Beauty takes time: breakouts and purging

You eagerly incorporate a new skincare product into your routine, anticipating positive changes, but instead, your face breaks out in new spots. Is it a reaction, or is it evidence that the product is working? Is the product causing the outbreak?

Our expectations for clear and improved skin upon using a new product often clash with the unpredictable nature of skin behaviour. Some products, particularly those with active ingredients like hydroxy acids, vitamin C, retinoids, or benzoyl peroxide that accelerate skin cell turnover, might initially make the skin worse before it gets better. This transitional period, known as "Purging," occurs as the skin adjusts to the product.

Regrettably, many individuals abandon the new product as soon as they notice a seemingly negative impact, perpetuating an ongoing quest for the elusive "right" acne-fighting solution. Contrary to common instincts, as illustrated in our graph, persistence with the product during the adjustment period is the key to achieving improved skin over time—it just requires patience.

Why does purging occur? To comprehend this, let's delve into the microcomedone formation process. Dead skin cells combine with sebum, leading to the formation of a clogged pore or microcomedone. These microcomedones can evolve into various types of pimples. The natural exfoliation process takes between 28 and 50 days, meaning a microcomedone may take four to eight weeks to surface.

Products accelerating skin cell turnover expedite this process, causing microcomedones to potentially transform into pimples more swiftly, resulting in the purge of pimples within days of starting a new product. As the product continues to work, fewer pores become clogged, leading to a decrease in the formation of microcomedones and, subsequently, a decline in the number of pimples. The purge, lasting from a few days to a month, typically concludes with continued product use.

However, there is an important caveat—sometimes, the skin isn't purging but reacting negatively to the new product, either due to ingredient sensitivity or pore-clogging. This reaction triggers an increase in microcomedone formation and pimples.

To distinguish between purging and a reaction, consider the following signs:

1. Purging is associated with products that accelerate cell turnover. Most moisturizers and cleansers won't induce purging. Breakouts caused by products lacking such active ingredients are likely a reaction.

2. Purging typically lasts a few days to no more than a month. If the skin worsens after six to eight weeks, it's probably not purging.

3. Purging occurs in the area where the product is applied. If the breakout extends beyond the application site, it's likely a reaction.

To mitigate the severity of a purge, maintain optimal skin health by staying hydrated, using a gentle moisturiser, protecting your skin from the sun, and adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle. A gentle cleansing routine and light therapy can also be beneficial in preventing microcomedones from evolving into infected pimples.

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