top of page

Understanding the Difference Between Breakouts & Purging

When it comes to skincare, two terms that often confuse many are "breakouts" and "purging." Both involve the appearance of acne or pimples, but they stem from different causes and require different approaches for management. Understanding the distinction between the two can help you better navigate your skincare journey and maintain healthy skin. Let’s dive into the details.

What is a Breakout?

A breakout refers to the sudden appearance of pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, or cysts on the skin. Breakouts are usually a sign of underlying skin issues such as:

  1. Clogged Pores: This can be caused by excess oil, dead skin cells, and dirt.

  2. Bacterial Infections: Acne-causing bacteria, such as Propionibacterium acnes, can infect clogged pores.

  3. Hormonal Changes: Fluctuations in hormones, especially during puberty, menstrual cycles, or stress, can trigger breakouts.

  4. Diet and Lifestyle: High-sugar diets, dairy products, and lack of sleep can contribute to breakouts.

  5. Wrong Skincare Products: Using products that are too harsh or not suitable for your skin type can lead to breakouts.

What is Purging?

Purging, on the other hand, is a reaction to active ingredients in new skincare products, particularly those that speed up cell turnover. These ingredients include:

  1. Retinoids (retinol, tretinoin)

  2. AHAs (glycolic acid, lactic acid)

  3. BHAs (salicylic acid)

  4. Chemical Peels

When you introduce a new product with these active ingredients, your skin starts to shed dead cells more rapidly, pushing impurities to the surface. This process can result in temporary breakouts. However, unlike regular breakouts, purging is a sign that the product is working to improve your skin in the long run.

Key Differences Between Breakouts and Purging

  1. Cause:

  • Breakouts: Caused by external factors like bacteria, clogged pores, or hormonal changes.

  • Purging: Triggered by the use of new skincare products that accelerate cell turnover.

  1. Duration:

  • Breakouts: Can last indefinitely if the underlying cause isn’t addressed.

  • Purging: Typically lasts 4-6 weeks as the skin adjusts to the new product.

  1. Appearance:

  • Breakouts: Can occur anywhere on the face or body.

  • Purging: Usually occurs in areas where you frequently experience breakouts.

  1. Treatment:

  • Breakouts: Requires identifying and addressing the root cause, whether it’s hormonal, bacterial, or product-related.

  • Purging: Often just a matter of time; continue using the product unless irritation is severe or persists beyond 6 weeks.

How to Handle Each

Managing Breakouts:

  1. Identify Triggers: Keep a skincare diary to identify potential triggers.

  2. Use Gentle Products: Avoid harsh scrubs and irritating ingredients.

  3. Consistent Routine: Maintain a consistent skincare routine with products suited to your skin type.

  4. Consult a Dermatologist: For persistent breakouts, seek professional advice.

Managing Purging:

  1. Patience: Give your skin time to adjust, usually 4-6 weeks.

  2. Introduce Products Slowly: Gradually introduce new active ingredients to minimize purging.

  3. Hydrate: Keep your skin hydrated to support the cell turnover process.

  4. Monitor: If purging is severe or persists, consult with a dermatologist to ensure the product is suitable for your skin.


Understanding whether you are experiencing breakouts or purging is crucial for effective skincare management. Breakouts need targeted treatment and lifestyle adjustments, while purging requires patience and careful product introduction. By distinguishing between the two, you can better address your skin’s needs and work towards achieving a clearer, healthier complexion.


bottom of page