Did your skin ever break out after using a certain product, and you proceeded to rant about it to everyone you know? I don’t know about you. But I have been there, for sure. In fact, I was bashing a rather famous cosmetic brand just last week to a certain girlfriend when she told me about this concept﹘Skin Purging.
Now, you must have noticed that certain times your skin gives you a living nightmare when it breaks out after using a product. While most of the times this product might be new to your regime, sometimes your skin might react gravely even to the faithful face wash that you’ve been using for years! After such a reaction, I’m pretty certain your instinct must have been to blame that product and the company that manufactures it. And if you are like me, you must have warned everyone you know against using it! But, well… I’ve learnt it now. The reason behind this grave misconduct post which you felt cheated, is actually a result of various factors.
I spoke to Dr Neena Chopra, Co-founder and Chief Formulator at Just Herbs, who helped me understand the concept and science behind skin purging.
What is skin purging?
Dr Chopra: The skin is a living, reactive and adaptive system with a defence mechanism to maintain its function as a protective shield between our internal environment and the external world. Sometimes, a skincare product might irritate your skin. You’ll experience pimple-like bumps, red patches, swelling, rashes or even a burning sensation. This usually happens because the skin barrier has either been disrupted or compromised. This also explains why the same product is absolutely okay for one person but might become a nightmare for somebody else. In simple terms, it happens because of the difference in the skin susceptibility of these two individuals.
Skin purging is a much-needed “skin detox”. Many conventional skincare products work to cover only the issues of the skin. However, if you begin to use any product containing ingredients with rejuvenating properties, you might experience breakouts and inflammation. This is because the active ingredients in the product might be working on the damaged skin barrier.
What is this skin barrier function and what does it do when it is healthy?
Dr Chopra: The outermost layer of skin is highly impermeable and hence, helps prevent water loss, which further aids in hydration and helps lock the nutrients inside. It is also referred to as the lipid barrier, permeability barrier or moisture barrier.
When this lipid barrier is intact, or as you may say–when it is healthy, it helps sustain skin’s immunity, regulate inflammation and protects from pathogens, allergens, toxins, and irritants from getting in. The complexion appears clear, even-toned and balanced and the skin is able to tolerate most products without the irritation.
What happens when the barrier is damaged?
Dr Chopra: When this lipid barrier gets damaged or compromised, the skin is not able to hold water and thus, loses more water which makes it dry and dehydrated.
Foreign substances can now penetrate through the gaps which can irritate the skin. This triggers an inflammatory response which results in red bumps. It starts feeling more sensitive or reactive and more prone to further irritation and sensitisation. Products which earlier did not cause any problem start making the skin irritated or inflamed.
Over time, skin can actually develop a sensitivity to this product. It’s not that the product has become bad or unhealthy for your skin. Long-term exposure to the causative factors can gradually compromise the skin barrier and create a low-grade inflammation in the skin.
What are the factors responsible for the deterioration of skin barrier function?
Dr Chopra: Although the barrier recovers automatically after damage, the recovery is delayed by stress and ageing, and the delay of the recovery might induce inflammation. The skin’s barrier function is quite sensitive and can become impaired more easily due to any of these factors:
Washing the face too often strips your skin’s oils and NMF( NATURAL MOISTURISING FACTOR)
Over-exfoliation or harsh scrubbing
Using hot water when washing and rinsing the face or steaming the face too often
Using harsh products or using too many synthetic chemicals on the skin
Excessive use of synthetic perfumes
Environmental conditions like dry, cold or hot weather, and wind
Not enough physical exercise
Not enough sleep
A poor diet that is high in processed foods and sugar
One or more of these factors can impact the capacity of the skin to hold moisture, which weakens the skin barrier and further increases the skin’s permeability. This sometimes might also result in hyperpigmentation.
How do you know that your skin barrier function is impaired?
Dr Chopra: There are certain signs that your skin will show. If you recognise these patterns, it is time you work on your skin barrier and try to restore it.
Your skin is itchy and flaky. This happens when your skin has become prone to potential irritants like airborne particles like dust and pollution.
You have frequent breakouts and can’t pinpoint the probable cause. This usually happens when the skin is dehydrated. When the skin is dehydrated, it produces excess oils to balance itself.
Your skin looks dull and lacks radiance. This happens when the skin barrier is stripped off of the lipids responsible for radiance.
Your skin reacts to a product that it never reacted to in the past.