So you’ve just started using an awesome new skincare product that you’ve heard amazing reviews about. Then, a week or two later, your skin just isn’t feeling it despite what your co-worker might have told you.

You may just ask yourself, am I purging or am I breaking out? Well if you don’t already know about skin purging, then you’re about to find out. It’s actually pretty easy to determine the difference between skin purging and breaking out.

What Skin Purging Actually Means

Purging has been explained in a lot of different ways across various beauty mags and blogs. Some experts have said that it’s your skin’s angry reaction to a certain change, whilst others have claimed that it’s the fleeing of toxins and general skin nasties. When we eat clean we might start to feel a bit rubbish and we may develop flu-like symptoms. Whilst this isn’t great at the time, they’re amazing signs that your body is fleeing all of the toxins.

Therefore purging has become a confusing catchall term to reference skin getting worse before it gets better. Yet in most situations, that’s just plain inaccurate.

Key Ingredients That Could Be Triggering Troublesome Skincare Problems

The key question is – when was the last time you checked the ingredients on what you’re applying to your skin? I always say “the less usually means the better“. Yet to be completely fair, we can’t even pronounce half of the ingredients on the bottle – so we go off major recommendations before we might buy something new. We also  sometimes just assume that everything is going to be fine.

AHAS, BHAs and retinoids are active ingredients that increase cell turnover, these can cause your skin to purge in the truest sense. These three ingredients have one main task – to speed up the shredding of dead skin cells. Therefore it’s common to see a little flakiness and what looks like an increase in visible acne. If you have clogged pores,  you’ll notice that those bumps come to the skin’s surface with small white heads. Yet they’ll then quickly disappear without redness, soreness or inflammation.

AHAS & BHAs Explained


AHA’s are also known for the pronunciation, Alpha Hydroxy Acid’s. If you’re considering using glycolic acid on your skin then it’s absolutely essential to understand what these acids are and how they work on the skin.

AHA’s essentially originate from milk and fruit sugars. The most common AHAs are lactic and glycolic acids. These two acids combined will penetrate the skin very well and are often found in a huge amount of skin care products. The main benefit of an alpha hydroxy acid is the ability it has for exfoliating the skin. These acids remove the “glue” from the upper layer of the skin of which holds onto your dead skin cells. By effectively removing that top layer of skin, the acids are then able to help your fresh, baby skin glow again.

They also effectively reduce the look of wrinkles, help to reduce the likeliness of wrinkles to develop and to make your skin significantly smoother (with months of daily use) over time, your skin will just keep getting smoother and smoother.  It’s also believed that in addition to helping new (younger looking and fresh) skin to grow, AHAs also stimulate the growth of elastin and collagen, both of which become depleted with age.

In total there are 5 main types of AHA, the most common (as discussed) are glycolic and lactic acid which are all water soluble.

  • Glycolic Acid (Sugar Crane) – highly common –  suitable ingredient for treating multiple amounts of skin concerns including anti-ageing (ability to trigger cell-turnover)
  • Lactic Acid (Milk) – highly common 
  • Malic Acid (Apples and Pears) – not as common
  • Citiric Acid (Oranges and Lemons) – fairly common
  • Tartaric Acid (Grapes) – not as common

If you’ve got sensitive skin like myself, you might have struggled with using AHAs on a regular basis. Most people can use them once they’ve discovered what the right concentration is for their particular skin type. Most products contain between 5-7% and this is because most people find that the perfect concentration. Essentially, AHAs work mainly as an exfoliant and are fabulous for skin that is sun damaged or dry as it can treat the dermis without drying the skin.

I MUST note – AHAs simply strip the skin back as stated above, so your skin becomes instantly vulnerable to damage from the sun. Therefore it’s a strong recommendation that if you use a product which contains AHAs, that you also use a high-quality sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun.


BHAs means Beta Hydroxy Acids. The most common form of these acids which are found in skincare products is Salicylic Acid (A GODSEND for spots). This acid is actually extracted from the bark of a willow tree. You can find this acid in acne treatments, as these acids are used to combat acne. BHAs are brilliant for exfoliating purposes – they kind of work like AHAs as they remove the dead skin cells, therefore allowing new skin cells to grow. Salicylic Acids also correct dark spots, photo-damage and the skins current texture.

