Understanding Skin Purging vs Breakout

How to Tell their Difference and How to Treat Them

Skin purging and breakouts are two common forms of skin problems where reddish little bumps appear and unusually too many than just signaling menstruation period or exposure to dirt plus having excessive oil. Know more about this and the difference between purging and breaking out when you read this article.

What is skin purging?
    Characteristics of Skin Purging
What is a breakout?
    Characteristics of Breakouts
What Causes Skin Purging and Breakouts
Skin Purging vs Breakout: What’s the Difference
How to Tell if You’re Having Skin Purging or Breakouts
How to treat Skin Purging and Acne Breakouts

What is skin purging?

Skin purging is a condition where a reaction of your skin happens in response to a new product or an active ingredient that triggers skin cell turnover. When you start a new skincare routine by using new products, your skin usually reacts to them with side effects such as redness, swelling, dryness or skin flaking and more pimples than you had when you started. This process is what we call skin purging.

Characteristics of Skin Purging

It may vary per person but skin purging presents itself as mostly a mix of blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, cysts, or tiny skin-colored bumps. Skin purging can be easily identified as they appear immediately after using new products, especially with active ingredients such as retinol. You may also notice that it takes place around the T-zone area which is commonly where breakouts happen including the nose, chin and forehead.

Not everyone, however, will experience skin purging after trying a new product. It usually depends on the sensitivity of your skin paired with your kind of lifestyle. Our skin types are different from each other thus, skin purging manifestations also differ. Some may purge more than others, some don’t have any at all.

What is a breakout?

Breakout is an eruption or inflammation of the skin caused by many factors including stress, hormonal conditions, exposure to dirt, trying new skincare products and more. Breakouts can also happen when trying a new product but unlike skin purging, this reaction is permanent and an indication that the product may not work well with your skin. Thus, acne breakouts will not get better unless you change your skincare routine and products.

Characteristics of Breakouts

A breakout, just like skin purging, also flashes in your skin with red, irritated pimples, including different acne types such as blackheads and whiteheads, pustules and papules, and nodules and cysts. Breakouts according to bellecoteparis.com often appear on new areas of the face where acne usually does not occur (which shows that it’s due to a reaction to a product). They usually have a longer lifespan than skin purging.

What Causes Skin Purging and Breakouts

Because skin purging happens when a new and active ingredient is applied to the skin, the most common causes of skin purges are exfoliants or any ingredient that boosts cellular turnover. A dermatologist named Dr. Mraz Robinson says that the most common offenders are retinoids including retinol, topical tretinoin, and isotretinoin. Other ingredients that can cause your skin to purge according to bellecoteparis.com are:

  • Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), Glycolic acid, and Lactic acid
  • Salicylic acid (Beta-hydroxy acid or BHAs)
  • Retinol, Retin-A and retinoids
  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Fruit acids and enzymes
  • Azelaic acid (more than 15% concentration)

Basically, you may want to take note that you may experience skin purging if you use exfoliating acids and other skincare products used to exfoliate.

While skin purging can be identified by one common cause, breakouts on the other hand can be caused by many factors such as hormonal levels, stress, medications, dirt, excessive oil, hair and skin care products and more. Because breakouts can exist in various areas of our skin, medicalnewstoday.com specifies some possible causes why breakouts happen per area such as:

  • Hairlines and T-zone: hair products, cosmetics and oily skin
  • Cheeks: rubbing or friction against things like pillowcases, cellphones, etc.
  • Jawline: hormonal changes

Back: friction from backpacks or sweaty clothing

Skin Purging vs Breakout: What’s the Difference 

So, what really is the difference between purging and breaking out? Let’s find out more below.

Skin purging is a beneficial temporary breakout that is commonly caused when you start using a new product or ingredient that increases the natural skin cell turnover rate, particularly retinoids. In skin purging, your skin will get worse before it gets better. Dr. Camp, a dermatologist, says that in this process, the skin is cleaning itself out. This makes a way for clearer and brighter skin to come out.

