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Surviving the purge

Here’s everything you need to know about skin purging: what causes it, what to expect and how to get through it.

Have you ever bought new skin care products, filled with hope and excitement for all the things they promise? Renewed skin, even tone! Tighter pores and (deep breath) no wrinkles!

Now have you ever had your hopes crushed as soon as you start using your fabulous new products? Not only do they appear not to work, but your skin looks angry, inflamed and, worst of all, you’ve broken out.

We’ve all been there. Many of us have probably spent a small fortune on products that promise the world yet do the exact opposite. Hear us out before you throw it out (we’ve all done that too), and take a closer look at the ingredients. It turns out that to be radiant, poreless and look younger, your skin has to undergo a radical process, which you can only achieve by using potent, active ingredients. Known as purging, it’s horrible, ugly, and it’s going to make you hate getting up in the morning. But dermatologists agree that if your skin’s purging because you’re using new, active ingredients, you should allow it to happen. It’s the best thing you can do for your skin.


Purging’s what happens when expose your skin to an active ingredient that triggers cell turnover, rather like exfoliation but at a much, much higher rate, which causes congestion, and existing bacteria or imperfections deep within the skin to rise to the surface. It also causes dead skin particles to shed faster, which sometimes leads to clogging. But all of this is temporary as your skin adjusts to new ingredients.


A group of ingredients known as chemical exfoliants are responsible for skin purging. Many types of chemical exfoliants cause cell turnover, but some of the common ones are retinoids, hydroxy acids and enzyme exfoliants.


There are several ways of telling a skin purge apart from a breakout or an allergic reaction. A skin purge usually begins a few days after you start using a new product. You’ll notice small bumps and pustules appearing in places where you usually break out. These little bumps and spots should disappear quickly and won’t feel irritated.

A breakout is more erratic; it won’t necessarily coincide with the new product and it won’t appear on specific areas of your face. If you experience a negative side effect from a product, you’ll see and feel it wherever you applied the product, not just on certain parts of your face, accompanied by a burning or itching sensation.


Take a deep breath, get your mom on the phone, or do anything you can to stay calm. If you’re serious about taking a big leap in your skincare routine by using effective, active ingredients, then this is a process you’ll have to allow to happen. Continue with your skincare routine religiously. Don’t stop using the product, don’t pick at your spots, and, whatever you do, don’t apply pimple creams intended to dry your skin, containing ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, because these ointments will only make matters worse. Purging’s a test of patience and endurance.


It depends on you. Usually, a skin purge will last for roughly four to six weeks, but it may be a few more weeks before the hard work you’ve put in starts to show on your skin. Two months of purging isn’t for the faint-hearted, so prepare yourself mentally before you start the process.


If a product promises skin renewal, pore tightening or anti-ageing, read the ingredients carefully. Knowing what to look for will give you a good indication of whether the product will cause you to purge. Look out for retinoids (sometimes referred to in the ingredients as retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde or retinol); and hydroxy acids (including alpha hydroxy acid, citric acid, glycolic acid and salicylic acid). Knowing what to expect is empowering, and it’ll also help motivate you when you, inevitably, arrive at the next big question.


Yes, absolutely. Retinoids and other chemical exfoliants are ingredients scientifically proven to combat skin concerns. Unfortunately, skincare companies don’t talk about purging enough, and they don’t always explain that your skin needs time to get used to certain ingredients. Before you buy

a new skincare product, read the label. As yourself: what ingredients does it contain? That way, you’ll know what to expect.

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