Everything you need to know about purging

For starters, it means your skincare products are working.

Written by
Kate Iselin
Medically reviewed by
min read
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You've changed up your skincare routine, and suddenly, new pimples and acne lesions are popping up everywhere, you have whiteheads where there were none before, and your skin is somehow oilier than ever, yet so dry that it’s flaking off.

Before you give up and bin your brand-new skincare, wait. You could be experiencing what's called skin purging, the phenomenon that means your new skin treatment is working just as it should (though it doesn't really feel like it). Let's look at why your skin purges and what you can do about it.

What is skin purging?

There aren’t many scientific papers or studies written about purging — most of what we know about it comes from personal experiences.

Skin purging refers to the process of active ingredients speeding up our skin's natural pace of cell turnover. It most frequently happens when someone uses retinol for the first time, although it can also occur when using vitamin C treatments and some exfoliating acids, like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.

Basically, it occurs when our skin starts getting rid of all the comedones and pimples that were forming underneath the top layer — pimples that might’ve taken weeks to emerge, but are now appearing at a rapid rate.

When it happens, you may notice sudden acne breakouts, as well as dry, oily, or peeling skin (or in some cases, all of the above at the same time). It can be tempting to think that this means your new skin treatment doesn’t work — after all, we want to reduce acne, not cause it.

But try not to stress. Purging is common, and it doesn’t last forever. It’s simply your skin clearing out all of its impurities, and it means that your treatment is working.

Why does skin purge?

To understand purging, we first have to understand the skin cycle. In short, new, healthy skin cells are continuously replacing old, dead skin cells — and there's a constant process of renewal happening.

This process generally takes about 28 days, although as we get older the life cycle of our skin cells does increase [1][2]. But as we know, fresh skin cells aren’t the only things that pop up on our skin. We also see comedones (blackheads and whiteheads), as well as pimples and acne lesions.

Some of these acne lesions, like cysts and nodules, can take weeks to form and for most of this time, they’re not sitting on top of our skin. They’re growing underneath it, where we can’t see or feel them.

Any product that increases skin cell turnover, like retinol or prescription retinoids, will increase the rate at which new skin cells are formed and the rate at which acne lesions emerge on our skin. But don’t worry: retinol isn’t creating acne lesions where there were none before, it’s just bringing pre-existing ones up to the top.

Think of it as pressing the fast-forward button on your face: all of those pimples waiting to pop up are now rushing out of your skin, thanks to the active ingredients in your skincare.

Skin purging vs breakouts: How to tell the difference

Skin purging can easily be mistaken for acne breakouts, but there are a few key differences between them. Purging skin:

  • Causes the temporary appearance of spots
  • In the long run, is beneficial for your skin health
  • Is a detoxifying process that happens thanks to powerful ingredients doing their magic
  • Happens in areas where you typically get breakouts

On the flip side, acne:

  • Can lead to long-term blemishes and scars
  • Isn't beneficial for your skin
  • Can indicate an allergic reaction to a new skincare product
  • Can happen in any area

Can you stop your skin from purging?

Unfortunately, you can’t stop purging. You also can’t predict it: one person might find that their skin purging is really extreme, while someone else may not experience it at all.

Yes, if you stop using your skin treatment, the purging will slow down and stop, but you’ll also be stopping all of the good that the product is doing.

Particularly, if you’re using a prescription treatment, like a personalised Software formula, we recommend that you continue using it as directed unless your health practitioner tells you otherwise. Though it may be frustrating at first, only if you carry on with the treatment will you achieve the results you were hoping for.

If you want some guidance on this, feel free to check in with your Software practitioner and fill them in on your experience.

If you find that your skin is particularly dry, our Ceramide Repair Balm is a great option for morning and night use and can be used in conjunction with your Software formula. It revitalises dull, damaged, and dry skin with an injection of moisture-retaining and nourishing ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and squalane.

Its non-comedogenic formula replenishes and protects the skin barrier, infuses hydration, reduces redness and irritation, and protects against free radicals — and is particularly beneficial for those with sensitive skin.

However, if you feel like you're having a negative reaction to your treatment, it's important to stop using it right away. While it’s uncommon, if you notice that your skin is swollen or inflamed, or if you notice a rash or any blisters, stop the treatment and speak with your practitioner as soon as possible.

You can also target the areas where your skin is purging with Software's AHA/BHA Pimple Patches. Not only will they prevent you from picking at your breakouts, but they'll also remove dead skin cells and dry out excess oil to reveal visibly clearer skin in just 2 hours.

How long does purging last?

You can breathe a sigh of relief because purging is definitely not permanent. It generally lasts around a month to 6 weeks.

Some people like to wait until they have a spare few weeks on their calendar before they start a treatment that may make them purge, while others don’t mind as much and are happy to let their skin purge as they go about their everyday life.

We won’t blame you if you want to start a skincare treatment over your work break or Christmas holidays when you’re not going out as much, but we also believe that purging, like acne, is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

We’re in the ‘wear it with a smile’ camp.

Embrace the purge, understand that it’s simply your body responding naturally to a treatment that you’re giving it, and look forward to the clear and fresh skin you’re going to see on the other side.

We’ve all been there: you start using a new skin treatment that’s proven to reduce acne, but after a week or so of applying the product, your skin actually looks worse. Just remember that skin purging doesn't last forever.

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