Breakout Vs Purging- Let’s Discuss Similarities & Differences

a woman with acne breakouts | Breakout Vs Purging- Let’s Discuss Similarities & Differences

Breakouts & Purging: Everything You Need to Know

When you’re trying to care for your skin in a proper new skincare routine, the last thing you want to see after a week or two is a worsening complexion with breakouts. Whether you’re using more active ingredients or staying attentive with a cleansing routine, you might wonder what on earth is causing so many pimples, clogged pores or even patchy dryness. Let's find out.

What Is Skin Purging?

When you start a new skincare regime or you add new products into your current regime, you may experience breakouts or skin flaking. This process is called purging. 

This is a normal, short-term condition where the skin will rid itself of excessive oil, bacteria, or dirt. These flare-ups usually have a shorter life than the usual breakouts, which might last up to six weeks. And although purging can happen, it is not a guaranteed concern when switching products. 

Any time you use ingredients to promote cell turnover and skin shed dead skin cells to reveal fresh, younger-looking cells, there’s a good chance you’ll get some purging as well! 

It is not like everyone will have a purge after using an exfoliating product. All skin is of different types and while some may purge more than others, it all usually depends on the sensitivity of the skin and what’s deep inside the pores ready to be moved out. Before those youthful-looking cells from deeper layers of the skin get exposed, a lot of other things get moved to the surface, causing tiny blackheads or whiteheads as well as peeling or dry, flaky skin.

Several ingredients in a skincare regime are more responsive than others in the purging process. For example, active ingredients which are formulated to boost or accelerate cell turnover or exfoliate are likely to cause a purge – chemical exfoliants like hydroxy acids are one of the most common ingredients behind a skin purge. After using an active exfoliant on the skin, it loosens up the congestion deep within pores and pushes it to the surface of the skin -- causing what seems like a breakout but is actually just your skin facing a cycle.

Another point to consider: The purging you see after starting a new skincare regime or after using active exfoliants are usually Microcomedones that are present below the surface of the skin and comes to the surface of the skin during accelerated cell turnover. You may also notice more purging takes place around the oily skin T-zone or common areas of your breakouts, like the nose, chin or forehead.  

What Does Skin Purging Look Like?

Skin purging can look very similar to a breakout, but there are a few ways to differentiate them. Here are some signs of what skin purging looks like.

Small Pimples

Also known as comedones, these are existing clogging pores that can enlarge and begin to make a head like a pimple. Sometimes, there is a mix of blackheads, whiteheads, blemishes, pustules, cysts and papules where the product has been applied.


Signs of skin dryness, flaking, peeling or sensitivity can be your skin adjusting to your new product or routine. 


Inflammation, visible redness or signs of discolouration can be signs that your pores are either purging or getting ready to purge.

Quick Lifecycle

Signs of skin purging can appear and disappear more rapidly than acne breakouts. Regular breakouts appear and then heal in around 8-10 days, while skin purging can disappear much early.


Confusingly, breakouts can be a sign of your pores purging, but the cause wouldn’t be that of a breakout. Skin breakouts that indicate purging should not be treated with an acne product the same way a simple breakout would be because you are already using your active ingredient.

Causes of Breakouts

Acne breakouts are typically an outcome of excess sebum production by sebaceous glands, clogged hair follicles, inflammation, and bacteria. Hair follicles are adjacent to oil glands and may get blocked and bulge due to the accumulation of oil, dead skin cells and bacteria. The bulge produces whiteheads, which may darken in some time and cause blackheads. When the bulge or pores are blocked with bacteria, it turns brown and comes out as acne. Breakouts are usually seen on the areas of the body with excessive oil glands, like the face, chest, shoulder and upper back. In addition, a few conditions can worsen acne breakouts, like hormonal fluctuations, medications, stress, picking and popping pimples, and certain makeup or skincare products. 

Breakouts Vs Purging

Some of the characteristics to determine whether your skin is purging or you’re experiencing a breakout:

Purging: Located predominantly in a defined area where you already have breakouts frequently. Skin purging also clears up much more rapidly than a pimple or reaction.

Reaction-based breakout: You’re getting breakouts in new areas where you usually don’t get pimples. The timeline from development to breakout and subsequent healing runs much longer — around 1-6 weeks.

For most skin types, using acid exfoliants for the first time can cause some level of dryness and redness in the beginning, especially if you used them too frequently. If you’re using products like serums, toners or moisturisers that don’t contain any active ingredients and find your skin gets irritated or breaks out, your problem could be a sensitivity to a particular ingredient.

Keep in mind that there are huge differences between what causes purging and what boosts the formation of acne. Factors like hormones, oil production and bacteria are usually the culprit behind breakouts. 

Take Away

Now you know about the key differences between skin breakouts vs purging. Remember to keep your skin always clean, and protected with SPF, using acne gel and be hydrated by drinking plenty of water as the foundation of any skincare regime.