After a certain period of using the same skincare routine, it’s normal to want to kick it up a notch. Your skin grows accustomed to certain levels of ingredients and to see real results, you need to push it out of its comfort zone so to speak. Well, how do we do that? Speaking from the perspective of an aesthetician, we may heighten the levels of certain active ingredients to truly work your skin out. We may get you using a cleanser with a high amount of glycolic acid after using something with smaller amounts of it or bump you up on to the next step in a progressive vitamin A programme.
Sometimes a new product or a new ingredient to your skin can cause your skin to “purge”. If you’ve ever fed a baby, you’ll know that sometimes people (or skin) can reject things that are actually good for them when they’re not used to them… I’d go ahead and say that the mild reaction that can occur from using new skincare products is better than getting a blouseful of regurgitated baby food though.
Have you heard of “purging” before? It’s usually used to describe the period in which products like acids, retinol or retinoids begin to “purge” the skin of any underlying congestion. Many report that they break out when they start using a medical retinol or a cosmeceutical retinoid and the same is said by those who start to use a product high in acids.
Why can new products cause spots AKA the purge?
If you haven’t used something that aims to increase cell turnover before, let me break it down for you. Vitamin A products, such as retinol and retinoids, and acids work to speed up the skin’s proliferation process, the process in which the skin works to shed off the layers of dead skin cells on its surface. The whole top layer of your skin is made up of dead skin cells awaiting shedding off – your whole face is covered in pores too.
If you are someone prone to spots, be they closed pores that present as tiny bumps across your forehead or proper sore big ones, speeding up cell turnover will just move these spots along in the spot formation process rapidly, bringing them from clogged pores to true whiteheads, for example, hence why “purging” occurs.
In my opinion, severe purges happen due to too much or too high a percentage of an ingredient being added to a regime at one time. Introducing things to the skin gradually in a “step-up” kind of way is the trick. Even introducing teeny tiny amounts of vitamin A or glycolic acid may bring about a few extra spots for a while but it will be nowhere near as many if you skip this weaning technique. Slow and steady wins the race.
How long will the skin purge?
When introducing a product or ingredient progressively, it’s usually about 10 days – that is what our clients would say. Once those spots are out, they are out. It can continue for up to a month which is one full skin cycle. Hold on tight – it will get better and your skin will be beautiful and healthy afterwards so long as you are replenishing it in other ways.
When is it NOT purging?
If a product cannot actually help the skin to renew itself faster, it isn’t a purge. Your AHAs may purge you (BHAs shouldn’t as they dissolve sebum and skin cells within the pore but they sometimes can) as may topical vitamin A… Some also get some initial purging from some forms of vitamin C.
If anything that doesn’t exfoliate breaks you out then it isn’t a purge and it probably means that it is not suited to your skin or is comedogenic (pore-clogging) in general… Sorrrrryyy. If you truly want to give something the benefit of the doubt regardless, hang on for maximum one month. Anything longer than this and you have to just break up with it, rip off the plaster and bin it or pass it along to an acquaintance or distant relative… not immediate family because they’ll hold you accountable if their skin reacts the same way.
Not all things were made for you. Everyone might be talking about one particular product that has changed their skin for the better but it is THEIR skin, not yours. By relentlessly trying to make a particular cleanser or toner work for you, you could be actually doing your skin damage by stripping it of its protective lipid layer – some people have more resilient skin, simple as.
What other initial reactions might your skin have to things like acids and vitamin A?
Vitamin A notoriously causes a retinoid response, which means some mild irritation, redness and flaking and your skin could also have a similar response to acids… hence the importance of having long-term skin guidance. Your consultant will be able to say straight away “yes, that’s normal” or “no, that’s not normal”. This exact dilemma is one of the reasons why I set up The Skin Nerd as a skincare consultancy with a community feeling so that clients feel they can contact us whenever if they have even the smallest qualms about what they’re using.
Helping skin recover from a non-purge purge
Right, if you’ve gone ahead and used vitamin A or masses of glycolic acid without expert guidance and now you’re paying for it with a huge crop of glycolic-related spots or irritated skin, it is not the end of the world. I don’t recommend this technique at all and it can definitely contribute to cumulative damage (and COMPLETELY impair your skin’s barrier, sensitising your skin). I’m not going to refuse to give you advice if you’re already in this sticky wicket.
Pare it back and de-activate your skincare regime for a while. Go for soothing, non-irritating formulations like Avène’s Extremely Gentle Cleanser Lotion (€14.99) while your skin attempts to repair itself. It contains fatty alcohols to help reinforce the lipids of your barrier and very little else bar their own Avene thermal spring water which calms like nothing else.
In these circumstances, you’re trying to calm the skin and replenish it. Acadèmìe Scientifique De Beauté Calming Mask For Redness (€28.80) contains liquorice root extract and lime blossom extract, both which are great at soothing and reducing redness.
Make sure you’re getting omegas in through your diet and through supplements as omegas are proven to reinforce the lipids in your barrier to help it protect your skin from any additional irritation and lock hydration into the skin. This is key as you may have damaged your barrier through your misuse of products… The importance of long-term skin guidance, folks, I cannot advocate for it enough.
If your initial reaction to a product seems too severe to be a purge, stop using the product immediately and contact wherever you bought the product for advice. Reactions ain’t no joke.