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A Complete Guide to Skin Purging

Imagine this: you’re excited to try a new skincare product that promises clearer, smoother skin. But after a short time of use, you begin to see pimples, blackheads, and clogged pores popping up in all the usual places.

Welcome to skin purging, a super fun symptom that the active ingredients in your skincare are working.

Yes, you read that right. Skin purging is a common, temporary reaction to certain active ingredients that is almost indiscernible from a breakout. So how do you tell the difference? And more importantly, when will it stop?  We asked skincare scientist Kendall Johnson, our Head of Product Development, for help understanding this common skin concern.

What is Skin Purging?

Skin purging is a common, temporary reaction to certain active ingredients. Your skin renews itself approximately every 28 days, getting rid of old, damaged cells and replacing them with new ones.

“Skin purging can occur because the products used may speed up skin cells’ turnover rate — the time it takes for your skin cells to die, shed, and be replaced with new ones,” Kendall explains. “It typically occurs with a new skincare product as your skin adjusts.”

“Skin purging generally lasts between four and six weeks.” – Kendall Johnson Senior Manager of New Product Development

Common Causes of Skin Purging

“Skin purging can occur when using an exfoliating ingredient, a substance that speeds up cell renewal, such as salicylic acid,” says Kendall.  “These ingredients shed the top layer of dead cells faster, causing new skin cells to regenerate more quickly than they would on their own, which can bring blockages to the surface and cause irritation, inflammation, and blemishes.”

So the newly-introduced active ingredients you’re using aren’t making you break out, but rather bringing existing blemishes to the surface more quickly as the skin speeds its renewal process.

“Skin purging is also related to the microbiome, the microscopic environment of fungi and bacteria that covers the skin. When using a new product or ingredient this adds to the microbiome and may allow the bacteria that causes acne to temporarily proliferate as the skin reacts to the change and works to restore balance” says Kendall. “The skin microbiome is like a seesaw that may take time to recover.”

3 Differences Between Skin Purging vs. Breakouts

It can be hard to tell the difference between skin purging and breakouts. Consider the three following factors when deciphering your skin’s behavior:

  1. Duration: “Skin purging generally lasts between four and six weeks,” says Kendall. Acne, however, can last months.
  2. Location: Skin purging occurs in areas where you typically get acne as increased cell turnover uncovers the clogged pores lurking beneath your skin. If a product makes you break out, blackheads and acne will appear all over your face.
  3. Active Ingredients: Skin purging typically results from introducing live probiotics and ingredients that increase cell turnover such as alpha hydroxy acids and retinoids. If you’ve recently introduced one of these ingredients, you’re more likely to be purging.

How to Treat Skin Purging

Unfortunately, the only way to treat skin purging is to wait it out. Fortunately, you won’t have to wait very long, as skin purging only lasts between four and six weeks. During that time, avoid using harsh acne-fighting ingredients, as layering more active ingredients can damage your skin’s protective moisture barrier. Instead, use a soothing cleanser — such as our Amino Aloe Gentle Cleanser — to deep clean pores and calm inflammation as your skin restores itself to balance. Hydrating, soothing ingredients such as the ectoin and hyaluronic acid in our Copper Peptide Rapid Plumping Serum and the ceramides in our Omega Repair Cream can also help support the skin’s moisture barrier and help your skin recover more quickly.

Christine Tusher
Christine Tusher Writer and expert
As a lifestyle writer and journalist, I love sharing my passion for ocean conservation and obsession with clean beauty. I’ve tried almost every trend and ingredient, and Biossance’s science-backed formulas are the only ones that consistently calm my reactive skin and make it smoother, clearer, and healthier. I’m so excited to be on this journey of skincare innovation with Biossance, and to share it with you!

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