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Does Benzoyl Peroxide Cause Purging? 

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?

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.

Fast Healing

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

How long does benzoyl peroxide take to clear acne breakouts?

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.

Does purging leave dark spots or hyperpigmentation?

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.

Need more help? Ask our team!

I’ve helped over 2,500 people clear their acne naturally. If you cannot easily find an answer to your question on the website, please reach out to me by email ([email protected]) or send me a message on Instagram or Twitter. I will reply within 24 hours.

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sam wood is GoodGlow's Chief Editor
Analyzed by Sam Wood
Hi I’m Sam Wood. I’m the chief editor, lead acne expert, and health coach behind GoodGlow. I’m also an author of one of the top selling acne books on Amazon, a husband, father of two, and a pretty good cook! I’m so glad you found GoodGlow and hope the information I have spent the last 10 years cultivating will help you clear your skin and improve your overall health. I began experiencing acne breakotus as a sophomore in high school, but unlike most of my friends, my acne actually got worse as I got into my 20s. I exercised regularly, ate healthy (or so I thought) and spent hundreds of dollars a month on high end skincare products and supplements to help clear my skin. Despite these measures my acne breakouts and scarring only got worse as the years wore on. This greatly wore on my self confidence and mental health. Simple things like taking pictures or going out with a large group made me feel self conscious. So I avoided these situations whenever I could help it. As a last ditch effort I decided to try an extremely restrictive diet recommended by a close friend with an autoimmune disease. After following this diet for about two months my skin started to clear for the first time in over 8 years. The good news is that this restrictive diet is not actually necessary for 99% of people to permanently clear their skin, and over the course of a few months I was able to add back about 90% of my “normal diet”. After clearing my skin I spent the next 4 years self experimenting on myself with different diets, supplements, skincare products to try and find a pattern for what was triggering my acne breakouts. I even tried different meditation, ice baths, and accupuncture to try and isolate the root cause of the breakouts. In the end I realized that an extremely restrictive diet was not necessary for clear skin. The most important thing to do is to avoid inflammatory foods in your diet. Some common examples of this are fried foods, alcohol, sugar, and dairy. Most impoirtantly I stopped reading trendy websites for skincare advice and began reading medical journals authored by dermatologists and nutritionists. Although the information in the articles was great the information was not easily understandable to most readers (including me). I spent hours dissecting individual posts and looking up terms I did not understand. Over the next 6 months I gradually began to understand these journals and started self experiemting some of the research on myself. After experiencing quite a bit of success personally, I started sharing my research on forums and with close friends struggling with acne. When I shared the research it was in easy to understand, plain English. Everyone I talked to loved what I had to say and kept asking more and more questions. So I decided to start a blog so I could just send someone a link when they asked a question instead of rewriting something I had sent 100 times before 😅 While the same directional principles apply to everyone, acne is very personal and should be treated on an individual basis. That’s ultimately why I created GoodGlow. To help everyone reverse engineer the root cause of their acne and clear their skin permanently. To date I’ve helped over 2,500 people clear their skin using a natural, holistic approach. If you are unable to find an answer to your question in any of the articles my team has written please reach out and I will do my best to guide you to the proper information and resources so you can make a thoughtful, informed decision. Read more of Sam's articles.

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