Hello! I’m sure you’ve gone through this sometime: you start using a new cosmetic and, all of a sudden, you get plenty of new pimples. Do you want to know why that happens? With this article, I will help you better understand the purge and breakout processes and thus be able to better face them and find out if you should make any changes in your skincare routines so that your skin regains its balance.
The topics that you can find in this article are the following:
1. WHAT IS THE PURGE?
Purging is a process that our skin can go through at times. The purge takes place when we start using certain actives and pimples begin to appear. Before going into detail about the characteristics of the purge, it is important that you understand your skin, since that is one of the keys to understanding this process.
As you will remember from this other article, the skin is made of three layers: the hypodermis or subcutaneous tissue (the deepest layer), the dermis and the epidermis (the most superficial layer). Fat is stored in the hypodermis, where sweat glands and hair follicles are. In the dermis we can find elastin and collagen fibers (responsible for keeping our skin firm). In the epidermis there are, among others, a series of cell layers that go through what is known as the cell turnover process, in which new cells are produced in the deepest layer of the epidermis (basal layer), and progressively approach the outer region. Once they reach the surface of the skin, these cells are shed. And why do you need to know this? Because one of the main causes of purging is very closely linked to this cell turnover process.
You already know that your skincare routine must be adjusted to your skincare needs. This implies that, on occasions, we can incorporate certain actives that, among other things, accelerate the cell turnover process to keep skin healthy and even improve certain problems such as acne or spots. These actives, such as retinoids and exfoliating acids, by accelerating cell turnover, help to more effectively remove the superficial layer of dead cells.
In addition, some of these actives also have comedolytic (reducing the clogging of pores) or keratolytic properties (facilitating the opening of comedones). In this way, the sebum that was already accumulated on our skin, emerges more quickly as a combination of all these factors, leading to purging. Although we may think that it is acne (especially due to the duration of the purge), there are certain aspects that will allow us to differentiate it, as we will see later.
2. HOW TO DIFFERENTIATE A PURGE FROM A BREAKOUT.
The key to understanding the purge is that the sebum previously accumulated on our skin comes to the surface quickly. This implies that, when we go through a purge, the active that has caused it is not generating more sebum, but rather helps to remove the one that we had already accumulated.
This is essential when it comes to distinguishing whether we are going through a purge or a breakout. Acne breakouts can happen due to multiple factors (hormonal, dietary, derived from the use of certain cosmetics, etc.). When a breakout occurs, our skin produces a greater amount of sebum and keratinocytes, clogging the pores and leading to the appearance of pimples.
Of course, based on these definitions, it is not always easy to distinguish between a purge and an acne breakout, especially considering that they can sometimes appear at the same time. However, there are certain factors that can help you differentiate them.
Purging, as I mentioned before, is closely linked to the cell renewal process. This implies that the purge should not last more than a few weeks, after which it should subside. The breakouts, when they are related to the use of certain cosmetics, cause bad reaction of our skin to those products, which leads to clogging of the pores and / or irritation, which is why they will appear constantly every time they are used. For this reason, it is important to do a patch test before starting to use new cosmetics, since through it you will be able to find out if your skin reacts negatively to these products.
If you have started using a new cosmetic and new pimples are appearing, one way to understand if you are going through a purge or an outbreak is to think about what type of product it is. If it is a cosmetic that accelerates cell turnover, it will do so through ingredients such as AHAs (exfoliating acids such as glycolic, lactic, azelaic, mandelic, etc.), BHA (salicylic acid), retinoids (retinol, retinal, tretinoin, adapalene, tazarotene, etc.), benzoyl peroxide, etc. In those cases, you are likely going through a purging process. However, if your newest addition to your skincare routine doesn’t incorporate these ingredients (the usual when we think of cleansers, moisturizers, and sunscreens), you are most likely experiencing a breakout.
And what about niacinamide? You often ask me about this active (especially this serum from The Ordinary) with doubts about whether you are going through a purge or not. Although niacinamide should not cause a purge (since it does not accelerate cell turnover), it can sometimes lead to this sort of reactions, especially when we start to use it. Therefore, it is important to do a patch test before introducing new products to your skincare routines and that you gradually incorporate them. Note that your skin may not tolerate a high concentration of niacinamide at first, so you could use it less frequently or try lower concentrations and see how your skin evolves.
I want to stop and insist on something important: if a new product is causing breakouts you should stop using it immediately, since your skin will not get used to it, but it will always cause you that bad reaction. What if a new product is causing you a purge? Let’s see it!
3. HOW TO DEAL WITH A PURGE.
As I said before, one of the keys of effective skincare routines is adjusting them to your skincare needs. To do this, you must have your own basic skincare routine, consisting of cleansing, moisturizing and sun protection. To this you can incorporate other products that help you improve your specific concerns, but always on the basis that this basic routine will allow you to keep your skin healthy and your skin barrier protected. When you go through a purge, your skin suffers, so it is even more important to maintain that balance and thus avoid the appearance of new problems. In my article on irritated skin you can find more tips and product recommendations that will help you keep your skin well cared for while going through a purge.
Do you remember that I told you that if a cosmetic causes breakouts you should stop using it? With a purge you must do the opposite, maintaining the use of the active so that the cell turnover process continues and your skin regains its balance. However, there are certain measures that will help you carry the purge better.
Since the purge is due to the use of certain actives, you should use them in moderation and progressively, gradually incorporating them into your skincare routines (starting to use them once a week and steadily increasing the frequency). If you start using them too frequently too quickly, your skin will suffer, since we must be patient and constant when taking care of it.
In addition to this, you should not use too many powerful actives at the same time. I know that I am very insistent about this, but our routines must adapt to the needs of our skin, so we must be aware of what we use and why we use it. If you are going through a purge, I recommend that you simplify your routines (maintaining the use of the active ingredient that led to its appearance so that the cell turnover process continues), making sure that your skin barrier is protected. There are certain ingredients that can help you maintain the balance of your skin, such as ceramides and cholesterol (which you can find in this moisturizer), fatty acids, niacinamide, resveratrol, etc.
Lastly, you shouldn’t try to improve your purge by using even more powerful actives in the area. When pimples appear, they are usually very annoying and we want to get rid of them immediately, but we must be patient and not irritate our skin.
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Do you want to learn to take better care of your skin? You can see an index of all my informative posts here.