Beta Hydroxy Acids are commonly found in acne treatments because they’re oil-soluble. So whilst these products tend to be on the oilier side, the oil enables the penetration in the pores. When this happens, the over-production of sebum in the skin is dramatically reduced, whilst softening and exfoliating dead skin cells which can build up within them. Whereas AHAs can only exfoliate superficially.

In a nutshell, BHAs are amazing for treating acne-prone and oily skin types whilst also helping treat sun damaged skin. Back to percentages, if you’re interested in trying a product that contains BHAs – look for somewhere between 0.5 to 1% and work your way up to 2% if you find that this is working well for you. Once you start to see amazing results, it’s tempting to really take it up a notch but don’t ruin the process, when it comes to skincare, less is really more.

The Signs Of A Standard Issue Breakout

A standard issue breakout usually forms for us ladies at time of the month, however, you’ll also begin to notice patterns of these if you like to indulge on not just Fat Fridays (but fat weekends that turn into weeks) eek! The standard issue breakout consists of under-the-skin cystic zits, redness, inflammation and some very angry looking zits.

Skin Purging usually occurs in areas that are already prone to clogged pores. For example, I break-out in my t-zone because I have a combination skin type. However, if you’re the same as me and you start to use a new product and you start noticing that your cheeks become blemish hot spots, then you know that something different is troubling your skin.

Another major sign is how long the breakout actually lasts. Typically, a chemical exfoliant should literally sweep out those clogged pores and dead skin withing one cyle of skin regeneration. This cycle can last between three to six weeks. So if you’re breakout consists for more than several months or more, then you’re definitely not skin purging. At this point – whatever you’ve been applying, needs to be thrown away because it’s clearly not working.

It could be your diet

Check Out Your Diet and Lifestyle

This is a major thing that most people overlook. To the left is a face-mapping chart. It explains all of the body parts and how they affect the skin on your face. So if you’re breaking out on the forehead and around the brows, you need to focus on your Liver and Gall Bladder – drink more water, cut down on the alcohol and keep note of what foods might be upsetting the area and so on…

Whilst your diet might seem to be affecting your skin, it usually plays a huge part in troublesome skin problems. Hence why the sudden breakout might just be because you’re not hydrated enough. I love face-mapping and I think it’s heavily overlooked because we’re so focused on applying products to our skin when in actual fact, the problems are there because we’re not hydrating and eating the best that we should be doing, I’m guilty too it!

Defusing the Situation

If a physical exfoliant is causing irritation or maybe pimples, I suggest that you reduce the usage of the product to once a week, or even so, trade it for a great chemical exfoliant. If you’re not sure why a new product is reacting so badly, educate yourselves on the ingredients. I always spend an hour or so typing the ingredient of a bottle into Google – because I’m just like that, but hey, I’ve saved a lot of tears and money by doing this.

The reason whilst it’s also important to do this is because not every product is designed for every skin type. Some of the ingredients that you might find you’re using are probably common acne triggers so it’s so useful to try and avoid them at all costs!

Clay masks, scrubbing cleansers, oil cleansers and your beloved Clarisonic are all perfect products to use for tackling problem some skin. The Glacial Marine Mud Mask has been my favourite product lately. I’ve never actually been skeptical about buying new skin care products, as long as I’ve done my research and I’ve done the facts. Basically, anything that isn’t a chemical exfoliant. Inactive ingredients simply cannot cause an increased cell turnover it takes to incite a real purge.

I never state that I’m a professional in the industry, I just happen to know a lot about active ingredients because over the years, I too, have seemingly tried everything there is. The more natural you go and the less you fuss, the least problems usually occur. I always recommend that  if you’ve got extreme acne, dryness or oily skin that you go and see a doctor or a dermatologist as they’ll be able to give you a more “professional” outlook.

I hope this has helped! Please let me know if you have any questions or you’d like to share your thoughts! 🙂