Not all spots are created equal, and they can emerge (often at the most inconvenient time) for any number of reasons. Deciphering what type a blemish is, why it has suddenly appeared, and how best to deal with it is not always easy. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a skincare enthusiast with an elaborate 10-step nighttime routine, or a minimalist who relies on a tightly edited roster of trusted products, determining the cause of the outbreak and the appropriate course of action to follow can be a minefield. Do you deal with eruptions using—often drying—blemish or acne treatments, or allow a skin flare-up to run its course?
British Vogue enlisted the help of general medicine consultant and expert aesthetic physician, Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme, to explain what skin purging is, how to distinguish it from an ordinary breakout, and how to deal with it.
What is skin purging?
“Skin purging occurs when a product or process speeds up the skin’s cell turnover, leading to tiny open or closed comedones that usually manifest as white heads on the skin.”
What causes skin purging?
“Skin purging is not a name you will see in the scientific journals, but it is well recognised in clinical practice. You will usually see terms like ‘inflammatory lesions’, or ‘inflammatory acne’, associated with ingredients which increase the skin turnover. Ingredients like retinoids, AHAs, BHAs, PHA, chemical peels and even lasers can prompt skin to purge.”
How long does skin purging last?
“It can last from four days to six weeks, but on average, you can expect it to occur for around two weeks.”
Is skin purging a good thing?
“Purging is neither good nor bad. It can happen after using excellent products but, equally, it also frequently occurs when the skin barrier is compromised prior to starting with a product or treatment. The risk of purging can be reduced if you first repair the barrier function, then slowly start the treatment or introduce the product.”
How does one distinguish skin purging from breakouts?
“Breakouts and skin purging are a continuum of each other. With breakouts there is initially a clogged pore which gets inflamed, leading to open or closed comedones. With purging, this process is accelerated and there is usually a precipitant such as a new product or treatment. If you keep going with the product or treatment, you can expect your skin to get better.”
How to treat skin purging
“If the skin barrier is compromised when you see purging then start ingredients which help with barrier repair, such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid in a non-comedogenic formulation. If you are using a treatment or product continue with a slower approach.”
Skin purging causes the skin to look uneven. What are the best products to smooth skin?
“It is important not to be aggressive when you see purging, and understand it can be part and parcel of getting the best results for your skin. When it occurs treat the skin gently—don’t try and pick or exfoliate away the papules because that could actually make things worse. Instead, review the products; slow down your use of them if your skin is feeling dry and tight; hydrate the skin with a gentle cleanser, such as CeraVe’s Hydrating Cleanser [Vogue also loves Oskia’s Rest Day Cleansing Milk], or a low percentage salicylic cleanser, as well as noncomedogenic moisturisers. At the clinic, treatments such as LED light can be very helpful to calm the skin.