How To Tell The Difference Between Purging And Skin Breakouts

Skin breakout and purging

Purging refers to what happens to your skin when you first start using certain exfoliating products that encourage cell turnover — namely, retinoids. Not unlike a society quietly bubbling with rage, the bad stuff lurking in your pores needs to come out at some point. As your skin starts getting accustomed to the retinol, in the first two to four weeks of use, your cell turnover will increase and your pores will... well, purge, and all breakout hell will break loose.


The clearing-out of your pores is ultimately a good thing, and it means the retinol is working; it's only uphill from here. 

"Think of this as the skin clearing the pipes".But even though we know that the purging phenomenon is real, there's always that moment of questioning: Is your skin reacting normally to a retinoid you've just started using, or did your acne just get real bad real fast?

"A purge and a breakout are essentially similar," "However, the purge is part of the therapeutic process and improves with continued use of the topical retinoid, then goes away." 

You can tell the difference because a proper purge generally occurs all over the face at once, whereas the usual breakout usually shows up randomly and individually, and breakouts usually develop when you're not treating your skin. 

A bad reaction might come in the form of a rash or irritation, but if you just started using a retinoid and suddenly sprouted a colony of zits, chances are it's a harmless part of the purging process.

That said, there are ways to keep purging to a minimum — all you have to do is start your topical retinoids slowly and intermittently rather than all at once, so your skin has a chance to adjust at its own pace. I don't recommend using a retinoid more frequently than every other day, especially in the beginning. And that doesn't mean you won't see results: "It's fine to start using a topical retinoid once a week and advance as tolerated if your skin is sensitive or you want to avoid a purge,".

Drop your questions or suggestions below.