Meanwhile, breakouts can be a permanent reaction to using a new product—that means, when you keep using that product-causing acne, your skin will react to it again and again.  A breakout is an indication of an allergic reaction or irritation from the product itself, according to bellecoteparis.com. Breakouts can happen because of physical agents and intangible factors such as stress.

Although it’s quite a challenge to differentiate skin purging vs breakout by just looking at the symptoms, the key difference between them lies in the root cause. Skin purging is a breakout caused by active ingredients mostly retinoids while breakouts on the other hand are caused by factors such as hormonal imbalance, stress, dirt, excessive oil and dead skin cells that lead to clogged pores and these all make way for acne and breakouts to come out. 

Another key difference between skin purging vs breakout is that the former occurs predominantly in a defined area where you already have frequent breakouts while the latter appear in new areas where you don’t often get pimples.

How to Tell if You’re Having Skin Purging or Breakouts

The key differences between skin purging vs breakout explained above should give you a general idea of how they look like but below are more specific comparisons so you can easily assess these bumps on your skin:

CharacteristicsSkin PurgingBreakout
CausesCaused by one factor: active ingredients such as retinoids, to speed up skin cell turnover cycleCaused by many factors like stress, hormones, dirt, excessive oil, friction and more.
LocationOccurs in areas where breakouts frequently happen.Appears in new areas where you don’t normally get pimples.
TimelineThis is a temporary breakout that signals for a new clearer and brighter skinThis can be a permanent reaction to using a new product
DurationDays upto a week1-6 weeks
Acne FormsTypically micromedones (tiny  pimples that aren’t visible to the eye) Can be in the form of all acne types like comedones, pustules and papules, etc.

How to treat Skin Purging and Acne Breakouts

Since skin purging is a side effect of using new products, you cannot speed it up or treat it with another product but there are ways to somehow lessen the severity of the symptoms. Some of them are:

  • Continue with your skincare routine
  • Don’t pick or pop acne.
  • Avoid exposure to dirt.
  • Refrain from direct sunlight to avoid acne scars.
  • Keep your skin hydrated.
Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser

You may use this Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser during skin purging since this is gentle and does not contain acids that can dry up your face. This is hypoallergenic which is good for sensitive skin.

Get it here

You’ll know if it’s skin purging when it lasts only for a few days up to a week. If it’s so, the best thing you can do is that you just have to wait it out. Until then, it’s recommended that you follow the tips above during skin purging.

While waiting for skin purging symptoms to subside, what you can do for the time being is to make sure that you protect your skin. This Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Sunscreen lotion is best for your skin during purging as it protects you against the sun rays and simple radiation from computer screens and artificial lights.

Try this product here

ultra sheer dry touch

Meanwhile, treating acne breakouts is just similar to how you treat skin purging but since it can be a permanent reaction to using a new product, one important tip is to not use that product anymore. Another key step to treating acne breakout is proper hygiene and having an appropriate skincare routine. An ideal skincare routine must have these 5 basic steps: cleanse, exfoliate, hydrate, treat, moisturize and protect. For acne cases, cleansing is more important, thus, you must use facial cleanser soap, clearing toner and clear pore serum.

CeraVe SA Cleanser

CeraVe SA Cleanser is best for acne breakouts as not only will it cleanse your skin but it also exfoliates while making your skin smooth and soft. You can get this with other products to complete your skincare set like:

(2) CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion | Night Cream and the
(3) CeraVe Retinol Serum for Post-Acne Marks and Skin Texture.

Get them all here

There are also home remedies you can use and prescription medicines you want to be familiar with to treat acne breakouts. These and more in my previous article, just click here


It’s understandable when you get easily scared when some bumps pop up and crowd your face without knowing where they came from. It’s more understandable when you try to get rid of them immediately. But it’s important to know what factors have caused this skin condition to appear on your face so they’ll be gone in no time and won’t come back sooner. 

It may be difficult to tell if you are having skin purging or a breakout by just looking at it. But the characteristics and symptoms in this article should help you identify which one you should worry about and which one you should just tolerate until you get past it.