What Is ‘Skin Purging' (and Is It as Scary as It Sounds)?

woman looking at her skin in a mirror

When we heard the term skin purging recently, we couldn’t help but think: horror movie. But, weirded out as we were, we had to know more, so we checked in with Dr. Karyn Grossman, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist, for more information. Here’s the deal.

What exactly is skin purging?

Basically, skin purging is a breakout-like reaction that can occur when certain exfoliative products are introduced into your skin-care routine. According to Dr. Grossman, “This typically occurs from the addition of retinoids—Differin, Retin A or retinols, although it may also occur with AHAs or BHAs. The ‘microcomedones’ [the beginnings of acne lesions] under the skin come up and out as blackheads, whiteheads and pimples. Essentially it’s moving the pimples up and out of the skin at a faster rate.”

So…can you avoid it?

Sadly, no. Dr. Grossman told us, “Unfortunately, you need to just get through it…but look at the bright side: Those pimples would eventually come out, and now they are all gone.”

How long does your skin purge for?

Dr. Grossman told us a skin purge typically lasts from four to six weeks, and is most common in areas that are already prone to acne. So yes, that means that for four to six weeks, you’re at the mercy of your skin.  

Is there *anything* you can do to tone it down?

Luckily, yes. There are ways to minimize the effects of a skin purge. Dr. Grossman advises introducing new products that fall into the above categories (like her own Retinol Renewing Serum) more slowly, to give your skin ample time to adjust. “Go slowly—these products can cause dryness and irritation, so starting every two or three days and gradually working up will help to decrease irritation.  And don’t forget the SPF.”

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sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...