If you’ve recently invested in a benzoyl peroxide cleansing wash, you might have noticed that your skin is breaking out. If your spots were clearing up before you started using your new face wash, it’s normal to wonder – does benzoyl peroxide cause purging?
Purging is a process in which the skin’s turnover rate increases rapidly, often due to a new product. This rapid turnover leads to bacteria being pushed out of the pores and onto the skin’s surface, resulting in some unfortunate pimples.
So when it comes to benzoyl peroxide and purging, what do you need to know?
Table of Contents
What is Benzoyl Peroxide?
Benzoyl Peroxide is an antiseptic chemical compound used to treat acne at the surface level of the skin. Benzoyl peroxide works by clearing any bacteria off your skin, preventing it from clogging the pores and turning into pimples.
Benzoyl peroxide also helps unclog blocked pores, and is often cited as an effective acne-clearing ingredient. You can find benzoyl peroxide present in many anti-acne face washes and cleansers. Benzoyl peroxide is also known as Panoxyl, so keep that in mind when you’re scanning product labels.
So, Does Panoxyl Cause Purging?
Because of the way in which panoxyl (or benzoyl peroxide) increases skin turnover, it’s totally normal to experience some purging in the first four-six weeks of using a new product. Other active ingredients such as salicylic acid and tretinoin can also cause skin purging, so again make sure to scan the labels if you’re dealing with an unexpected breakout.
What Causes Purging?
Purging is typically caused by rapid increase in skin cell turnover. When benzoyl peroxide absorbs into the skin, it sloughs off any dead skin cells, bacteria and sebum in the pores. This can mean that bacteria can find its way to the surface of the skin more easily, resulting in a breakout and some unwanted pimples.
Purging isn’t unique to benzoyl peroxide – it can be caused by most acids, including salicylic acid, lactic acid, glycolic acid and retinol. These skincare ingredients are all potential purge-causers due to their ability to rapidly turn over the skin cells. Hyaluronic acid is one of the only acids that doesn’t cause purging – it’s a hydrant, so there’s no active exfoliation or deep cleaning taking place.
You can also experience purging following chemical peels, clearing face masks, microdermabrasion and deep exfoliation treatments. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to prevent a skincare purge except sit it out and wait for it to pass.
Does Benzoyl Peroxide Face Wash Cause Purging?
You might think that a wash-off product wouldn’t cause purging, but it isn’t the case when it comes to most active ingredients. Even a wash-off cleanser that uses benzoyl peroxide will still have the time to penetrate the skin and clear out impurities, so using a face wash rather than an absorbent treatment won’t prevent your skin from purging.
How Long Does A Benzoyl Peroxide Purge Last?
You can expect a purging breakout from benzoyl peroxide to last around four to six weeks. During this time, you shouldn’t stop using the skincare product that’s causing the purging. Continue using the product and make sure to keep your skin healthy with limited sun exposure, lots of water and a skincare routine designed for your skin. Don’t forget the importance of eating well, too.
If your purging continues past the six-week mark, you might want to consult with your dermatologist or doctor. Typically, most purging phases shouldn’t last more than a month, so you should speak with a professional about either switching to a different anti-acne product or lowering the percentage of benzoyl peroxide used.
Does Benzoyl Peroxide Make Acne Worse Before It Gets Better?
The short answer? Yes, probably. I’m going to be honest, the first few weeks of using benzoyl peroxide is probably not going to be the most fun for your skin. You’re likely to experience a range of different side effects on your skin, including dryness, irritation, tightness, redness and yes – skin purging. A similar risk vs reward can be said of other harsh skin treatments like rubbing alcohol.
However, if you manage to pass the purging phase and get to the other side, benzoyl peroxide will probably improve your skin and can prevent severe breakouts. Because it targets bacteria and sebum, it makes it difficult for the skin to develop large pustules and spots, although you’ll probably still deal with the odd whitehead or blackhead.
The key to making benzoyl peroxide work is to accompany it with a good diet and good skin hygiene. As I talk about in my eBook, Unmasking Acne, diet plays a massive role in acne management. You can’t rely on skincare products alone to do all the heavy lifting.
Purging vs Breakout: How To Tell The Difference Between The Two
Here are a few ways you should be able to tell the difference between a normal breakout and a purging breakout:
Acne In Your Usual Breakout Spots
If you want to know whether you’re experiencing skin purging or a different type of breakout, the easiest thing to do is analyze the pimples that have sprung up on your face. If your pimples are in the same places where you typically break out, you’re probably purging.
Purging pimples can resemble anything from whiteheads to cystic acne, depending on the type of acne you typically deal with.
A non-purging breakout can typically be identified by where it occurs on the face. If you’re seeing pimples in areas where you never normally see pimples, it’s unlikely that your skin is purging. You’re probably instead dealing with a pore-clogging ingredient in one of your skincare products. This is especially the case if your pimples are whiteheads or closed comedones.
100 Spots At Once
Okay, maybe not 100. But if your pimples have all shown up at the same time following your use of a specific skincare product, it’s probably a purging phase. If your spots are everywhere from your chin to your forehead and your jawline (and they’re all similar in size, shape, color and the same acne type) your skincare product is probably to blame.
One great thing about a purging breakout is that you might notice that it clears up super fast in comparison to your other breakouts. The inflammation will typically die down faster too, so you’ll hopefully be dealing with minimal redness when you experience a purging breakout.
How To Reduce Purging
Unfortunately, there’s very little that you can do to prevent skin purging. You should try your best to see the positive side of a purging outbreak – it means that your skincare product is working and that you’ll soon be enjoying blemish-free skin and less frequent breakouts.
The only certain way to reduce purging is to stop using the skincare product causing it. But I wouldn’t recommend doing that, unless the skincare product is causing other unwanted side effects such as irritation and redness for a prolonged period of time (more than 6 weeks.) In my view, if you’ve invested in a skincare product, it’s best to let the purging phase pass. Once it’s passed, you can move on to the next stage of the process: clean and clear skin.
What Not To Do When Skin Is Purging
Your skin is going to be pretty sensitive when it’s purging, so it’s a good idea to lay off any harsh treatments (such as acid exfoliators, chemical peels or chemical face masks.)
If you’ve decisively determined that the cause of your breakout is a purge related to your new skincare product, DON’T stop using the product, wait for your breakout to clear up and then later start reusing it. If you stop using the product, you’ll undo all your progress and begin purging all over again when you start afresh.
You should only stop using the skincare product if you begin to develop a new type of acne that you haven’t experienced before, such as whiteheads or cystic acne. Whiteheads might mean that the product is comedogenic and causing your pores to clog, while new cystic or severe acne might mean that your skin is sensitive and having an inflammatory response to the ingredients.
You should also stop using the product if you develop irritation, sensitivity and redness, although do be aware that these are some of the early side effects of benzoyl peroxide use. For the first 2-3 weeks of using benzoyl peroxide, it’s pretty normal to experience some dryness, irritation and redness on your skin. But if these symptoms persist for longer than 3 weeks, consult your dermatologist.
Frequently Asked Questions
Typically, benzoyl peroxide will cause acne breakouts to get worse for 2-3 weeks, and then will steadily clear the skin for 2-3 months. However, the actual amount of time it takes depends very much on the individual and their lifestyle habits.
Because purging is increasing the speed of cell turnover and ultimately accelerates the healing process it will not leave behind dark spots, hyperpigmentation, or scarring.