Retinol and Purging: To Continue or To Stop?

by Claudia Christin on Jan 30, 2023

retinol and purging

Retinol is a well-known star ingredient with many benefits for our skin. Due to its multipurpose characteristic, it has become a favorite ingredient by many. 

However, with great benefit comes great risk too, like the common saying “with great power comes great responsibilities”. Retinol may elicit negative side effects on some people especially those with sensitive skin. 

Since it works by promoting cellular turnover, the microcomedone that has been sitting under your skin surface will resurface and cause a sudden breakout phase. This phenomenon, also commonly known as purging.

what is purging
signs of purging

Why Does Purging Happen?

Retinol works to increase cellular turnover, which as result, brings out the unseen microcomedones that have been clogging your pores to the surface. Hence, at one point, it can result in temporary increased breakouts or known as purging. 

On top of that, because of its potent nature, retinol users may experience redness, peeling, and skin irritation when using retinol, especially in areas where the skin is more sensitive.

How Long Does it Normally Last?

Around four to six weeks which equals one to two skin cell cycles.

why does purging happen
purging vs. breakouts

How Do I Know If It's Purging and Not Breakout?

  1. It may appears as comedones, papule, or pustules on specific “acne-prone” area of your skin. For instance, forehead, cheek, chin, or many more.

  2. It last for only about four to six weeks.

  3. It apppears after introduction of new product with ingredients or treatment that works on increasing cellular turnover rate (e.g. Retinol, Salicylic Acid, AHA, prescripted retinoids, microdermabrasion, chemical peels).

Can I Still Continue Using Retinol Even If I am Purging?

Yes! However you may exercise precautions while continuing to use it, so that the purging effect won’t be as bad as it may seem.

  1. Lower the frequency of use

  2. Layer with moisturizer (sandwich method)

  3. Do not combine with potentially irritating active ingredients

  4. Use sunscreen the morning after

When Do You Know It is Time To Stop?

  1. The redness intensity is too high

  2. Constant peeling and burning

  3. ‘Purging’ occurs for more than six weeks

  4. After consulting with your dermatologist and you are advised to stop

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