Is Skin Purging Real? Skin Purging vs. Acne Breakout

woman suffering from skin purging
  • Skin purging is a short-term skin reaction caused by a new skin product, ingredient, or skin treatment. 
  • Acne breakouts, unlike purging, appear because of clogged pores, dirt, or excess oils in the skin.
  • Skin pruning and acne breakouts can differ in the longevity and location of the whiteheads, blackheads, and blemishes.
  • You cannot prevent skin purging, but you can fasten the process by not touching your face or popping the pimples.
  • Consider seeing a dermatologist if your skin is consistently peeling, flaking, or irritating two months after adding a new product to your skin routine. 

The many skin products on the market make it difficult to find one that fits your skin type best. Sometimes, products are marketed so well they seem almost irresistible. So, we get the products hoping they’ll make our skin dewy and completely blemish-free.

But what happens if the product causes your skin to break out? Are the pimples the result of a regular breakout, or are you dealing with – dare we say it – skin purging?

So, what is skin purging, and what makes it different from acne breakouts? Read on to find out!

What Is Skin Purging?

woman with acne

So… what is purging skin exactly, and what does purge mean?

If you try looking up this term online, you will find countless explanations, some more complicated than others. Simply put, skin purging is the appearance of a skin reaction due to a change in your skincare routine. Usually, purging skin appears when you start using a new product or get a facial treatment you have never had before.

The new product fastens the skin cycle and causes new skin to form more quickly. But for the new skin to be clear of blemishes, all the underlying flakes, dirt, and sebum must reach the surface and heal. The process of new acne appearing on the skin is an inevitable part of skin purging.

So, when you think about it, skin purging does not seem that bad!

Debunking the Myth: Is Skin Purging Real?

Skin purging is as real as it gets. The term itself might not be recognized in dermatology, but that does not mean that this phenomenon does not exist.

Everyone who has ever gotten a brand-new skin product has suffered through at least a few weeks of purging skin. The process is not cute, but it is necessary for those who want to get clearer skin in the long run.

What Does Skin Purging Look Like?

So, what does skin purging look like? This is a difficult question to answer, as skin purging is not that different from regular acne breakouts.

If your skin is purging, you are likely to see more whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, or pustules form on your skin. They will likely appear in the areas where you have gotten pimples in the past. They will stick around for a few weeks and gradually disappear, making your skin look better than before.

The only thing that makes purging skin different from regular breakouts is getting more pimples that appear in record-breaking time. You might get a full-face breakout fiasco in just a few days, which rarely happens to most people. The spots might be paired with redness, irritation, and flakiness – all typical characteristics of purging skin.

What Causes Skin Purging?

man applying exfoliating acid on his skin

More often than not, skin purging is caused by a change in how you treat your skin. Purging skin appears when you start using a new face mask, exfoliator, micellar water, or any other skin product. It can appear in the form of a breakout after facial treatments.

If you have not done any of the above but see acne appearing on your face, you may be dealing with a regular acne breakout instead of purging skin.

Skincare Products That May Cause Skin Purging

Before purchasing or using a skincare product, we recommend reading the ingredient list to ensure the product does not contain any harsh ingredients that could harm your skin. More often than not, acids and retinoids can cause severe skin purging with all the accompanying effects, such as redness, flakiness, a ton of pimples, etc.

So, does salicylic acid cause purging? The answer would be a definite yes, just like the answer you would get if you asked us, “Does azelaic acid cause purging” or “Does benzoyl peroxide cause purging.” All these ingredients speed up the skin cycle and make the impurities appear on top of the skin before disappearing.

Do not be discouraged by this – many ingredients do not cause skin purging, so you can look for products based on those ingredients to avoid a full-on skin purge.

For example, if you asked us, “Does niacinamide cause purging,” we would answer with a resounding no. In fact, this is a very mild ingredient that does not come with too many side effects, so you can use it without worrying that your face will look any less flawless than it already does.

How to Tell If It’s Skin Purging or a Breakout

It is easy to confuse skin purging for acne purging. Many people do not know what separates one condition from the other, so we often see heated debates about purging vs breaking out. If you want to know the main differences between skin purging vs breakout, you should focus on three main things:

  • Is there a change in your skincare routine?
  • What part of your face is breaking out?
  • How long does it take for the acne to heal?

It is common for your skin to fill with blemishes after a facial or after trying out a new product. You could be dealing with purging skin instead of an acne breakout in this case.

If the acne appears in the same areas as before, it is most likely the result of skin purging. If acne appears in places where you have never had them before, it could result from a breakout.

Finally, if the acne is prevalent across 4 to 6 weeks, you might have a bad case of acne breakout. Skin purging usually lasts up to three weeks, with severe cases extending up to a month. But it rarely lasts more than four weeks, which is something to remember.

Why Is My Skin Breaking Out?

Are you looking in the mirror thinking, “Gosh, why is my skin breaking out?” If you are, that’s good. Getting to the root of the problem is always the best thing to do.

Acne appears on the skin if the skin is too oily or dirty or if the pores are clogged. The clogging might be caused by the type of skin you have or by the products you use. For example, excess use of makeup, skin products, and chemical sunscreens can cause acne. Those products are best when used in moderation and removed entirely from the skin as soon as possible, especially before bedtime.

Treatment Options for Skin Purging

woman applying moisturizer on her face

If you are dealing with skin purging, the best thing would be to start using a soothing skin cleanser or moisturizer that does not contain harsh chemicals or sulfate. But can moisturizer cause acne? The product itself can’t, but you should pay attention not to slather it on.

We also recommend using less makeup to cover the pimples and putting on a bit of sunscreen whenever you go out. Especially after a facial, you need to keep the skin breathing but protected from the sun’s harsh rays.

How Long Does Skin Purging Last?

So, how long does skin purging last? Every person’s skin is different, so we cannot say for certain. Usually, this condition lasts between two and three weeks.

When people have sensitive, acne-prone skin from the get-go, the condition might last up to six weeks. We’d say the same thing if you asked us, “How long does tretinoin purge last” or “How long does retinol purge last.”

How to Prevent Skin from Purging

Avoiding skin purging altogether is impossible. However, if you want to experiment with various skin products or facial treatments, there are several things you can use to minimize or limit the purging of your skin.

Here is how to prevent skin purging from getting out of line:

  • Keep your hands off your face! Do not scratch your face or even think about popping pimples.
  • If the purging causes your skin to become flaky, you must not peel the skin off. That would open wounds that can easily become irritated or even infected.
  • Give your skin time to adjust. Be consistent and use the product for an entire skin cycle to ensure it works for your skin type. If the purging becomes too bad, use a smaller amount of the product or try using the product less often.

When to See a Dermatologist

The products may not work well with your skin type if the purging is prevalent even after a 28-day skin cycle. At this point, it is better to see a dermatologist or health professional and consult them about whether to continue using the product or switch to a different one, as well as how to deal with red and flaky skin.


What is skin purging? Skin purging is an uncomfortable but necessary part of every skincare routine, especially if you’re trying out skin cycling. Remember that it is different from an acne breakout, so you should treat it with proper products and not things you would normally use to prevent acne.

How long does purging last? Typically two-three weeks or six weeks in more severe cases.

How to prevent skin purging? You kind of can’t – it’s a way for your skin to rid itself of all toxins. However, what you can do is use any new cosmetic products moderately and reduce the amount of concealer or foundation you apply on your pimples and blemishes.

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