Is Your Skin Breaking Out, Or Is It Actually Purging?

Here's how to tell the difference.


I don’t know about you, but no matter how much I learn about skincare, it still confuses me at the best of times. At the end of the day, skincare in itself is basically a form of science – and let’s face it, I’m no scientist. I’m just a gal who loves beauty products, out here trying to live my best life with the best skin I can get. I’m not asking for much, really.

But one thing that really gets me when it comes to skincare is differentiating when my skin is breaking out, and when it’s purging. As someone who’s struggling with having ‘good skin’ lately, there’s nothing worse than attempting to understand if my skin is spotting, reacting to a new product, suffering from maskne, or all of the above.

I decided this was the time I’d knuckle down and at least learn the difference between breakouts and purging – I can already hear my Ma in the distance saying, ‘If only you were this interested in school or college…’

So, what actually is purging?

You may already know the gist, but basically, purging is what’s referred to as a temporary acne flare-up that usually happens after you introduce a new product into your routine, or try out a new skin treatment. The products in question increase your cell turnover rate to eventually reveal healthier skin, but not without first getting rid of, or purging any bacteria that was around in the first place.

It tends to happen mainly with products that work against acne, so your skin will usually get worse before it gets better. A bit tricky, if you ask me, and almost as scary as watching The Purge itself alone in the dark.

How can I tell if my skin is purging, or I’m suffering from acne?

Right, here is the root of the problem. It’s more than likely that you won’t recognise purging straight away, simply because it’s going to look pretty similar to any other breakout you’ve had previously. So it can be easy to look in disgust at that new product you had such high hopes for and immediately discard it.

Usually, you’ll only be able to know for sure by taking into account the type of product you’re using. If it’s a skincare product specifically designed to fight acne and breakouts, or a product with active ingredients such as retinol, it’s likely that your skin is purging. If you’ve introduced something like a new moisturiser into your routine and your skin reacts, I hate to break it to you, but you’re probably breaking out.

What do I do if my skin is purging?

Unfortunately, there’s no exact time frame to consult for how long purging will last. Other than seeking professional advice, you’re best to tiptoe around a skin purge as you would a regular breakout. So that means double cleansing morning and night, no scrubbing or manual exfoliation, no touching your face (we all know that by now), and being extra gentle with your skin in general.


If you’re using a specific acne treatment and this product is the purging culprit, try your best to be extra patient, as your skin should begin to settle once the ingredients have had the time to start working. If it’s still not going in the right direction after a good few weeks, hit up a dermatologist for help.

Most importantly, is it worth it?

If dealing with purging is basically like dealing with yet another breakout, is it actually worth it? Long story short, yes. The bacteria that’s going to cause this flare-up has to come out, either way, so you’re best off just letting it happen, clearing your pores and making your way to clearer skin. It may not be the prettiest sight, but it’s worth pushing through.

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