Acne Products and Purging: What You Need To Know

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Before you decide to switch regimens to address breakouts for the 100th time, read this!

So you just started a regimen a week or two ago that your esthetician raved about and now you are breaking out more than ever?  Believe it or not, this is not the time to change routines.

It is crucial to understand how your skin functions and how certain ingredients influence its behavior so you know what to expect when starting a new regimen.

Normally, your skin regenerates itself every 28-50 days depending on age and skin health. You shed skin cells daily, but the amount is so minute that you rarely see it happening.  This is called natural exfoliation.  Acne regimens rely on products that will enhance this process (along with anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredients).

When starting a new acne regimen, your skin goes through an accelerated exfoliation and renewal process.  This allows for breakouts to show up much more quickly than they would have otherwise.  The products are not creating new breakouts, but rather unveiling them at a sooner date.  You would have seen the same blemishes surface weeks down the road, but since your skin function has been sped up you are seeing 5-6 weeks worth of breakouts in one or two weeks.  This amazing and horrifying process is commonly referred to as “purging”.

This can definitely be alarming, but it is very important to adhere to the regimen suggested to you so you can get through this period, and you will get through it.  The average time frame is 7-10 days, but it is not uncommon for it to stretch to 2-4 weeks.  It all depends on the severity of acne you were experiencing and how quickly you can advance your regimen.  Sensitive skin has to advance more slowly so the “purging” period may be a bit longer than tolerant skin which can increase the frequency of product usage more quickly. This breakout period can be minimized by using products with anti-bacterial properties such as benzoyl peroxide or topical antibiotics from your derm.  We suggest sticking to a regimen for 6- 8 weeks and sometimes longer before deciding to switch, unless you are have a reaction (not skin purging).  Keep in mind that not all acne will clear in 8 weeks, but you will definitely get a sense of the products and if you will be able to achieve better results over time.

The bottom line is to stick it out and you will see clearer, more refined healthy skin.

The key players in this acclimation process are:

Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids (glycolic, lactic, salicylic, malic, mandelic acids) –   Hydroxy acids have the ability to break down corneodemosomes on the surface of the skin.  These are what hold the dead skin cells together.  Think of the mortar on a brick wall.  Once the corneodesmosomes are dissolved, the dead skin cells are ready to fall off.  Using a hydroxy acid will speed up the rate that the cells are shed which means your skin has to make new skin cells to fill their place.  When these new cells die, they are pushed to the surface for their turn to be shed. Any debris or microcomedones (pimples) rise to the surface too, which is why it seems like the product is making you break out.  When using these ingredients for acne, daily is usually best.

Retinol – Retinol works from the inside out, which is opposite of a hydroxy acid.   This ingredient stimulates cell renewal first, which then forces your skin to shed the dead skin cells from the top layer.   This is a very potent ingredient and flaking and peeling is a common reaction because it has the ability to speed up the production of new skin cells so fast that you can visibly see the shedding of the old skin cells, which is usually invisible.  This is generally not a desirable outcome, so moderation is the key with retinol.  Use maybe 2-3 times a week.

Ask a professional before starting a regimen with either of these active ingredients.

Have a questions for our estheticians? Ask us here.




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