Purging vs Breakouts / Over-exfoliation!!!!

Disclaimer: I'm not a medical professional and I don't claim to know all. Just sharing research I've done~ Everyone's skin is different so pls do ur due diligence before starting a new product including research and patch-testing so as to avoid any unwanted skin mishaps pls 🙏🏼 

Was a little apprehensive writing this post cause I feel like this is still gonna be one of those YMMV (your mileage might vary) kinda post. There's research and journal articles out there but there has got to be a reason why there are two schools of thought on this. Anyw, I'm gonna try and clarify purging vs reacting and then over-exfoliation and little tips to help (hopefully).

As per my disclaimer, I'm not a medical profession but I've gathered a significant amount of data across this topic I thought I'd write on today since I was doing some research on it, so I hope this helps in some way. 

Purging - Is it really a thing?

I used to stand very strongly on the side of 'NO' and regard purging as a very negative reaction. The thing is, I'm not alone. I know of medical professions who sees it that way. But another school of thought really believes that purging is an actual thing that can happen. 

However, after studying and doing research, I've been swayed all the way to the other end of 'YES, it does - but only for certain ingredients.' When u see a pimple on ur face, it has already been brewing under your skin for about 6-8 weeks (do I need to start citing my shit 🤔 I got this from a journal article but I'm trying to phrase it in laymen terms).

During that period, pores get clogged when dead skin or gunk isn't removed well. Normally, this tend to go three ways (or it disappears by itself)

  1. Whitehead
  2. Blackhead
  3. Zit

Purge vs Reaction

Just to summarize everything up in one teeny tiny square. This is just for you all to screenshot instead of favoriting one whole post lah. This is pretty much the gist but imma go into more details ⤵️

Purging: Sudden appearance of outbreaks (usually not painful, not itchy, not swollen, tend to resemble tiny zits coming to head) at areas where you tend to get breakouts. Clears up within 2-8 weeks. 

What to do: Push on or halt (I'll explain below) 

Reacting: As it states, this is ur skin reacting to smth that it is NOT HAPPY with. So it could be an unsuitable ingredient causing clogged pores OR just plain irritation to the skin. Niacinamide causes my cheeks to break out into a rash. It doesn't break me out per say but it still irritates tf out of my skin when I use it in high qty. That's a sign of reaction too! Your skin MIGHT get used to it but I say ⤵️

What to do: OMG PLS STOP USING IT ✋🏼

Why does it happen?

Purging happens when you use products or tools that speeds up the skin cell turnover. When we use products with acids, it helps with cell turnover which explains why AHA can help with scarring and fine lines and so on. 

With these products, the clogged stuff that normally has a 6-8 weeks 'brewing period' is now being sped up. So using such products often lead to an initial period of breakouts (aka purging) to clear off the dirty stuff beneath first. 

I tend to purge when I use Vit C, but I've personally never purged from AHA or BHA before. Which is why it's a YMMV-kinda thing - it depends entirely on your skin! Some people with sensitive skin can purge from one use and some might only start purging one week into use. 

So my moisturizer or sunscreen can't make me purge?

Check your product ingredient list! If it contains actives or acids listed above and it acts as an exfoliant. Then there's a chance you're purging. However, most moisturizers, serums etc. don't contain ingredients that can purge you so RUN FAR, I'd say. 

For sunscreens, if u think that's causing u to breakout - it's most likely not purging. You could be allergic to particular sunscreen chemicals so do check that out and change one. 

Does purging come with a time frame?

As our skin takes about 28 days to renew itself, purging should often go away within 6-8 weeks (2 skin cycles). But in my personal experience, most purging would subside by week 4 (1st skin cycle) and lessen as the weeks go. It shouldn't be getting any worse unless u try something new in between this period that might eff ur skin up or somehow irritated your skin in the mean time. 

Which part of my face is supposed to be purging?

Ok, this is where it starts to kinda vary by skin type before using any of these products. 

Logically speaking, purging will mostly occur in places where you alr tend to get breakouts or have clogged pores. If u have a cluster of clogged pores on ur cheeks and u start a BHA, it will exfoliate the area and the cluster might disappear or all come to a head - leading to a breakout at that area. The form of breakouts USUALLY appear as tiny zits coming to head but if u have skin that's problematic to begin with, then there's a chance that the breakouts could be worse. 

Imo, I really don't think that signs of swelling, itchiness, burning sensation, pain of any kind are good indications so these are the 'rules I go by'. 

What should I do in the meantime?

There's two takes when it comes to purging - push through or take a break. I guess technically a third way could be just giving up completely haha For people who want to push through, then being kind to ur skin during this period is super important - that means:

1. An effective and gentle cleansing routine - there's breakouts happening so u dw inflammation to get worse. Cleansing is the foundation to clean, bacteria-free skin 

2. Proper hydration - u want to make sure ur skin is in tip top condition to get thru the purge which means keeping it hydrated is always optimal (like drinking water when you r sick? HAHA)

3. Anti-inflammatory products - nothing too harsh but stuff like tea tree oil, clay masking once a week etc. is always effective to ensure that inflammation is kept minimal. 

4. Sunscreen - this is super important and I know a lot of ppl hate using sunscreen when breaking out but this helps with PIH - Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (aiya basically scarring left by zits lmao) 

Personally, this will be a point where I make a judgement call if i want to continue with the purge. Sometimes, if I don't feel up to dealing with breakouts, I will let it chill out and just go back to simply hydrating routine so it can calm down. This means I completely stop the use of any acids at all and just hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, 

Sometimes, after a holiday or pms, and I can start to feel my pores getting really clogged or even see visible clogged pores, I would push through with my purge and keep a close close observation on my skin. 


I briefly did some research on this whilst reading up on purging and I feel like this is super important but not emphasized enough! 

Not all of us go through a purge when we start on acids but this doesn't mean everyone should be acid-happy and over-exfoliate the skin. Over-exfoliated skin is irritated skin and normally, this can mean developing of cystic acne, dry skin, plenty of redness, sensitive and painful, stings upon application of other products which normally don't happen etc. 

Some people see immediate positive results from using AHA/BHA and upped their usage without needing to and this can lead to sudden breakouts and angry skin!

When this happens, your poor skin is like an open wound. U won't go and do exfoliation on an open wound right? So similar thing, when you over-exfoliated your skin and it's pissed off, you need to soothe and calm it down!

Products with harsh ingredients like alcohol should be avoided, and all forms of exfoliation should come to a halt. Soothing products like hyaluronic acid can help to calm the skin down and provide hydration. I would suggest going simple and light if u realize that you have over-exfoliated your face. Treat it like how you would treat an open wound!