Are You Breaking Out or Are You Skin Purging?

Are You Breaking Out or Are You Skin Purging? I Mirra Skincare

Are you breaking out? Are you purging? And how can you tell? Differentiating between the typical breakout here and there and skin purging can be extremely difficult. Here’s how to tell which is which and how to treat both of them.


1. What is skin purging?

2. The point of a purge

3. How long does a purge last?

4. How can I help myself?

5. Skin purging vs. breaking out

Key Points

  • A purge is your body’s reaction to a new ingredient by pushing out all of the dead skin cells and sebum in your pores. 
  • The aftermath of a purge leaves you with new, healthier skin cells for a more even and clear complexion
  • A typical purge lasts anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks, depending on the ingredient and your skin. If it’s anything more, stop using the product and talk to your dermatologist
  • Making sure to not pick or pop your pimples, eliminating drying ingredients like scrubs and acids, and using heavy moisturizers will help minimize the effects of a purge

We’ve all been there, we have a solid week or two with clear skin and then we wake up and all of a sudden there’s too many new bumps to count. And of course, it’s on the days we have somewhere important to be. Most of the time, a few days of spot treatments and no makeup and we’re back to being in good shape. But, if your skin is going through a purge, the typical spot treatments and skincare may not work the same.

What is skin purging?


Uh, no. Wrong kind of purge.

A purge is your skin’s reaction to an active ingredient that is increasing the skin cell turnover rate. Typically a purge occurs when a new active ingredient is first introduced into your routine. Almost any active ingredient can initiate a purge because everyone's skin sensitivity is different. But there are ingredients that are more likely to cause purges than others.

The number one ingredient that dermatologist’s see purging from is tretinoin or retinols/retinoids. Whether it’s over the counter or prescription strength, tretinoin is the most irritating ingredient in terms of purging, but also one of the most beneficial. Some other ingredients that can also spark a purge are vitamin C, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs).

The point of a purge

The goal of purging is to display fresh skin cells and make skin look younger, clearer and fresher. But, it doesn’t happen that easily or that quickly. We all want clearer and younger looking skin, but in order for the new skin cells to be brought to the surface, all of the other things deep in our pores need to be brought to the surface as well. 

All the excess oils, dead skin cells, bacteria and dirt that are trapped deep in our pores must be pushed to the surface as well. This means, breakouts. But, not just your typical breakout here and there. Usually, it happens in clusters and may happen in more than one area of the face like your chin, cheeks, or forehead.

It can be a mix of all types of breakouts such as:

  1. Whiteheads
  2. Blackheads
  3. Papules
  4. Pustules
  5. Cysts

Although a skin purge can affect any part of your face, it typically occurs in the areas you normally break out. So, if you’re someone who struggles with acne on the chin or jawline, you’ll most likely experience purging in those areas rather than the forehead or cheeks. Breakouts due to purging also disappear quicker than typical breakouts. The general rule of thumb is that any issues you have with your skin to begin with, whether it’s pimples or flakiness, a purge will just intensify it. 

How long does a purge last?

So, the number one question people ask: how long do I have to wait for this purge to be over with? As with most things in skincare, it depends on the individual, your own skin mood, and what ingredient is causing the purge. But dermatologists typically advise waiting four to six weeks. 

Because the point of a purge is to push out all of the gunk in your pores, you need to give it a full skin cell cycle to display fresh, clearer looking skin. If you’re still experiencing clusters of breakouts after more than six weeks, stop using the product and consult with your dermatologist. It may be that you’re having an allergic reaction or that the ingredient is too high of a dose or is being applied too frequently. 

How can I help myself?

There aren’t many remedies for a purge or ways to speed up the process. But there are certainly things you can do to lessen the effects of your experience. The number one rule (that you should be following no matter what) is to NOT pick at your pimples. As we all know, picking at any type of breakout or even scab can spread the bacteria causing more breakouts and significantly increases your chances of permanent scarring. 

As previously mentioned, a purge breakout typically does not last as long as a normal breakout, so allow the pimple to come to a head and heal naturally. Another tip is to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. This not only includes drinking your daily recommended amount of water, but also avoid using any products that are overly drying.

Products that tend to be drying:

Using drying ingredients like these can cause the breakouts to last a bit longer and irritate the skin a bit more. Try to use more moisturizing ingredients such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Oat is another hydrating ingredient that helps to calm and soothe redness if you struggle with skin sensitivity, which is usually heightened during a time of purging.

Skin purging vs. breaking Out

Now, a purge is very different from your typical breakout or bad skin day. A purge is caused by a specific ingredient that you have introduced into your skincare regimen, whereas a typical breakout can arise for almost any reason. Breakouts also tend to linger a bit longer than those that appear during a purge. Your usual breakout takes anywhere from 8 to 10 days to fully disappear. Not to mention, a purge causes you to break out in places that are most common for you. An everyday breakout can appear on any portion of your face regardless of where your breakouts typically arise. 

It can be difficult to determine whether you should continue using a product if it’s causing a severe purge. Oftentimes a purge is most common when an individual starts using tretinoin, and you may have heard the term accutane in the skincare world. Accutane is a vitamin A derivative that is taken in the form of an oral pill. Basically it works by stopping all oil production in your body, the root cause of acne, and eventually clears up the most severe and persistent cases of acne.

This drug causes a massive purge in those that take it, and oftentimes the individual wants to quit before finishing because the effects of the purge can be brutal. But, you need to give your skin enough time to replenish itself. Allow at least 28 days or a calendar month for your skin to clear up. 

The saying usually associated with purging is “it gets worse before it gets better.” If you do feel like your skin is purging for longer than 6 to 8 weeks, stop using the product and schedule a visit with your dermatologist. Otherwise, stick with your routine and be confident that your skin is about to reveal a new, healthier layer!

Are You Breaking Out or Are You Skin Purging? I Mirra Skincare

Written by Jordan Hammaren


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  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/skin-purging#purging-vs-breakout
  2. https://yourwellnesscenter.com/blog/skin-purging-vs-breakouts/
  3. https://eminenceorganics.com/ca/blog/2020/09/03/how-tell-if-your-skin-purging-or-breaking-out
  4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/oatmeal-benefits-for-the-skin
  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acne/multimedia/cystic-acne/img-20006234

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