The only time you should experience skin purging is if you've used something with an active ingredient. By that I mean something acid or retinol based. Many skincare brands will mention 'active' ingredients in their products but unless it contains BHA or AHA it shouldn't make you break out. Some people also experience purging with the Clarisonic but after it gave me some broken blood vessels I no longer recommend using such a harsh method of physical exfoliation. I credit acid exfoliants with saving my skin and for the most part I've only had good reactions. My skin is very tolerant of strong acids and they're the only thing that makes a difference to my closed comedones. If you suffer from those stubborn little bumps under the skin, they will most likely never come to a head or disappear without the aid of an acid or retinol product. No purging is necessary for a chemical exfoliant to be considered beneficial. However I see so many people freaking out when they first try an acid exfoliator because it's given them a couple of spots when it might just be the beginning stages of a purge & their ticket to clear skin.
Everyone will react differently to products with active ingredients. Just look at reviews of La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo! I personally never experienced a proper skin purge until I tried Avene's Cleanance K. This hydrating cream-gel product contains salicylic, lactic & glycolic acid. The potent blend of acids obviously had a massive effect on my skin & unearthed clogs that years of using Alpha-H Liquid Gold had barely touched. When I first started using Cleanance K my skin looked like it was getting worse than ever. My chin & forehead exploded and new blemishes kept on appearing in those areas for almost three weeks. At first I had no idea if it was a purge or if my skin just hated the product. I started to doubt my unshakeable faith in acids but one day the purge ended. My horribly congested forehead became perfectly clear & smooth. Cleanance K became a holy grail product for me & then Avene discontinued it in favour of Cleanance Expert which annoyingly is totally lacking in acid content (end rant)! Anyway... in order to figure out whether your skin is purging or just breaking out there are a few things you should ask yourself:
1. Do you normally break out in that area?
If you tend to get acne on your forehead but a product gives you a breakout on your cheeks then it's probably not working for you. Purges mainly occur in your most congested areas as they enable the sebum plugs that were clogging your pores to break through the skin & become whiteheads.
2. What kind of spots are they?
By nature closed comedones are quite small. Therefore as they come to the surface, the resulting spot should also be on the small side. They often turn into whiteheads and feel firmer than those big & juicy blemishes. Gentle cleansing can pop the head & they'll disappear within a day or two with minimal scarring. If your spots look red & inflamed or feel painful then they're just breakouts.
3. How long have you been breaking out for?
Although purges can go on for a long time, they don't last forever. If you've been religiously applying a product for well over a month & your skin hasn't improved in any way, shape or form then it's time to give up. Don't wreck your skin any further, take your skincare routine back to basics and try something else.
On the flip side you can have a negative skin reaction to absolutely anything. It could be a new cleanser, moisturiser, sunscreen or foundation - anything that goes on your face can cause irritation. In this case carrying on with that product won't make things any better & you should discontinue use of it immediately. Always make sure to only introduce one new product at a time as that way you can narrow down exactly what it is that's irritating your skin. Even if a chemical exfoliant is working on your blemishes & scarring, it can still aggravate your skin. A good moisturiser is a necessity after exfoliating & make sure you don't overdo things. A 10% glycolic acid peel every night is just gonna make your face sore.
In short, anything can make you break out. If it has no active ingredients then stop using it. If it does have active ingredients & things don't improve after a month then stop using it. But if you can power through that initial purge, the results are totally worth it!
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