Is It Purging or a Breakout?

If you have acne-prone or sensitive skin, trying out a new skincare product can be nerve-racking, especially when you see new pimples form on your skin! From then on, you can’t help but wonder if the product is working (“purging”) or causing a breakout.

But telling the difference between an active breakout and purging doesn’t have to be a guessing game! Though they may look similar, there are ways to distinguish them from one another. Let’s review!

What Products Did You Use?

The first (and most important) step in distinguishing whether your skin is purging or breaking out is to look at what products you applied before the acne appeared. If you’re versed in the skincare world, you know that purging is a sign that a skincare product is working. However, purging only occurs if the product contains actives. By that, we mean ingredients that increase your skin’s cell turnover rate. This includes ingredients like retinol, AHAs, BHAs, and other chemical exfoliants. If you introduce an active to your routine or up its percentage, you may see some purging within a week.

However, if you’re using products like hydrating serum, moisturizer, or face oil (which likely won’t have any active ingredients), the chances of purging are slim to none. So, if you see acne form after introducing one of these to your skin, you are probably dealing with a breakout.

Where Are the Pimples?

You know your skin better than anyone, which means you know where you’re more prone to acne. Before starting a new product or routine, note where your skin is most congested. If you’re breaking out from a new product, you’ll get pimples everywhere, including places you never had acne. If you’re purging, your skin will likely only sprout acne in the areas you’re most used to seeing it.

Type of Acne You’re Experiencing

Here’s another big one: What kind of acne are you dealing with? When your skin purges, it brings all the gunk under your skin to the surface, but it does it in a much gentler way. That means that when the pus and sebum surface, the pimples will be smaller and less irritated than your average breakout. They shouldn’t be deep, purple, or cystic, and they should only take around 10 days to show up, mature, and fade away (without you picking at them, of course!).

On the other hand, a breakout will likely want to stick around for a little longer, and the pimples will take their time working through their cycle. They could come in clusters, be cystic, and painful and sore to the touch.

How to Deal

Once you have a better grasp as to what is causing your skin reaction, you can deal with it accordingly:

  • Deal with a breakout by using a pimple patch and nourishing ingredients to nurse your skin back to health. This could mean hydration – especially if your acne was caused by an exfoliant.
  • Deal with a purging session by giving your skin time. Don’t pick at your acne! A purge can take about six weeks to clear up, so it’s a game of patience, but one that should be worth it in the end!
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