Understanding the Difference: Skin Purging vs. Breaking Out

Illustration comparing skin purging and breaking out.
Purging is more likely to happen with products like exfoliants, retinoids, or chemical peels.

One of the most common concerns when starting a new skincare routine or using new products is the occurrence of skin purging or breaking out. Both can manifest as a sudden increase in blemishes, leading to confusion and frustration. However, it’s crucial to understand the difference between the two, as it can affect your approach to skincare and treatment. In this article of Myhealthonly, we will delve into the details of skin purging and breaking out, helping you distinguish between the two and make informed decisions for your skin health.

Identifying Skin Purging: Signs, Duration, and Causes

Understanding Skin Purging:

Skin purging occurs when you introduce new skincare products or ingredients that accelerate the skin’s cell turnover rate. This increased cell renewal process can cause pre-existing clogged pores to surface more quickly, resulting in temporary breakouts. Skin purging typically occurs in areas where you usually experience breakouts, and the timeframe for purging varies but is usually within a few weeks.

Identifying Skin Purging:

  1. Timeline: Skin purging occurs shortly after starting a new skincare product or routine. The timeframe can range from a few days to several weeks. If the onset of breakouts aligns with this timeline, it is likely to be purging.
  2. Location: Purging usually occurs in areas where you commonly experience breakouts. If you notice breakouts in your typical trouble spots, such as the T-zone or chin, it may indicate skin purging.
  3. Type of Blemishes: Purging often manifests as small, superficial pimples like whiteheads, blackheads, or tiny red bumps. These blemishes typically clear up faster than regular breakouts, usually within a few days.
  4. Pre-existing Concerns: If you have underlying congestion or clogged pores, the likelihood of experiencing skin purging is higher. Products that increase cell turnover, like chemical exfoliants or retinoids, are more likely to trigger purging.

Dealing with Skin Purging:

  1. Be Patient: Skin purging is a temporary phase that should subside as your skin adjusts to the new products. Give it time, usually around four to six weeks, before assessing the results.
  2. Maintain Consistency: Stick to your skincare routine and do not introduce additional new products during the purging phase. This allows your skin to adapt to the new regimen.
  3. Gradual Introduction: When starting a new product or ingredient known to cause purging, begin with a lower concentration and gradually increase over time. This approach helps minimize the intensity and duration of the purging period.

Differentiating Breakouts:

While skin purging is a natural process resulting from increased cell turnover, breakouts occur due to factors such as clogged pores, bacteria, hormonal changes, or external irritants. Differentiating between skin purging and a regular breakout is crucial for effective treatment.

Identifying Breakouts:

  1. Timeline: Unlike purging, regular breakouts can occur at any time, regardless of introducing new products or skincare routines. If the breakout persists beyond the typical purging phase, it is likely a regular breakout.
  2. Location: Breakouts can appear in unexpected areas that are not typically prone to acne, unlike purging, which usually affects the usual problem zones.
  3. Blemish Characteristics: Regular breakouts can present as different types of blemishes, including cystic acne, pustules, or nodules. They often take longer to heal compared to purging-related blemishes.
  4. Triggers: Breakouts can be triggered by hormonal changes, stress, diet, or external factors like makeup or touching the face. If there is no correlation with the introduction of new products, it is more likely a regular breakout.

Managing Breakouts:

  1. Spot Treat: For individual blemishes, use targeted spot treatments containing ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or sulfur. These can help reduce inflammation and promote healing.
  2. Gentle Cleansing: Cleanse your face twice a day with a mild, non-comedogenic cleanser to remove dirt, oil, and bacteria without stripping the skin.
  3. Avoid Touching: Refrain from picking or popping your breakouts, as it can lead to further inflammation, scarring, and prolong the healing process.
  4. Oil-Free Products: Opt for oil-free or non-comedogenic moisturizers, makeup, and sunscreens to prevent clogging pores and exacerbating breakouts.
  5. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: Ensure you maintain a well-balanced diet, manage stress levels, and get enough sleep. These factors can significantly impact the overall health of your skin.
  6. Consult a Dermatologist: If your breakouts persist, worsen, or are causing emotional distress, it is advisable to seek professional help from a dermatologist. They can provide a personalized treatment plan based on your specific skin concerns.


Distinguishing between skin purging and breaking out is crucial for understanding the underlying causes and adopting the appropriate skincare approach. Skin purging is a temporary process that occurs when introducing new products, while breakouts can stem from various factors. By closely observing the timeline, location, blemish characteristics, and triggers, you can determine whether your skin is purging or experiencing regular breakouts. Remember to be patient, maintain consistency, and seek professional guidance when needed to achieve and maintain healthy, clear skin.

Frequently Asked Questions :

Q: What is skin purging?

A: Skin purging refers to a temporary reaction that occurs when you introduce new skincare products or treatments to your routine. It typically manifests as an initial increase in breakouts or other skin issues before the skin improves. This is a result of accelerated cell turnover and the purging of impurities from the skin.

Q: How can I differentiate between skin purging and breaking out?

A: While skin purging and breaking out may appear similar, there are a few key differences to consider:

Timing: Skin purging typically occurs within the first few weeks of using a new product or treatment, whereas a breakout can happen at any time.
Location: Purging usually happens in areas where you commonly experience breakouts, while regular breakouts may occur in new or random areas.
Appearance: Purging often presents as small, similar-sized blemishes like whiteheads or blackheads, whereas regular breakouts can vary in size and may include cysts or pustules.
Duration: Skin purging tends to resolve itself within a few weeks as the skin adjusts, whereas regular breakouts may persist for a longer period.

Q: What causes skin purging?

A: Skin purging occurs when certain active ingredients, such as retinoids, exfoliants (e.g., AHAs, BHAs), or chemical peels, speed up the skin’s cell turnover rate. This process brings underlying clogged pores to the surface, resulting in a temporary increase in breakouts.

Q: What causes regular breakouts?

A: Regular breakouts can be caused by various factors, including hormonal changes, stress, diet, genetics, clogged pores, or certain skincare products that don’t suit your skin type.

Q: How long does skin purging last?

A: Skin purging typically lasts for a few weeks, ranging from two to six weeks. However, the duration can vary depending on individual factors and the specific product or treatment used.

Q: How can I manage skin purging?

A: To manage skin purging, it’s essential to:

Continue using the new product or treatment as directed by your skincare professional or the product instructions.
Avoid picking or popping the blemishes, as it can lead to scarring or further irritation.
Maintain a gentle skincare routine, cleansing and moisturizing properly to support the skin’s healing process.
Consider using soothing ingredients like aloe vera, chamomile, or niacinamide to calm the skin.
If the purging becomes severe or excessively prolonged, consult a dermatologist for further guidance.

Q: What should I do if I suspect a regular breakout?

A: If you suspect a regular breakout, you can:

Keep your skincare routine consistent and suitable for your skin type.
Avoid touching your face frequently, as it can transfer bacteria and worsen breakouts.
Consider spot treatments with ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and managing stress levels.
If breakouts persist or become severe, consult a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment options.

Remember, everyone’s skin is unique, and it’s crucial to listen to your skin’s response to determine whether it’s purging or breaking out. If you’re unsure or concerned, consulting with a skincare professional or dermatologist can provide personalized advice for your specific situation.