Is your skin purging? This is what you need to know
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Is your skin purging? This is what you need to know

We expect a lot from our skin. Especially once we take the plunge and ramp up our skincare from a splash of water and a slick of cold cream to an intensive five-part routine both morning and night. Skin boosting actives such as retinol may give us a fresher, more youthful complexion than our high street predecessors, but they can also prompt our skin to throw its toys out of the pram in the process. Welcome to the (vaguely gruesome sounding) phenomenon of skin purging.

What is skin purging, and what causes it?

Skin purging is a term given to a reaction some people experience when introducing a skincare product containing active ingredients to their regime. Presenting itself as a mixture of whiteheads, blackheads, papules and pustules, and dry, peeling skin, it occurs when a product designed to increase cellular turnover brings congestion to the skin’s surface in the process.

An adjustment period in the form of purging is not uncommon with ingredients that work on the root cause of blemishes, such as glycolic acid or retinoids. Once your skin adjusts and becomes accustomed to the new regime, it should stop causing new breakouts and move on to actually clearing the skin. But since it can take up to 8 weeks for your skin the adjust to a new routine, patience is vital.

In summary, when your skin is purging, it’s not the product itself that’s “making” your skin break out, it’s merely accelerating what would have eventually come to the surface on its own anyway.

The most common offenders are retinoids and exfoliating acids such as AHAs (glycolic, lactic and mandelic acid) and BHAs (salicylic acid), but facial treatments such as chemical peels or physical facials that involve extractions can also trigger a purge.

How to tell the difference between skin purging vs a breakout

Skin purging is part of the process, and the good news is, breakouts attributed to purging usually clear up a lot quicker than regular acne. However, it is challenging to tell the difference just by looking at them.

Purging tends to occur in areas where you usually experience breakouts. So, if you start to notice dryness, redness or breakouts elsewhere on the face, it could be a sign that you’re experiencing a reaction to the product, rather than a purge. In this case, it’s worth contacting your practitioner for advice.

Is there anything I can do to treat it?

When it comes to treating your skin during a purge, the best thing that you can do is wait it out. As frustrating as that may seem, it’s essential to stay patient for at least one skin cycle (approximately 28 days) to try to get through the worst of it. Once this has passed, positive results will be well on their way.

In the meantime, keep your pillowcase clean, resist the urge to pick or pop any inflamed areas, wear SPF and most importantly, don’t douse the areas with additional spot treatments in the hope of speeding up the process. They are often made up of the same exfoliating agents your skin is reacting to and will further aggravate the skin. Instead, ride it out with the knowledge that the results to come will make this stage more than worth it.

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    Disclaimer: Please be aware that results and benefits may vary from patient to patient taking into consideration factors such as age, lifestyle and medical history.

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