I look to you to debunk beauty myths, and I'm wondering if you can comment on this one. I hear a lot of women talk about their skin "purging" when they first start using a new treatment, such as an AHA lotion. Supposedly, certain treatments cause your skin to go through a purging period, meaning it breaks out with pimples, before it becomes clearer. I'm afraid to use anything that could make my skin become worse before it gets better. This sounds like an allergic reaction to me. What do you think?
Jessica, via email
Skin-care products do not make skin purge anything. Pimples are not lying in wait and then flushed out when the appropriate treatment is used. What well-formulated blemish-fighting products, gentle cleansers, gentle exfoliants, and topical disinfectants such as benzoyl peroxide do is alter the environment and conditions in skin that allow pimples to be formed in the first place. There are primarily two reasons some people break out when they first use these kinds of products, even well-formulated versions (well-formulated meaning effective concentrations of the active ingredients, with no other possible irritating or sensitizing ingredients such as menthol, alcohol, peppermint, or camphor).
The most likely explanation for these kinds of breakouts is that the skin can initially have a sensitizing or irritant reaction to products with active ingredients, which causes pimples to erupt. Generally, this is a transient problem that goes away in a week or so. If it persists, you need to seek alternate battle plans for blemishes until you find what works for you. For people who tend to break out, the other possibility is that you started using the new skin-care products at the exact same time when new blemishes were about to happen anyway. These new breakouts may seem related to the products you are using, but timing is everything, so they may very well have shown up the next day even if you didn't change a thing you were using.
Source: Paula Begoun