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You eagerly start using a new product that promises to fix your skincare troubles, and within days your face is covered in new spots. What’s happening? Is your skin reacting or is it just evidence that it’s working? Has the product caused this new outbreak?

It’s natural to expect our skin to get better once we start using a product, and being human we all generally expect positive things to happen in a nice predictable way.

However your skin doesn’t behave in a nice predictable way.

Sometimes, when we use products with active ingredients that increase the rate at which skin cells are shed and replaced such as hydroxy acid (such as the salicylic acid in our 28 Day Skin facial serum), vitamin C, retinoids or benzoyl peroxide your skin gets worse before it gets better.

We call the adjustment period when you start using a new product and your skin gets worse before getting better “Purging”.

Unfortunately, being normal human beings who want a nice pimple free face rather than an even more pimpled face, most of us ditch the new product as soon as it appears to be making things worse. We end up in a never ending quest to find the “right” acne fighting product, always disgruntled by the apparent failure of every product to date to cure our acne once and for all.

But this (as we can now see from our graph) is the wrong thing to do. When your skin is adjusting to the new product persevering with the product will eventually make your skin better.

It. just. takes. time.

Why is this happening?

Let’s jump into the middle of the pimple formation process – dead skin cells in a pore become detached and get stuck together with sebum (skin oil) causing the pore to becomes clogged. This clogged pore is called a microcomedone.

Microcomedones lurk below the skin surface and can develop into a whitehead, blackhead, papule (pimple without pus), pustule (pimple with pus) or full-blown cyst or (as our skin doesn’t like to behave in any sort of predictable way) sometimes they simply fade away without you even noticing.

The process of microcomedone formation is linked to the time it takes your skin to naturally exfoliate (between 28 and 50 days depending on your age) and so a micromedone will take between four and eight weeks to appear.

However, if you use products which increase skin cell turnover (the rate at which skin cells are shed and replaced) the process is accelerated and microcomedones will potentially turn into pimples more quickly. Que the purge of pimples a few days after starting a new product.

As the product works its magic however, less pores become clogged so less microcomedones form and the number of angry pimples starts to decrease. A purge can last anywhere from a few days to a month but generally speaking, if you keep using the new product the purge should end sooner rather than later.

But there is a big but – sometimes your skin isn’t purging at all but instead reacting to the new product. This could be because the product is causing irritation from an ingredient you are sensitive too or because it is causing your pores to become clogged. Both lead to an increase in microcomedone formation and pimples.

The only way to stop this flare up is to stop using the product.

Sow which is it? Purge or reaction?

It can sometimes be difficult to tell but luckily there are some signs to help look for:

Purging only occurs in products that speed up cell turnover. Most moisturisers and cleansers won’t cause purging. If you are breaking out with something that doesn’t have active ingredients for increasing skin cell turnover, it’s probably a reaction.

Purging lasts a few days, and generally no more than a month. If your skin has been getting worse after this time (six to eight weeks) it’s probably not purging.

Purging is localised to where the product is used. Purging only causes existing microcomedones to form into pimples faster so if you’ve used a product just on your chin but you’re breaking out on your forehead then it’s probably a reaction.

So what can you do to help reduce the severity of a purge?

Keeping your skin in the best possible condition is the best action you can take to help reduce the symptoms of purging. Drinking plenty of water, keeping your skin hydrated with a moisturiser, protecting yourself from the sun and ensuring that your diet and lifestyle are as healthy as possible to help control sebum product and inflammation. A cleansing routine can help provided it is gentle while light therapy can be particularly useful in keeping microcomedones from turning into infected pimples.


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Images courtesy of Ron Lach at Pexels.

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