26th September 2023

Skin purging: what it is and how to overcome it

It sounds a little weird, we know, but stick with us – skin purging is an important topic and something that a lot of us will face at some point in our skincare journeys. If you want to know a little more about this scary-sounding topic (fear not), just read on…

What is skin purging?

Much like discussions on the existence of mermaids or the Easter bunny, the topic of whether skin purging is real or not has been hotly debated in the skincare community. Our take? Yes, it’s real, and the likelihood is most of us will experience it. So, what is skin purging?

Skin purging is when the rate of your skin’s cell turnover (the speed at which new, healthy skin cells reach the surface) is increased, pushing old, dead skin cells to the surface of your complexion and loosening impurities, resulting in clogged pores and breakouts. “Those breakouts were always there, the product itself hasn’t caused them, but they were dormant and the product has sped up the process of them coming to the surface” explains skincare expert Fiona Brackenbury. We told you it wasn’t as scary as it sounds…

What does purging skin look like?

It’s important to remember our complexions aren’t the same as our mum’s, our aunt’s or even our twin sister’s. Just like a regular breakout, purging can look different for everyone. “For some people, it can look like a regular spot, but for others, it can be a whitehead. It can be angry and inflamed, hard or tiny” explains Fiona.

What is the difference between a breakout and purging?

A traditional breakout can be caused by a huge variety of factors – for example, the stress of a never-ending to-do list or a crazy week in the office, a bad diet, a lack of sleep, hormones or using a new product that’s too rich or heavy for your skin. The big difference here is that the breakouts from skin purging have been caused by a new product in your routine that has sped up cell renewal – the breakout was going to come to light eventually, but the new product sped up the process by pushing it to the surface.

What skincare causes purging?

The main suspects of skin purging are AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids), BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids) and PHAs (poly-hydroxy acids). All of these acids are commonly found in skincare and are used for liquid exfoliation. When applied to skin, they dissolve the bonds that hold older skin cells to the surface, whisking them away to reveal fresher, younger-looking skin – these old, dead skin cells can then block pores and result in skin purging.

How long does skin purging last?

As mentioned earlier, not all complexions are the same so everyone will experience skin purging differently. Skin purging can last anywhere between a week and a month. We know this all sounds very doom and gloom, but there’s light at the end of the skin-purging tunnel – once you’ve worked your way through the purging, your skin will bounce back.

What to do if your skin is purging

While it may be tempting to stop using the product that’s making you purge and find something else to replace it in your routine, this might not be the best option – especially if you’re keen to see how it can improve your skin in the long run. “You could cut back on how often you’re using the product that’s causing purging,” explains Fiona. “For example, don’t use it daily anymore. The purging will be easier to deal with but it will take longer to overcome”. Alternatively, you may choose to keep using the product daily and face the purge head-on.

To help treat purging skin, you can try a retinal (such as Overnight Clarity Retinal/Niacinamide Serum) to help control oil and bacteria, and keep your skin balanced. “I like to call it your Fairy Godmother, as it helps you have more good skin days” says Fiona. Make sure you’re also thoroughly cleansing your skin in the morning and indulging in a double cleanse at night – especially if you’ve been wearing SPF and makeup. It’s important to keep your skin’s microbiome (the community of tiny microorganisms that live on our skin) balanced with good and bad bacteria – remember, the more bad bacteria, the more breakouts. We love Better Off AHA/PHA Gel Cleanser for this, as it’s formulated with natural inulin to help keep the balance.

How to prevent skin purging

You know what they say, slow and steady wins the race – and the easiest way to prevent skin purging is to introduce new products to your routine slowly. We understand how exciting it is to try out a new addition to your skincare shelf, but if your skin is prone to purging or on the sensitive side, it’s always a good idea to start off slow – use the newcomer once or twice a week instead of daily and build up your use. As we mentioned earlier, using a retinal (on alternate nights if the skin purging suspect is a liquid exfoliant) can help break the cycle of blemishes, reducing excess oil so pores are less likely to become blocked.



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