The Active Edit

How To Tell If Your Skin Is Purging

written by: Kristen - Beauty Editorpublished on 30 Nov, 2023

Skin Freaking Out From New Products?

So you’ve just started using a new skincare product that you’ve been desperate to try. But now you’re waking up with even more pimples than before! You might be wondering if this is purging from new ingredients? Or is your skin just totally not loving this new product? While on the surface it may be hard to tell the difference between a normal breakout and skin purging, there are a few telltale signs to help you differentiate one from the other.

This is Skin Purging

Unfortunately, I think we all know what a breakout is, but you may not have heard the word purging before. Purging of the skin often comes after you’ve introduced a new active ingredient into your skincare routine. Purging appears as breakouts, pimples or congestion but is not your typical spot (or 3 or 4). This purging happens because those active ingredients are doing their job and speeding up your skin cell turnover. It’s a good thing! But the bad news is before you get to reveal your best skin ever, all the dead skin cell buildup and excess sebum that has been hiding out in your pores has to come up and say hello. This can result in pimples of all shapes and sizes. These can range from tiny almost-pimples to painful cysts, and really anything in between. Along with this, you may also notice some dryness or flakey skin that you don’t normally have. Totally not ideal.

How to Tell The Difference Between Breakouts and Purging

While you’re standing looking in the mirror, it may seem tricky to determine if your skin is purging or if these breakouts are a clear sign that your skin is not loving this new product. But there are a few ways to tell the difference. Start by taking a look at where these pimples are occurring. If you notice that these spots are appearing in the areas you would normally breakout, then chances are your skin is purging. This is because this area of your face will likely have some kind of buildup to clear away, and purging will just exacerbate your usual problematic areas. But if you’re suddenly getting pimples in an area of your face you’ve never had an issue with before, you may be experiencing an unpleasant reaction to your new product or just a normal breakout.

Another way to tell these two apart is by waiting to see how long these spots take to disappear. Pimples that come as a result of purging tend to pack their bags and clear out much more quickly compared to a normal breakout. If these pimples are taking 8-10 days to appear and disappear, then it looks like you’re dealing with a breakout or skin reaction. It may be time to reach for some mild skincare for acne to get your skin back on track.

Skincare Ingredients That Can Cause Purging

Lucky for us, not all new skincare products will lead to purging. If your skin is prone to breakouts, it is quite normal to see some degree of purging when you introduce a new active ingredient or cosmeceutical skincare product into your regimen, and here's why. Glycolic acid & AHA, lactic acid and mandelic acid are well known for their excellent exfoliation and skin cell removal capabilities. Similarly, Salicylic acid & BHAs actively target excess sebum and helps clear dead skin cells from the pores. Vitamin C can also cause skin purging or flaking, but the main culprit for many people is over-the-counter and prescription Retinol & Vitamin A products or retinoids. This is because all these ingredients work actively as cosmeceuticals should, in varying degrees of skin renewal to speed up your skin cell turnover and clear out all the nasty buildup underneath your skin’s surface. Think of it as a detoxification process and the speed hump before clear skin (well, you catch our drift!).

How to Help Your Skin During the Purging Process

While it can be so tempting, one of the worst things to do is pick at or squeeze these new spots when they start to appear. To give your skin the best chance, don’t try to pop or disrupt any new pimples as this can lead to infection and unwanted scarring. The best thing you can do to help your skin out during this process is to take out excessively drying products from your regimen. Making sure to use really soothing, gentle skincare for sensitive skin will help to calm any inflammation and reduce the likelihood of any more irritation occurring. Look for products that are fragrance free and contain healing Niacinamide & Vitamin B to provide soothing relief fast. Hyaluronic acid is a great skin hydrator that can also help reduce the intensity of a flare up. And to help those breakouts heal quickly, apply a little spot treatment to the individual spots like the Aspect Spot Stop. These treatments are created with red, sore and angry pimples in mind.

Although you don’t want to completely stop using your shiny new active skincare products, it is sometimes just a case of taking it slowly. Products that work really well for purging skin include the La Roche-Posay Toleriane Dermo-Cleanser, as well as their Toleriane Sensitive Facial Moisturiser. Both of these products have been specifically formulated to help calm and moisture sensitive skin without leading to clogged pores and well, breakouts. When you use skincare products with active ingredients, your skin can become even more susceptible to sun damage. So before you leave the house every day, apply a good layer of the Medik8 Physical Sunscreen to protect your skin well. This product has been formulated with a non-chemical SPF to avoid irritation and clogged pores, therefore it’s a must. Because what could be worse than sunburn on purging skin?!

Most importantly, if you think your skin is purging, try to be patient! We know it can be super frustrating when your skin is looking less than perfect, but your skin’s natural regenerative cycle is around 28 days so it will take some time for things to calm down. As a rough guide, if you’re not seeing any improvements after about 6 weeks then it might be time to give your dermatologist a call and see what the experts think.


When it comes to purging, the phrase “it gets worse before it gets better” could not be more accurate. So if you think your skin is purging out all the nasties we encourage you to stick it out, and what will result is the glowing, healthy-looking skin you were hoping for in the first place. Remember good things come to those who wait!