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Skin purging, although temporary, can be a very real issue for a handful of people who begin their skincare journey to clear up acne and spots using active ingredients. Sometimes called ‘tretinoin purging’, skincare ingredients that increase cell turnover, can trigger more spots as your skin gets adjusts to your treatment. If you think you’re experiencing skin purging, rest assured it won’t last forever and our experts are always on hand to advise. Read on for your guide on all things purging related, from why purging happens to how long it lasts and how to manage skin purging.

What is skin purging?

Purging is when you experience a breakout of spots or a worsening of existing acne in the first few weeks when your skin is adjusting to a new prescription skin treatment. This is not just the case with Skin + Me treatment but can happen with any acne or skin-ageing treatment that contains prescription strength and even over-the-counter active ingredients.  

It is known to occur in up to a quarter of people with acne and even in some people who don’t have acne. The breakout of your skin can range from just a few more blackheads and whiteheads to a larger number of new, sore spots. 

Although this can be frustrating when it happens to you, don’t panic – this is a normal process your skin goes through in the journey to clearing your skin and it is only temporary. 

Although this can be frustrating when it happens to you, don’t panic – this is a normal process your skin goes through in the journey to clearing your skin and it is only temporary. 

What causes skin purging?

Purging is most often caused by active ingredients such as tretinoin and azelaic acid that increase skin cell turnover and target blocked pores (amongst many other great benefits for the skin) including deep ones that appear on the skin surface first before being cleared. In addition, the increase in skin cell turnover may initially lead to more blocked pores before the skin starts clearing entirely. Think of it like a spring clean – just a temporary side effect on your way to clearer skin. 

How long does skin purging last?

Purging generally doesn’t last for much longer than a month, or six to eight weeks at most. If you’re still experiencing purging after that amount of time, it’s probably not purging and you should look for other causes and contact our support team at hello@skinandme.com

Irritation: Sometimes a product may be irritating your skin rather than causing skin renewal, leading to spots. Ensure your skin remains well hydrated with a non-pore clogging moisturiser and adjust your treatment if your skin feels red and irritated. Make sure to stop any additional over-the-counter ingredients that may irritate your skin further such as harsh cleansers and exfoliant acids such as AHA and BHAs

Active ingredients: What ingredients are in your new product that could be causing purging? If you’ve just introduced an exfoliant or anti-acne product to your skincare routine, common ingredients such as alpha and beta hydroxy acid, retinoids and benzoyl peroxide can cause purging so you shouldn’t be too concerned unless either of the two earlier points are relevant. 

However, if you’re breaking out after introducing a new moisturiser, sunscreen or serum, there’s something going wrong! It could be the product, it could be something else in your life, but it’s probably not a skin purge. 

Is it possible to purge again?

In short, yes. But there are a few different factors that will affect whether or not you go through purging again. Staying consistent with your treatment reduces this risk immensely, so be sure to apply your treatment nightly – if you’re struggling to do this, you’ll need to contact your Prescriber. Also, if you use a new product that increases skin-cell turnover (a retinoid such as tretinoin, or a strong acid like azelaic acid), then you might start purging again if your skin isn’t used to it. 

What can you do if you experience purging?

Remind yourself that this is a temporary process and there is light at the end of the tunnel. The purge means that the ingredients are doing their job. Your skin and your mental health are linked though, so if you do feel like you need support in this area there are resources out there like The Acne Support Charity’s Guide To Emotional Support available.

In the meantime, here are a few tips and tricks that can make this period a bit more tolerable: 

1. Purging can be reduced by building up your tolerance to prescription ingredients slowly and that’s one of the many reasons why Skin + Me will usually start you on a gentle concentration of an active ingredient and slowly increase the strength every month (and this depends a bit on your individual skin which we assess when you sign up with us and throughout your treatment journey). This doesn’t mean you’re able to guarantee you won’t purge. In fact, many Skin + Me customers go through the purging process, but once it clears their skin is better than ever – take it from Yasmin and Stephanie.

2. Keep using your daily dose of personalised solution as you usually would unless you are experiencing exceptional dryness and irritation. Using more of your personalised solution will not have any additional benefit and might actually make your purging worse. 

3. Ensure you are using a gentle cleanser – try our Purify + Prep Cleanser, designed to support the active ingredients in your solution. Ensure you keep away from additional active ingredients such as AHAs and BHAs that can strip the skin further during this period – they can be re-introduced later on once your skin has settled. 

4. Stick to a simple skincare routine. Consistency – and a dose of self-compassion – is what’s needed here.

If you notice a significant breakout or flare-up of your acne, please contact our Dermatology Support Team at hello@skinandme.com. They’ll be able to advise you, support you and discuss any changes to your solution should you need them. In some cases, they might recommend reducing the application of your personalised solution to every other night for two weeks, just to ease it off a little. 

If the purging has not decreased after six to eight weeks please contact our Dermatology Support Team at hello@skinandme.com to discuss your treatment plan.

Medical facts checked by Head of Medical, Dr Jason Thomson.

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