Am I purging?

When acne gets worse before it gets better.

4 minute read

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We’re here to tell you what we know, but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider about your specific health concerns.

Table of Contents

“It might get worse before it gets better.”

We get it — these are the last words you want to hear. But we’ll always be real with you, even when the going gets tough. Achieving and maintaining clear skin is more like a marathon than a sprint, and we’re in it with you for the long run!

When you start your custom Curology formula, you may notice your skin breaking out more at first. Counterintuitive as it may seem, this means the acne-fighting ingredients are doing their job! This unpleasant process is called purging. If you notice your skin breaking out more in the 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. These breakouts can range from superficial bumps and whiteheads to deep, inflamed cystic pimples. But don’t worry, we’ve got you! If you’re going through a purge now, just remember that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Why is my skin getting worse?

Prescription acne ingredients like tretinoin and azelaic acid work by targeting clogged pores, including those brewing deep below the surface. These are often brought up to the skin’s surface before they’re 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: the purging period is only temporary! We know it’s easier said than done, but try to be patient — it should all clear up within 6–8 weeks.

The other good news: there are steps you can take to slow purging and calm your skin, so you can start seeing the skin-clearing power of Curology sooner!

What to do if your skin is purging

1. Ease off the cream

When you see worsening breakouts, your first instincts will probably be to: a) cry b) slather on even more of your formula.

Unfortunately, this won’t help, and might even make purging worse. Instead, reduce your use to once every other evening.

A set of hands with a purple manicure hovers in a bathroom sink, pumping Curology cream onto fingers.

2. Watch what you wash with

The Curology cleanser is gentle enough for purging skin, so if you’re using the full Curology set, carry on! If you’re using a different cleanser, make sure it’s really gentle — check out our Cleanser Guide to make sure you’re using the right one for your skin. 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.

3. Pat dry and chill

Make sure your skin is completely dry post-cleansing before you apply your Curology cream. Pro tip: set a timer for 20 minutes after washing your face, so it has plenty of time to dry before putting on your cream. Any moisture remaining in your skin can make skincare products absorb faster and increase their potency, which can lead to irritation.

Photograph of a bathtub corner. The Curology set is on the left. An overgrown houseplant is on the right.

4. Moisturize

Applying a moisturizer before or after your Curology cream can soothe dry, inflamed skin without compromising the effectiveness of the acne-fighting ingredients. The Curology moisturizer is light and noncomedogenic, so this is a great option if you’re using the full Curology set. If you’re using your own moisturizer, opt for something light, non-greasy, and water-based, so it won’t clog your pores. Check out our Moisturizer Guide for tips and product recommendations!

5. Contact your provider

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. We’re always here to answer your questions and help you figure out what’ll 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 get your formula right in the Goldilocks zone!

Two friends with dotted face paint

This, too, shall pass

Remember that light at the end of the tunnel? It’s closer than you may think! Purging breakouts usually have a shorter life cycle than regular breakouts because the acne-fighting ingredients in your Curology custom formula are working to speed up the process. It’s easy to get a bit of tunnel vision when you see your skin misbehaving, but we’re confident that if you stick with your routine, your skin will thank you! So keep calm and keep putting that cream on. You’re almost there — we’ve got you.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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