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Purging vs Breakouts: What's the Difference?

Ever bought a new skincare product, used it for a couple of days only to have your skin break out like crazy? You probably second-guessed yourself and the countless online reviews you combed through and hastily concluded that “It’s not working for me”. We’ve all been there and it can be frustrating to find suitable products without sufficient knowledge in the realm of skincare. A critical question to ask ourselves in those moments is: Am I having breakouts or is my skin purging?

What are breakouts?
Breakouts are negative reactions of the skin due to allergies, irritation from a product or clogged pores. It can appear in areas of the body with a lot of oil glands such as the face, upper back and shoulders. Breakouts usually happen when a hair follicle is inflamed or filled with dead skin cells, sebum and bacteria.  

What is purging?

Skin purging is a reaction to certain ingredients in your skincare product. For instance, active ingredients such as chemical exfoliants trigger rapid skin cell turnover rate, pushing the bacteria and sebum towards the surface of your skin and causing you to “break out”. Purging can appear in the form of whiteheads, dryness or even full-fledged pimples. Oftentimes it can be hard to distinguish between reaction-based breakouts and purging, causing many of us to fall victim to misidentification when really our skin is simply going through a cycle.

How can I tell the difference between purging and breakouts?

Purging typically appears in areas that you usually have breakouts while breakouts can appear on new areas that you never had pimples on before. You should take note of other factors that could contribute to breakouts, such as increased stress, lack of sleep, and hormonal changes. 

How long should I wait to decide whether a product is working? 

Purging can last between four to six weeks, but it varies for each individual. The skin cycle is typically 28 days so a good rule of thumb is to wait till the end of one skin cycle before discontinuing usage of the product. 

Is there a way to prevent purging?

There isn’t a definite way to prevent purging but dermatologists recommend the “ease-in” method where you slowly integrate the product into your regime (eg. once a week) before steadily increasing the frequency and amount of the product used. This way, your skin is able to adjust to the new products and react slowly to the active ingredients.

To make your purging journey smoother, it’s best not to pick at your acne and avoid harsh chemicals that could aggravate your skin. Instead, keep your skin hydrated so that it can function at its best. 


Skin purging is like unclogging a sink – dirt stuck within the pipes needs to be cleared before water can flow through smoothly. Likewise, all the trapped dirt and bacteria within your pores needs to be flushed out before your skincare products can be effectively absorbed into your skin. Every investment towards yourself is always a good one so don’t be too disheartened when your skin purges and enjoy the skincare process from start to finish. 

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