Medically reviewed by: Nancy Satur, MD
Written by: Curology Editorial Team
Welcome to Ask Curology, a new series on the Curology blog where one of our in-house licensed dermatology providers answers your questions about all things skincare. Today we’re talking about skin purging: that not-so-fun but pretty common occurrence, when treating your acne causes more breakouts at first.
Your skin may get worse before it gets better, but it will get better! Read on for pro tips on how to get rid of acne and cope with purging in the process.
TL;DR: it just takes patience and persistence, and a little help from your Curology custom formula.
Every time I try something new to get rid of acne, I break out even more than before I started. What gives?! And can this happen with Curology, too?
Purging is an unpleasant but sometimes inevitable process of any acne treatment. I know this isn’t what you want to hear (sorry!), but the thing about acne is that it often gets worse before it gets better. When you start using a new acne-fighting treatment (like your custom formula from Curology), you may go through a period of what we call purging: when you break out more for the first few weeks or so of treatment.
So if you notice your skin breaking out more in your first few weeks of using Curology, don’t be alarmed: it’s not uncommon to see an uptick in breakouts when starting any new acne medication. Counterintuitive as it may seem, this is evidence that the acne-fighting ingredients are doing their job!
Prescription acne ingredients like you get in your custom Curology cream work by targeting clogged pores, including those brewing deep below the surface. Sometimes, that means the acne that’s been hiding in there is brought up to the skin’s surface before it’s cleared out. Prescription acne ingredients also increase skin cell turnover, so the cells being sloughed off may clog pores and cause breakouts.
The good news is that the purging period is only temporary. I know it’s easier said than done, but try to be patient with your skin. There’s a light at the end of the purging tunnel! These breakouts should clear up within 6–8 weeks, which is approximately the time it takes for your skin to adjust to these powerful ingredients once they’ve been introduced to your skincare routine.
In the meantime, there are things you can do to make purging that acne easier on you. I know that it’s really frustrating and disheartening to go through purging when you just can’t wait for your skin to clear up. But I’m going to ask you to do something that might sound counterintuitive: leave it alone. Be gentle with your skin, even when it’s on its “worst behavior.”
Don’t be too hard on your skin — it’s going through a lot of changes right now. Those ingredients are working hard to root out all that acne and get your skin’s natural processes to work the way they should. Before long, you’ll have fewer and fewer new breakouts while your skin gradually clears up. (And if for some reason it doesn’t work out that way for you, message your Curology provider — we can always make adjustments for you.)
When you see worsening breakouts, your first instinct may be to use more cream. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way — and it may make the purging worse! Instead, reduce your use to once every other evening, and don’t use more than the recommended amount.
Make sure your cleanser, and any other products you’re using on your skin, are really gentle . The Curology cleanser is gentle enough for purging skin, so if you’re already subscribed to the Curology set, carry on! If not, check out our Cleanser Guide for more recommendations.
Avoid abrasive physical exfoliants and scrubs, and stay away from chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs. Tempting as it may be to blast breakouts with the heavy artillery, harsh chemicals will leave your skin dry, red, and irritated, and won’t do anything to help purging.
Any moisture remaining in your skin after you’ve washed your face can make skincare products absorb faster and increase their potency, which can lead to irritation. Irritation makes the skin more prone to acne breakouts! After you wash your face, make sure your skin is completely dry before you apply your Curology cream. Wait 20 minutes after washing your face so it has plenty of time to dry before putting on your cream.
Applying a moisturizer before or after your Curology cream can help soothe your skin, without compromising the effectiveness of the acne-fighting ingredients. The Curology moisturizer is lightweight, non-comedogenic, and designed to be perfectly suitable for sensitive and acne-prone skin (you can get it by subscribing to the Curology set). If you’re using your own moisturizer, opt for something that won’t clog your pores.
Check out our Moisturizer Guide for more recommendations.
If more than 8 weeks have gone by and your skin is still getting worse, reach out to your dermatology provider about adjusting your custom mix. (Use your judgement — if your breakouts are severe, reach out sooner!) We’re always here to answer your questions and help you figure out what will work for your unique skin. The solution may be as simple as changing a single ingredient in your mix, or increasing or decreasing the strength. Your Curology provider will work with you to help figure out your best plan of action.
Don’t give up, even if your skin gets worse before it gets better! Purging breakouts usually have a shorter life cycle than regular breakouts, because the acne-fighting ingredients in your Curology bottle are working to speed up the process. I know it’s beyond tough to patiently wait it out when you’re dealing with breakouts, but I’m confident that if you stick with your routine, your skin will thank you.
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.