Is Your Skin Purging or Breaking Out? Acne Purging Explained

22 June 2022

If you have acne, your skin can experience purging or new pimples with new skincare or facials. So how do you distinguish between them and get it treated?


If you have acne, your skin can experience purging or new pimples with new skincare or facials. So how do you distinguish between them and get it treated?


Ever tried a new skincare product that promises to improve your skin only to have a bumper crop of pimples? You could be experiencing purging or an acne outbreak from this new product. The word “purging” often makes my patients recoil in fear whenever I tell of this possibility; but before you ditch your skincare product, take heart that purging is actually good (albeit annoying) for your acne.


In this blogpost, understand what is purging, why it happens; how purging differs from acne outbreaks and how to treat it.


I’ve also shared about skin purging and whether popular acne skincare ingredient Niacinamide (vitamin B3) can cause purging in VOGUE Singapore. The full article is available here.


What is purging?


Purging is a phenomenon when your skin looks like it has an acne flare when you start using active ingredients that accelerate cell turnover in the skin. Patients generally feel that their acne worsens before it improves.


What does purging look like?


With purging, the pimples that appear will occur in parts of your skin that contain microcomedones. These are the parts of your face where you would also normally experience acne; as opposed to outbreaks on parts of your skin that do not normally have pimples. Thankfully, the duration of acne during purging is also shorter than usual.

comedones and acne

The different stages of acne


Why does purging of pimples happen?


Before all pimples form on the skin; they begin as microcomedones under the skin before becoming comedones (blackheads or whiteheads) and eventually papules or pustules. In skin purging, this cycle is accelerated and microcomedones are brought to the surface and appear as comedones, papules or pustules more quickly.


How does purging differ from acne outbreaks?


Acne outbreaks from inappropriate skincare or facial treatments; can look similar to purging but with some differences.


In short, purging from treatments, medications or skincare brings clogged pores to the surface because of increased cell turnover. Purging only occurs with active ingredients or treatments that increase cell turnover; and usually over 4-6 weeks.


Acne breakouts, on the other hand, occur because of any skincare ingredient that is worsening the underlying acne. Any skincare product that clog pores can potentially worsen inflammation and acne. Acne outbreaks can occur on any part of your face– including areas where you do not usually get acne, as opposed to purging.


Acne outbreaks tend to occur with more occlusive skincare or makeup like creams and high coverage makeup. The timeline of acne breakout is also different from purging- it can last longer than the duration of the product being used. The natural skin cycle is approximately 28 days, so if the outbreak persists beyond 6 weeks, it is more likely to be an acne breakout rather than purging.

Even home/DIY chemical peels can cause purging. This one from Drunk Elephant, called TLC Sukari Babyfacial is one of my favourite home DIY peels. It also  25% AHA and 2% Salicylic acid, so it may also cause purging if you have comedones.


Which skincare ingredients or facial treatments can potentially cause purging?


Any skincare, medication or treatment that accelerates cell turnover in the skin can cause purging. Classic examples are retinoids and chemical peels with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA).


Related blogposts:

The Beginner’s Guide to Starting Retinoids

5 Affordable & Popular Retinoid Serums Reviewed

The Truth About Chemical Peels

Is Bakuchiol An Effective Retinol Alternative?

How can skin purging be treated or prevented?


As annoying as it sounds, skin purging is a good sign that your skincare, medication or treatment is working and you’re on the road to clearer and healthier skin. It is something that you’ll have to be patient with as all the comedones trapped beneath your skin get expelled.


However, if purging is something that is too troublesome for you, you can avoid it by stopping the products or treatments that are causing it. That would also mean that the progress of your acne and comedone clearance would also slow down.


Pro tip: get help from your doctor if you’re not sure what is the cause or which products to stop. There are alternatives, as well as creams and medications to help control skin purging, while keeping you on track to clearer and brighter skin.

For more acne and skincare tips, follow me on Instagram here @DrRachelHo


Conclusion on skin purging vs acne outbreaks

Skin purging is one of the inconveniences of getting acne and comedones treated. Purging occurs with skincare, medications and procedures that accelerate cell turnover, thereby bringing clogged pores deep in the skin to the surface. Unlike acne outbreaks, purging makes the skin clearer and brighter; so hang in there! If you want to avoid or reduce your purging- check with your doctor for help!


If you enjoyed this blogpost, you might find the following acne/ pimple related posts helpful:

Acne: Types, Causes, Treatments & Tips for Prevention

Acne & Diet: Foods to Avoid for Less Pimples

Maskne: How to Avoid Acne from Wearing Surgical Face Masks

Acne Steroid Injections & When Popping A Pimple Could Kill You

Is Isotretinoin (Roaccutane) Dangerous?




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