Acne Treatment: How to Tell If Your Skin Is Having an Acne Breakout vs Purging

When starting a new acne treatment regimen, I always share with my patients that their skin can get worse before getting better.  This initial purge happens to approximately 20-25% of patients who start a new medical grade treatment for their acne with prescriptions.

What is Acne Purging?

Your acne will get worse, once you start an effective medical grade treatment. Everything starts to come to the skin surface.  More pimples, sometimes even in new areas. These breakouts can also be more intense and more inflamed. For example, your clogged pores may turn into active pimples, small pimples may turn into larger pimples or even pustules. I always share with my patients this is good your skin regimen is working ! Don't stop using your prescriptions!

What Causes Acne Purging?

The active ingredients in acne treatment products may cause upper layers of the skin to shed off (increased cell turnover) and also pushing all the bacteria to the surface. The pimples that would otherwise have come to the surface in several weeks or months, start to come out much earlier. Together, the effects trigger an immune response in your skin. This causes an increase in inflammation, which intensifies the new and existing breakouts.

Which Acne Treatment Ingredients Cause Purging?

Acne treatments that can cause acne purging:

  • (AHAs) Alpha Hydroxy acids (ex. glycolic acid, mandelic acid)

  • (BHAs) Beta hydroxy acid (ex. lactic acid, salicylic acid)

  • Retinoids (ex. retinol, tretinoin, adapalene, tazarotene)

  • Benzoyl Peroxide

  • Vitamin C

  • Isotretinoin/Accutane

Difference Between Purging and Acne Breakout?


Location: Pimples from an acne purge tends to show up all over the face at once, whereas regular breakouts show up at different times on different areas of the face. Treatment: Treatment of regular breakouts vs. breakouts from a purge are different.

With skin purging, continue your treatment. Don't stop!

Whereas with regular acne breakouts, it indicates that an acne treatment needs to be adjusted or started. Duration:  Acne purging is only temporary! This initial breakout while upsetting usually does not last beyond a month, and then things begin to improve.

Regular, untreated breakouts, however, may last for several months or years.  Always see your board-certified dermatologist to receive a customized treatment plan for your skin.  Healthy skin is the best skin and it is possible for you! 

Get Houshmand Healthy Skin.

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Disclaimer: This site only provides information about dermatology and this information is not meant to be taken as medical advice. For more information about dermatology, contact Dr. Houshmand

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