What is skin purging?

We know that adding a new product to an established skincare routine can be a real undertaking. We all have different needs for our skin, and it takes experimentation and patience to find what works for each person as an individual. With so many challenges in mind, it is important to know exactly what you could be getting yourself into when you add something new to your routine. Our skin can react in several ways to a new product, but today I’d like to take some time to talk about one of the more complex responses: skin purging. 

Skin purging is a temporary acne-like flare-up that can occur after introducing a new product to your facial routine.  Certain active ingredients in skin products (such as retinols and acids) speed up the shedding of dead skin cells on the surface of your face with the ultimate goal of polishing away the top layer to reveal the softer, younger skin underneath.  However, this newly increased pace of cell turnover can cause more dead skin cells to pile up onto the skin’s surface, increasing the chances of a breakout.  This sped-up shedding can even cause dormant buildup (a.k.a. microcomedones) to surface.  This phase can last for a few weeks, but eventually your skin will adapt to the new speed of turnover, ending the purge and giving you all the benefits of your new product.  The American Academy of Dermatology states that at-home treatment requires four to eight weeks to see true improvement. 

When adding new products to your routine, you should always limit yourself to trying out just one at a time.  Introducing two or more simultaneously prevents you from seeing the full effects of each new product on your skin, and may cause your skin to react negatively, especially if you have a sensitive complexion.  One product may work well for your skin, but if the second product causes a purge or a breakout, you will never be able to tell which is giving you those real benefits.  It is important to give your skin a chance to adjust to each new product for a few weeks as recommended to truly gauge how the active ingredients work for you.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between a breakout and a purge phase.  Acne breakouts can appear as blackheads (comedones), red pimples on the surface of the skin (also called papules), pustules, nodules, and cysts.  Purging is different and slightly milder, appearing mostly as small blackheads or skin-coloured bumps just under the surface of the skin.  If you are noticing a worse-than-normal reaction and aren’t sure if you’re dealing with purging or a real breakout, you may want to visit your dermatologist.  In the meantime, while you’re waiting out the purge phase, you should be gentle with your complexion, avoid touching your face as much as possible, and continue to gently cleanse twice per day without hot water or scrubbing.

Beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) is one powerful active ingredient associated with increased cell turnover.  It is often used in treatment of blackheads to remove the built-up skin and uncover plugged pores for more effective cleansing.  BHA differs from alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) in that it is oil-soluble; however, the way that it works with your skin is essentially the same, in that it decreases skin cell adhesion and increases shedding.  Because it is oil-soluble, it is effective on the T-zone and on oily skin.

The most popular example of a BHA is salicylic acid, which naturally occurs in willow bark.  At Ducalm, we formulated our Multi-poretastic Botanic Pore Refiner & Make-up Remover with black willow bark to give your skin and its cell turnover rate a natural botanical boost – without stripping your skin of its natural moisture. Multi-poretastic is also formulated with rose water, rose extract, cucumber extract, and green tea extract to freshen, energize, and brighten the skin.  Check it out here and learn more about its ingredients and formulation.  Give it a try and let us know what you think!