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Is Your Skin Purging From Retinol?

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Is Your Skin Purging From Retinol?

Considered to be a “holy grail” skincare product by dermatologists worldwide, retinol is one of the most popular active ingredients used in the treatment of a wide range of skin conditions. 

It can help to fight acne, lightens scars, improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and lightens dark spots. It’s also effective in increasing cell turnover, which introduces healthy cells to the surface of your skin and slows down signs of aging.

However, incorporating retinoids in your skincare routine can also cause clogged pores, redness, peeling, and breakouts—regardless of skin type. This is called retinol skin purging, and it’s the stage where your skin may get worse before it gets better.

It’s alarming, especially if you’re not a skincare expert or if it’s your first time using the product. However, these symptoms are usually just the expected side effect of retinoids. That said, how will you know if what you’re seeing is the dreaded “purge” or an underlying skin condition?

Keep reading to learn more as we discuss why retinol purging happens, how long it lasts, and the signs you should look out for. 

What Does Retinol Purging Look Like?

Purging caused by retinol varies from person to person and typically depends on their skin type and skin health. What most people can expect during this time is that dead cells will rise to the surface, causing dry skin to flake off.

New skin can become exposed and may appear red and irritated as it adjusts to this turnover.  Whiteheads, blackheads, papules, and pustules may also appear in clusters and hard bumps. All of these combined may cause your skin to appear rough with an uneven skin texture

A closeup of a woman’s cheek experiencing retinol purging

Acne Breakout vs Retinol Purge: What’s the Difference?

While both acne breakouts and skin purging retinol have similar symptoms, the two are not the same.

If you rarely get breakouts but suddenly notice pimples appearing at an alarming rate—especially after introducing retinoids to your skin—then it could be a sign of rapid skin cell turnover or a skin purge. These breakouts are usually smaller and more superficial than a cystic acne flareup.

Ultimately, retinol purging is a temporary phase. As your skin adjusts to the increased cell turnover rate promoted by retinol, you should notice a gradual decrease in breakouts, smoother texture, improved skin tone, and a brighter complexion.

Acne breakouts can occur due to stress, excess oil production, bacteria, or as a result of hormonal changes, diet, and environmental factors. This may produce a range of lesions including whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts. They can also appear anywhere on the body, and are typically larger, deeper, and more inflamed than those seen during retinol purging.

Signs of a Retinol Purge

If you’re still unsure whether your skin is purging or just experiencing an acne breakout, here are some signs to look out for.

1. Flaking and Peeling

As retinol stimulates the flaking of old skin cells, you might experience dryness and skin flaking, particularly in areas where you’re prone to dryness. This shedding is a natural part of the renewal process, but it’s crucial to maintain a proper skincare routine and protect the skin with adequate UV protection. 

2. Redness and Irritation

Purging of the skin can trigger mild to moderate redness and irritation. The skin’s barrier may temporarily weaken, leading to a sensitized appearance. However, ongoing redness and severe irritation may indicate an allergic reaction to the product. If redness persists long after you have stopped the use of retinol, contact your healthcare provider for further options on reducing redness. 

3. Texture Changes

Your skin’s texture may initially feel rougher than usual, but this is a transient phase as new, healthier skin cells emerge. Over time, you should notice smoother and more even-textured skin. 

How Long Does Retinol Purge Last?

Rest assured that retinol purging won’t last forever. 

You may expect your skin to feel more supple after a week or two, but the effectiveness and strength of a retinoid plays a huge role in this, too. The potency of the product you used will ultimately dictate how long side effects may last.

Most people see a noticeable difference within two to four weeks. If you experience purging signs and symptoms for more than a month, consult your dermatologist immediately to avoid further complications. 

A medical aesthetician applying serum from a bottle to a client’s face. 

How to Treat Skin Purging From Retinol

Before you use any active ingredient such as retinol, it’s important to slowly introduce your skin to it first. Doing so helps your skin adjust to the chemicals. 

Consider starting a routine where you incorporate retinol once or twice a week, and increase usage after two weeks have passed. Keep going until your skin can tolerate using retinoids every day. Not only does this increase your skin’s tolerance to the ingredient, but it also helps prevent unwanted side effects like purging.

Another way to decrease the risk of unwanted side effects is to hydrate your skin. Drink plenty of water and use a hydrating serum to ease the purging process. Consider using a hydrating moisturizer to balance the effects of retinol on your face. 

Get Quality Retinol Products at APT Medical Aesthetics

Retinol purging might sound scary, but the effects of high-quality retinol products are absolutely worth it for those willing to be patient. 

Remember—the short-lived discomfort is a positive indication that your skin is on its way to achieving a more radiant and rejuvenated appearance!

Let the experts at APT Medical Aesthetics help you navigate the world of medical-grade skincare solutions. Whether you have sensitive skin, oily skin, or a combination, our team is here to make you feel and look your best. 

Contact us today to learn more or to schedule a consultation!

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