Picture this: your favourite brand drops a new product and you can’t wait to get your hands on it. The excitement builds as you test it out on your skin for the first time and hope that it lives up to everything it claims to be. Only hours later, you discover your face has broken out, or worse, it’s suddenly red, itchy or irritated. We’ve all been there; trying new products tends to be risky as you won’t always know how your skin will react to new ingredients.

But the truth is a reaction is not always a bad thing. Often what may seem like a bad breakout is actually just your skin purging – and this is a very common occurrence when trying new products or incorporating new active ingredients into your routine. In fact, a purge type of reaction actually means the new product is working and doing its job.

However, that’s not to say that all reactions are good either. You can have a bad reaction to an ingredient or product, which means you should stop using it immediately. So how can you tell the difference? Here are some easy ways to identify a skin purge versus a bad or allergic reaction:

What causes your skin to purge?

Think of it this way: when you introduce a new product to your skin, the active ingredients begin to work as soon as they are applied. This triggers your skin cells to turnover, regenerate and repair at a faster rate than normal. This process pushes out impurities, excess oil, sebum and dead skin cells to the surface of your skin and unfortunately causes a breakout, as bacteria and impurities are now sitting on the surface of your skin.

In other words, your skin is detoxing and your new product is doing its job. Your skin will need a bit of time to get rid of all these impurities and get used to the new ingredients. But once this process is over and your skin has adjusted, you won’t experience any more purge-like reactions unless you introduce more new ingredients into your routine.

What Does A Skin Purge Look Like?

Skin purging typically looks like an acne breakout including pimples whiteheads and blackheads. You’ll notice this appearing in all the areas you normally notice acne or blemishes appearing. However, unlike breakouts caused by hormonal changes or lifestyle choices, this type of acne flare-up will last shorter than usual, appearing and healing at a faster rate than other types of acne normally would.

Common Ingredients That Cause the Skin to Purge

It’s important to note that not all new products will trigger your skin to purge. The products that cause purging do so because of certain active ingredients that promote a faster skin cell turnover rate. Some of the most common purging ingredients include Retinoids, Hydroxy Acids (AHAs and BHAs) such as salicylic acid, lactic acid or glycolic acid, and often products that claim to be ‘anti-acne’ or ‘anti-aging’. Additionally, chemical peels, laser treatments and microdermabrasion skin treatments are commonly known to cause skin purging.

An purple comparison chart infographic comparing the differences between skin purging and a bad skin reaction


What Does An Allergic Reaction Look Like?

The downside of trying a new product is having an allergic reaction. This means an ingredient (or many ingredients) in the product are not compatible with your skin and it will never work for you.

If you notice the product has suddenly caused your skin to break out in unusual areas where you’ve not experienced acne before, this could be a sign that you’re allergic to the ingredients. Additionally, if you experience any itchiness, redness, burning or pain immediately after applying a new product, these are clear signs you’re experiencing an allergic reaction and it’s best to wash it off carefully and stop using it altogether. Any extended use of a product that causes this type of reaction can damage your skin over time.

ALWAYS patch test before trying a new product

The truth is, it’s always better to have a small breakout or rash in a manageable area instead of a full-face one! Even if you know you’re not allergic to anything, it’s essential to patch-test in a small area (behind your ear or on the side of your cheek) 24 hours before applying a new product to your full face.

If you’re currently going through a skin purge and you’re not sure how to tackle it, here are 5 easy tips to get your skin through it. And if you’ve had a bad reaction to skincare products before and not sure how to move forward with your skincare routine, we’d be happy to help – just take our free skin assessment and we’ll personalise a skincare routine to suit your skin needs, lifestyle and environment (of course we’ll take into account any adverse reactions you may had from ingredients in the past!).


About the Author

Obsessed with writing, especially about skincare, lifestyle and fashion. Potato chip enthusiast and lover of live music and old school vinyl records.

View Articles