Tuesday, 23 February 2021 10:00

Mistaken Identity: How to Differentiate Between Skin Purging, Acne, & Allergic Reactions

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Introducing new products to a clients skin care routine can sometimes cause a flare-up of pimples or red bumps, otherwise known as purging. If this happens, dont panic. Do, however, take the time to step back and analyze what their skin is trying to tell you. In many cases, it is beneficial to continue using the new products to allow the skin to adjust. Do be cautious because purging symptoms can resemble acne breakouts and allergic reactions, and it is easy to confuse them with each other. So, how can you tell the difference between skin purging, allergic reactions, and real acne breakouts? Throughout this article, I will explain the differences between each of these events, identify their different symptoms, and discuss recommended care.


Incorporating new products into anyones skin care regimen can lead to a temporary purge, increasing the number of small pimples, clogged pores, or even dry patches. This repercussion is the skins reaction to ingredients that promote cellular turnover (the shedding of dead skin cells), to reveal fresh new cells. Active ingredients that exfoliate or accelerate cellular turnover are more likely to cause this reaction. For example, chemical exfoliants, like hydroxy acids, can commonly trigger a purge. While it may sound scary, skin purging is very common and can conversely be a positive sign. In many cases, it is one of the first steps towards achieving better skin.

Before these new cells emerge from deeper layers of the skin, many other elements, such as toxins can be pushed to the surface, can potentially cause tiny whiteheads or blackheads, as well as flaky skin. Signs of purging often include microcomedones or small pimples that arent visible, existing below the skins surface. They come to the surface during the cellular turnover process and frequently appear around common areas of regular acne breakouts, such as the nose, chin, or forehead. 

These microcomedones would have surfaced eventually to form pimples, but the use of new products that accelerate cellular turnover can speed up their appearance. An average skin cycle lasts about 28 days, so it is recommended to go through at least one full skin cycle before changing anything in the client’s new skin routine. This delay of change allows enough time to shed dead skin cells and get through the purging process. Interestingly, pimples from purging tend to heal faster than regular pimples. However, if a purge lasts longer than four to six weeks, it may be time to recommend that the client consults a dermatologist.


When allergic reactions happen at the start of a new routine, it is easy to confuse them with purging or real acne. It is critical to recognize the differences, as they often determine if the client should continue using the new products. If bumps or dryness occur in areas where theclient does not typically break out, it could be an allergic reaction. If this is the case, it is best to stop using the product immediately and wait for symptoms to subside. 

Unlike pimples from purging, pimples from acne and allergic breakouts can take up to 10 days to disappear. Allergic reactions are usually red, itchy, and can even appear scaly. This reaction is the main differentiator because itchiness is not a sign of purging. Other factors such as diet, stress, hormonal changes, and makeup use can also contribute to acne. These factors are essential considerations when assessing which products work best for a clients skin. 


How do you treat your clients skin if they are experiencing a purge or a breakout? The best thing to do is maintain their current routine and wait it out. To prevent aggressive reactions, ease the client into their new routine slowly, gradually incorporating the new products one at a time. Recommend using the products just two times per week.Then, slowly increase the frequency to three or four times per week over the course of a month until they can use the product daily or as directed. 

In the case of purging or reactions, avoid additional products with ingredients that will cause dryness. If clients experience real acne, it can be treated with products containing acne-geared ingredients, such as salicylic acid and tea tree. Whether the skin is purging or having actual acne breakouts, coach clients not to pick at their skin or pop their pimples. Doing so can cause further inflammation, acne, and discoloration, as well as lengthen the healing process.

Though experiencing purging can be frustrating, remind clients that this is normal and very common when using new skin care products. Help them understand the benefits of continuing with their new routines and that being patient with the effects of purging, could lead to much clearer, healthier-looking skin.



Brian Goodwin NEW

Brian Goodwin is an award-winning International Educator for Éminence Organic Skin Care. As a master medical aesthetician, master herbalist, and consultant, Goodwin leverages over 10 years of spa industry experience to bring fun, engaging education to spa professionals around the world. Voted ‘Favorite Brand Educator’ in DERMASCOPE’s 2019 Aestheticians' Choice Awards, Goodwin delivers influential trainings which continue to raise the bar for professional education and garner worldwide peer recognition. Goodwin embraces every opportunity to share his passion and guide industry professionals on their path to success. He has educated and consulted to more than 2,000 distinguished spas and has notably been invited to deliver keynotes at major industry events across North America. 

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