You know how starting a new skin care product can suddenly throw your skin into a full-on freak out, making it worse that when you started? You might be in the midst of a process called skin purging.
What’s the difference between a skin purge and an actual this-product-is-screwing-up my skin breakout? As Aussie blogger Lab Muffin Beauty Science explains it in a YouTube video posted to Reddit, a purge happens when a new skincare product causes pimple formation to speed up, making all those clogged pores lurking under the surface (called microcomedones) make their way to the surface in one giant breakout. In other words, all your baby pimples grow up faster.
According to the experts, the skin purging phenomenon bouncing around the echo chamber on Reddit is the real deal — but only with certain products. “Generally it is seen with products that increase cell turnover such as retinoid or hydroxy acids,” Sejal Shah, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City tells Allure. “Because purging is thought to be due to increased cell turnover, it’s really going to bring preexisting microcomedones to the surface and they will turn into whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, and cysts. Usually it happens in areas that you usually get breakouts,” she says.
So how can you tell if your recent breakout means your new cleanser or serum is working by getting all the gunk out or if it’s actually just making your skin worse with a regular old breakout? “If you are experiencing breakouts in new areas this is more likely a reactive breakout,” Shah says. Also, if you aren’t using a product that increases cell turnover (a.k.a. a moisturizer without any active ingredients), it’s less likely to be purging, she adds.
Secondly, the lifecycle of the pesky pimple should be different if it’s part of a purge cycle, Cindy Lee aesthetician and co-founder of Silver Mirror Facial Bar in New York City tells Allure. “The pattern is very different with a purge — the turnover of the acne should be far faster than normal,” she says. To wit, if the breakout lasts more than four to six weeks into using your new product, it probably signals a bigger skin issue.
If all signs point to a purge, unfortunately there’s not much you can do aside from waiting it out. “Keep your skin protected and let it do its thing,” says Lee. “It sucks while you’re going through it but if you can see the light at the end of the tunnel it’s worth it.”
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