Purging vs. Breaking Out: What’s the Difference?

How do you know if your skin is purging or breaking out? Read this to find out.

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Photo Credit: Anna Tarazevich

Let us know if this has ever happened to you: A new beauty product with amazing reviews pops up on your FYP and you purchase it only to discover that it makes your skin flare up with pimples! What happened? 

Well, this could be one of two things. It might be your skin having a reaction to the product and breaking out, or it could also be your skin doing something called purging. So how can you tell if you should continue using the product or stop immediately? Here, we chat through what causes your skin to purge vs breakout, and how to tell the difference. 

What Is Purging?

Purging is the initial worsening of your skin when you introduce a new skincare product into your routine. For example, it can happen if you start using something that contains an active ingredient that can accelerate the skin’s cell turnover rate. As a result, purging brings existing impurities to the surface, leading to temporary breakouts. This process is necessary for the skin to renew and clear itself.

Purging is commonly triggered by skincare products with active ingredients such as retinoids, AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids), BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids), and certain acne treatments like benzoyl peroxide. These ingredients work by dissolving the “glue” that holds together dead skin cells and by unclogging pores which can lead to a temporary breakout. So, if your skin is purging you should continue using the product, and eventually, the pimples will go away and your skin will look better.  

For purging, it is generally recommended to continue using the product as directed, as the breakouts should subside as your skin adjusts. However, if you experience excessive irritation or discomfort for more than 4-8 weeks, you should definitely speak with your derm.

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Photo Credit: Cottonbro

How to Tell If You’re Breaking Out

On the other hand, breaking out is when your skin is reacting because it can’t tolerate using a skincare product. Breaking out is commonly triggered by sensitivities or allergies to specific ingredients, but can also be caused by ingredients that clogged your pores. A reaction on your skin can look like pimples, inflammation, and redness. 

Breaking out can occur due to various factors, but some common irritants found in cosmetic products include fragrances, preservatives, and essential oils. Additionally, using very occlusive products (read: pore-blocking), especially if you have combination or oily skin, can contribute to breakouts.  

So, iif your skin is breaking out because it can’t tolerate the new cosmetic products, you should stop using the product immediately because continuing to use it will just make the situation worse.

In the case of breaking out, identifying and eliminating the triggering ingredient is crucial. Always discontinue the use of the product and opt for a gentle, non-comedogenic alternative.

[SEE ALSO: The Ultimate Skincare Routine For Oily Skin In The Summer]

How Can I Tell the Difference

There are a few key points that can help you distinguish between when your skin is purging or breaking out:

Check the active ingredients in the product

If your skin experiences a sudden breakout after introducing a product with retinoids, chemical exfoliants, or benzoyl peroxide, it is likely purging. However, if breakouts occur after using a product without these active ingredients, your skin might be having a negative reaction.


Purging typically lasts for about 4-8 weeks. If the breakouts persist beyond this time, it is more likely to be a reaction rather than purging.

Check where breakouts are showing up 

Purging tends to occur in areas where you have previously experienced pimples or whiteheads, but if they appear in unusual or unaffected areas, your skin is most likely having a negative reaction.

Don’t forget, if you suspect you’re breaking out because your skin is reacting to a cosmetic product, you should stop using it immediately. 

Have you ever tried a new skincare product that made your skin flare up? Was it purging or a breakout? Let us know in the comments below.