I started a fancy fifty step skincare routine during quarantine 2020 and it ruined my life. Ok, that’s a *slight* exaggeration, but it was absolutely torturous on my skin, my mental health and my confidence. It was, however –– looking back now – one of the best things I ever did. And here’s why.
What is a skin purge?
It all started with Paula’s Choice 2% BHA. Oh BHA, I never thought it was possible to both love and loathe a product at the same time. Boy, was I wrong. You see, friends, Beta Hydroxy Acid aka Salicylic Acid basically speeds up skin cell turnover. Which is fabulous for anti-aging, skin tone, texture, dark spots and for unblocking pores and clearing breakouts. What you do have to endure first, however, is absolutely ghastly skin for somewhere between 4 weeks to 3-4 months.
And here’s the real kicker: you have no idea how long it’s going to last until you get started.
What causes a skin purge?
Basically, by speeding up skin cell turnover, a BHA product will bring all of your breakouts and blackheads to the surface at around about the same time, for an extended period, until they clear. It’s known as a skin purge. It’s essentially a reaction to the chemical exfoliant. The difference (generally speaking) between a skin purge and traditional breakouts is supposed to be in how long they last. Anything over about 6-8 weeks is considered too long for a skin purge. However, mine lasted approximately 12-16 weeks, soooooo *shrug*
The great iso skin purge of 2020
I started using BHA with the very best intentions. It came highly recommended for anti-aging, reducing breakouts and clearing some really old congested pores on my forehead. However, my skin went from “passable” to “absolutely hideous” in approximately 24-48 hours. And it just got worse from there. If I hadn’t been in iso due to COVID, I don’t know what I would have done. Maybe worn a balaclava or just finally given up and just removed my head.
After about a week, the great iso skin purge of 2020 went from manageable and “deal-withable” to downright depressing and straight-up painful. I had huge red breakouts along my jawline and on my cheeks, on both sides of my face. They hurt. A lot. I started buying acne products, exfoliating more regularly and using hydrocolloid patches on the worst breakouts, so that they were easier to cover for work the next day.
What does a skin purge look like?
Look, when I was trying to figure out WTF was going on with my skin back in March/April/May, I did a lot of googling. Most people seemed to be of the opinion that a skin purge *should* look like a punch of colourless bumps aka blackheads (aka basically what my skin looked like when it was normal.)
My skin purge looked like a normal skin purge and the worst acne ever got married and had a bunch of ugly babies. It was big red breakouts. Some of them had heads and some of them didn’t. It stretched from the centre of my cheeks down to my jawline on both sides and it was painful AF.
To give you an idea of how bad it was at its worst, I’m going to do something I never do. I’m going to show you my skin at it’s worst, without makeup and without filters. Welcome to breakout central, your vomit bag is located under your seat.
Yep, pretty hectic stuff huh? Ok, and now I’m going to share with you the products that got me through. At least the ones who got me through part one of said purge.
Why AM I sharing my skin purge product faves?
Because when my skin suddenly broke out, I was bummed AF y’all. I needed help! So, I googled, I researched and I sought advice online, but I came up pretty empty.
There were very few blogs about how to actually treat skin purges, aside from those written by companies who were clearly trying to sell me stuff. There were one or two videos from doctors, but they were fairly dry and unhelpful. And for the most part, the best advice they had was: “don’t pick and if it lasts longer than 6-8 weeks, maybe go and see a dermatologist to ask for antibiotics.” Ermmm… great, thanks for that. *very sarcastic thumbs up*
Now, just before I get started on my list of products that helped me through my great iso skin purge, I have one important note. This list represents approximately one-fifth of all the products I tried. I am not including anything that did not work or sorta kinda helped or maybe might have made a small difference IDK or (duh) made things worse.
I’ve spent *a lot* of money on skincare the past 3-4 months and I’m only recommending a fraction of it. This is the best of the best, people. The most effective, ride-or-die, got me through, couldn’t live without stuff.
8 products that got me through a skin purge
- Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant – yes, I’m well-aware that aforementioned product actually caused said skin purge, but continuing with it also got me through. I started the Paula’s Choice 2% BHA for a reason, to help clear breakouts, blackheads and improve skin texture and tone. And to help create more youthful skin. Let me tell you: It took A LOT of determination to continue with a product that made me look like the phantom of the opera sans the stylish mask. But now that I’m on the other side, I’m glad I did.
Important note: I am a giant doofus. Do not be a giant doofus like me. I started out using the highest recommended amount twice per day. That was a bad idea. I do not recommend it. I recommend starting out using the BHA once per day and gradually increasing it, if you tolerate it well. Let my doofus-ness be a lesson.
