I have confused purging with breakouts before I knew which is which...
It is quite confusing when you notice pimples 'after' you had an exfoliating treatment or using an exfoliating product while your skin seemed perfectly fine (or better) before it..? Your mind gets puzzled... whether you did the right treatment? Or did you used the right product? Or is the product even good?
Well, lets try to clear these doubts from your brain by knowing the difference between purging and reactive breakouts...
What is purging?
Purging is a flare where pimples, whiteheads and blackheads underneath the skin are brought up to the surface after using a skin care product or treatment that speeds up the skin's cellular turnover rate. Means it speeds up the skin's pace of shedding and replacing the cells. As a result, the pimples/whiteheads/blackheads which were waiting under the surface to be formed , suddenly surface up and you may see a flood of them together. These pimples are not formed in a day and that product/treatment didn't caused them.
A pimple starts as a clogged pore under the skin (usually by dead skin cells that don’t detach and get to the surface properly) It is not visible on the outside and may take unto 8 weeks to surface. So when you use a skincare product with an active ingredient that speeds up skin's cell renewal process, the whole cycle is accelerated and the pimples-to-be (called microcomedones) surface up and suddenly you see a whole load of them! But all this means is that the product is doing its job. This initial stage should not last more than 6-8 weeks and after that you should see a clearer skin compared to before you started using the product.
Now, which active ingredients or treatments am I talking about that increase skin cell renewals?
Hydroxy acids (glycolic, lactic, mandelic, malic, citric acid, tartaric acid salicylic, lactobionic acids, gluconolactone)
retinoids (retinol, tretinoin, adapalene, tazarotene, isotretinoin, retinyl palmitate)
chemical peels, lasers, microdermabrasion
vitamin C (ascorbic acid, sodium/magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl palmitate)
other exfoliants (scrubs, enzyme exfoliants)
What is reactive break out?
Literally it means your skin is sensitive towards some ingredient. It starts showing a reaction in the form of an irritation or clogged pores (hence acne).
How to distinguish between purging and breaking out?
Purging usually occurs in the areas that are already prone to pimples and clogged pores. But if you’re breaking out in places where you don’t normally experience breakouts, it’s likely that it is a reaction from the product and you should discontinue it.
Another point to note is that how long did the breakouts last. Typically, purging should last one cycle of skin regeneration, thats 3-6 weeks. So if your breakouts last more than 8 weeks, your skin is reacting and the product is wrong for you.
Remember that if the product you are using doesn't causes any skin cell renewal, its likely not purging but reacting to the product itself.
How to handle purging?
Starting small and slow could be a way to limit the severity of a purge. When you start a product that increases the skin's cellular turnover process, and can cause purging, introduce it at a smaller amount and use it less frequently. Gradually it should resolve as your skin gets used to the product and then continue to use as recommended.
While purging is temporary, breakouts can last for longer periods. Knowing the cause and treating them properly is the key to achieving a healthy skin. Educate yourself about the ingredients and check what is the cause of breakouts for you. Use gentle cleansers, keep hydrated and moisturize accordingly :)