The process of skin “purging”

Did you just start a retinoid treatment and then breakout? Let’s talk about why.

When we refer to “purging” in skincare, we’re talking about a specific process of accelerated skin cell turnover. The short-term result may be alarming (more breakouts!), but in the long term you’ll experience new, glowing and healthier skin.

What is purging?

Purging is a reaction that happens when you use one of the following active ingredients:

  • Retinoids (like tretinoin): These derivatives of vitamin A are proven to improve acne and signs of aging.
  • Azelaic acid: This acid helps reduce bacteria that clogs pores.
  • Exfoliating acids (glycolic, lactatic, salicylic): These acids help remove dead skin cells.

Why does purging happen?

The above ingredients all help speed up the turnover process of skin cells, clearing pores and revealing new cleaner skin underneath. However, as the first part of this process, impurities clogging pores come to the surface.


What does purging look like?

As impurities come to the surface, they can cause pimples and breakouts, (whiteheads and blackheads), or even bumps, redness, peeling and flaking. That being said, not everyone will have a strong reaction or breakout during the purging process—it really just depends on your skin.


How can I tell if my skin is “purging’ or just breaking out?

There are a lot of factors that can cause breakouts and skin irritation. Our advice: Be patient. Purging is most noticeable within the first 10 weeks after adding retinoids or acids to your routine or when increasing the strength of these ingredients.  


Can I prevent purging?

Again, whether you break out from purging depends on your skin. However, start out slowly with these products by only using the amount prescribed in your regimen. After an initial period, you and your doctor can consider if a higher strength is necessary to control your acne.

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