- Skyn Iceland Anti-Blemish Gel – in the beginning, I was so desperate to get rid of the breakouts that I just went to the pharmacy and bought any old breakout gel, but the cheap one I got actually seemed to make things worse. It made the breakouts all crusty and much redder. The Skyn Iceland anti-blemish gel was much gentler. It’s made from white willow bark (which is the same anti-inflammatory ingredient in aspirin) along with a whole host of other goodies including angelica root, lavender, grape seed extract and jojoba seed oil. So it seems to treat breakouts without stripping the rest of the skin.
- Dermalogica Clear Start Breakout Clearing Cleanser – I feel like this is the main product that started to turn things around for me during this skin purge. It still took around six weeks to two months after I started using it for my breakouts to clear completely, but within a few days they weren’t as sore or red and there definitely weren’t as many of them. I can’t recommend the Dermalogica Clear Start Breakout Clearing Cleanser highly enough. Also, it barely counts as an indulgence. It’s not pharmacy prices, but at $30.00 AUD it’s incredibly reasonable for effective skincare.
Important note on treatment cleansers: you can’t just wash your face for 20 seconds and expect them to do their job. You have to lather for at least 2 minutes to give the ingredients time to work.
- BRITE Spot Medic Hydrocolloid Plasters – ugh, these little spot masks were an absolute life-saver for me. I would, quite honestly, have lost my mind without them. They’re little clear hydrocolloid plasters, available from Priceline, which you can put over each pimple overnight (or during the day) that are made from an absorbent material, which sucks out all the bad stuff and wicks away moisture, making your breakout much smaller, less painful and (importantly) not crusty the following morning. They can also be used under makeup, which is fab for an obsessive face toucher like me.
- Carbon Theory Charcoal Tee Tree Oil & Mineral Mud Mask – another Priceline find. I’d originally tried a whole bunch of different peels and masks to help draw out my breakouts, but a lot of the masks seemed to make things worse, and some of the peel off masks especially, actually tore the tops off some of my breakouts and ensured that they would scar. This mask is a wet mask which you wash off, but it contains charcoal which helps to draw out impurities and tee tree oil, which is a natural antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. I used this about twice a week during my great iso skin purge and it made a big difference. I noticed a big improvement in my skin, especially in the first week that I started using it.
- I.T. Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC+ Oil Free Matte Foundation – look, obviously “not wearing makeup” is the ideal when you’re going through a massive skin purge or breakout. But sometimes that’s just not feasible, because work, friends, family and Other Important Stuff. So, I was originally using the glowy non-oil free version of this CC+, which I absolutely freaking adored, but I switched to the oil-free matte version because it’s non-comedogenic. And quite frankly, it’s just as amazing and it lasts even longer. (FYI – I used the light-medium tone.)
- Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench 24 Hour Cloud Cream – yes, you still need to moisturise, even when you have breakouts. And yes, you need to moisturise your breakouts too, even though that feels completely counterintuitive. This Peter Thomas Roth moisturiser is one I’ve been using for quite a while now, it’s light, it plumps up skin and it contains hyaluronic acid which helps to moisturise, but without making the skin oily or more congested. I can’t recommend this highly enough. Go buy it. Now. You can get it at Sephora and YES at $81.00 AUD for 48ml, it is expensive, but that shouldn’t stop you.
(No this isn’t sponsored. In fact, worthwhile FYI: none of this is sponsored.)
- Pixi Skin Treats Glow Tonic – This tonic was a late-ish addition to my iso skincare routine and I’ve ummed and ahhed about whether it should be in here or in the next blog I’m going to write (iso skin purge product routine part deux: the de-scarrening) but I’m including it here because it helped turn things around for me when my breakouts were at their worst and I noticed an improvement in my grotesque, purging skin within about a week of starting to use this product. It makes sense, too. If BHA causes increased skin cell turnover, then you need something like glycolic acid (which is a key ingredient in this tonic) to get rid of the turned over skin cells and prevent future breakouts. This tonic helped to dry out the newer breakouts and heal the older ones, but without making my skin flaky or gross.
One caveat however (from the person who clearly did not read the instructions before using) DO NOT put it near your eyes or sensitive skin, you will end up with irritation/red marks/reactive patches.
Phew. Ok, that was the longest blog ever. Chin up lovely, breakouts suck (trust me, I know) but they can be treated xx
I hope that, if like me, you’re struggling to find products to help breakouts or purging skin, that you might find something to get you through here.