t know if it’s purging or a new reaction to my skin. My white heads are appearing and I have also new acnes but I observed that my old acnes from my breakout before I used this product is healing. And I’m just confused if I need to stop using this product already. Hopeful you can answer my question.
I got purging from inkeylist niacinamide serum is it normal.
Should i go further with product i only use it gor 1 and 1/2 week…
Hi! i’ts been a month since I used the cerave retinol and these inflammed pimples appeared. Thank you so much for this article, it somehow helped me understood what is happening right now but I’m still very confused if it’s purging or it’s reacting bad. Still hoping it will clear soon so my money won’t go to waste hahaha maybe I’ll stop using it after I finished the whole bottle of product and still see no result :((
Hey I’m in a similar situation right now, I started using cerave retinol, used it every other day for a month and can’t really tell if there is an improvement. Feel like my overall skin tone is slightly smoother but no change in fine lines on my forehead. And after a month, I got terrible breakout on my chin/lower jaw area where I’d normally get one or two zits around my periods.. so I have stopped it for now.. will reintroduce very slowly once my skin is settled.
I think another difference is how long it takes for the pimple to heal.
I rarely break out, but when I do, the pimple lingers around for a while.
For the past few months I have been getting random little spots on my cheeks, an area where I never get pimples, and they disappear within a day. I can’t figure out which product I am allergic or sensitive to! I am keeping a skincare diary in the hopes of finding the culprit!
Would you say that using something like a clay mask more frequently, like every other day, would help decrease breakouts during the purging process? Thanks!