Generally speaking, dermatologists say purging should be over within four to six weeks of starting a new skin care regimen. If your purge lasts longer than six weeks, consult your dermatologist. It could be that you need to adjust the dosage and/or frequency of application.
A purge can last as long as two months, and you should start seeing an improvement by the six-week point, if not sooner. On the other side of a purge is cleaner, clearer skin!
How to treat skin purging. “If the skin barrier is compromised when you see purging then start ingredients which help with barrier repair, such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid in a non-comedogenic formulation. If you are using a treatment or product continue with a slower approach.”
Skin purging occurs because newly introduced skincare ingredients increase the rate at which your skin cells turnover, causing you to shed more dead skin cells than usual. This, in turn, pushes layers of dead skin off and also brings clogged pores to the surface, Chang says, resulting in more breakouts.
Skin purging typically looks like tiny red bumps on the skin that are painful to touch. They are often accompanied by whiteheads or blackheads. It can also cause your skin to become flaky. The flare ups caused by purging have a shorter lifespan than a breakout.
Many have questioned whether skin purging is real. It may seem contradictory that continuing to use a product through breakouts and holding on through some serious bad skin days can result in your complexion eventually clearing. But purging is absolutely real—especially if you have acne-prone skin to begin with.
Purging pimples do not leave marks or blemishes on your skin. It actually heals the skin to form fresher skin cells. Breakouts don't benefit the skin; they leave marks and blemishes when they go. The cell turnover is faster to remove dead cells.
How long does it take for skin to purge? Unfortunately, purging can be a lengthy process and it can take up to three or so months before results start to show, especially if the treatment is an acne medicated treatment.
Purging is a sign that the product is working and you should continue with the treatment as prescribed. After a few weeks of purging, your skin and acne will have noticeably improved. Breaking out is when your skin is reacting because it is sensitive to something in the new product.
Additionally, if you experience any itchiness, redness, burning or pain immediately after applying a new product, these are clear signs you're experiencing an allergic reaction and it's best to wash it off carefully and stop using it altogether.
What does it look like? Distinct, acne-like bumps may be purging. However, if you're noticing welts, diffuse redness, or anything resembling a rash, stop what you're doing. Inflammation is a sign of reaction and generally appears as all-over redness rather than individual, blemish-like spots.
A cystic pimple on your chin? You're probably not purging. Though a skin purge can technically appear as any type of acne, it typically looks like “small, red, tender bumps on the skin, and often [can be accompanied] with the appearance of blackheads or whiteheads,” says Dr. Nazarian.
Skin purging happens when new ingredients, like retinol, promote increased cell turnover, which causes clogging and worsening breakouts. This is particularly the case as oil and debris that is trapped deeper underneath the skin comes to the surface.
"Ideally the skin is smooth, supple, and uniform in color," Waldorf said. If your skin feels less bumpy, the size of your pores has been reduced, and you're noticing less marks, acne, and discoloration, your products are likely working.
Skin purging is a process that happens when certain skincare ingredients increase skin cell turnover. This encourages shedding of old, dead cells and growth of new, healthy ones. Unfortunately, this process often makes the skin look worse before it looks better.
These unwanted effects — particularly skin dryness and acne breakouts — are widely referred to as the “tretinoin purge.” While they don't affect everyone, many tretinoin users experience some degree of purge effects during the first several weeks of treatment.
“A traditional pimple typically takes anywhere from eight to 10 days to appear, mature, and shrink,” she explains. “A breakout from a purge is likely to show up and then disappear in about five days.” The caveat: That's if you don't touch it and let your skin heal itself.
Though some people do report experiencing irritation and breakouts after using the ingredient, niacinamide is unlikely to cause purging. That's because it doesn't affect the skin in a way that usually triggers purging.
Anything that makes your skin cells turn over faster can cause skin purging, so generally those with exfoliating benefits, such as retinoids (Vitamin A), Vitamin C (a very gentle acid that can slough off dead superficial skin) and hydroxy acids (glycolic acid, malic acid and salicylic acid).
Retinoids such as Tretinoin, acids such as salicylic, and benzoyl peroxide are just a few of the products that cause purging. These products contain active ingredients that increase the skin cell turnover rate, therefore causing your skin to purge.
Most niacinamide products also contain a variety of other ingredients. If any of these ingredients increase skin cell turnover then they may be behind any 'purging'. Some ingredients can also be 'comedogenic' which means that they are more likely to clog pores and cause breakouts.
On a positive note, itchiness can be a sign indicating that the acne is getting better. When acne is healing, the red, pustular skin needs to be replaced with new, healthy skin. During this process, your body exfoliates, or sheds old layers of skin to uncover new layers of skin.
Peeling, redness, and irritation are common onset reactions for some people when they first start to use retinol. Some reactions get so bad that the common term used to describe the list of effects has been dubbed the “retinol uglies”. Note from a skincare expert: Many things in life get worse before they get better.