We know form our “Niacinamide | Ingredient 101“ post that Niacinamide is a superstar ingredient with multiple benefits. But for some, it may cause some people to break out. So what’s really going on?
What is Niacinamide?
Niacinamide is an active form of vitamin B3 and not only can it do some incredible things for your skin, it also has a ton of research backing up those claims.
It’s an antioxidant that can fade hyperpigmentation if you have acne scarring. It can decrease redness and blotchiness. It can improve your skin barrier function while reducing fine lines and wrinkles. This ingredient also shrinks pores and smooths out texture. Yes, that’s totally possible; pores look larger when they’re trapped with sebum and dead skin cells so with less oil they look a little bit less stretched. And we know Niacinamide can reduce sebum production. So the skin looks smoother.
And to add to all of that it’s also really stable to formulate with and is not acidic so it really shouldn’t be irritating. But you probably know all that already.
Why am I breaking out then?
If it’s as soothing, non irritating and as amazing as we say, then why the hell does it cause breakouts?
Well if your skin is breaking out after using it two things can be happening: either your skin is purging or your skin is just having a bad reaction to it. Let’s talk about each one.
What exactly is purging?
Your skin can basically purge any time you start using a new product with actives in it.
This might sound familiar, you just got a new product, you’re super excited to try it, you put it on and the next day you wake up with breakouts all over your face.
Usually this will happen with exfoliants such as AHAs, BHAs or Retinol. Because they exfoliate off the top layer of your skin revealing the newer skin that’s underneath and increasing your cell turnover. Naturally, it can bring the clogs that are deep down in your pores up to the surface faster.
Don’t worry if your skin is purging. Over the next few days, your breakouts will get better and your skin will clear up as it gets used to that product.
It’s basically getting rid of all that gunk that was clogged deep down in your pores. It sucks, but it’s totally temporary and if you stick with it then you’ll end up getting all those benefits from that product.
How do I know that I’m purging?
Now you’re probably wondering how can you even tell that it’s purging and it’s not a regular breakout.
First, look at where you are breaking out. Is it where you would normally break out? If so it’s probably purging. But if it’s in a new area of your skin where you normally don’t break out, then you are probably having a bad reaction.
Sometimes the product you are using can be irritating your skin for a different reasons. The product maybe clogging your pores which can lead to acne, or it may trigger an allergic reaction which can lead to irritation.
Another way you can tell is by paying attention to how long it lasts. If it clears up in six weeks that’s purging. Purging doesn’t last forever, you should be getting fewer and fewer breakouts and your skin should be clear in about six weeks.
If you’re worried about having to deal with the purging for six weeks we will definitely be sharing some tips later on in this post to help you manage it.
The last way you can tell if it’s purging or not is by just seeing what it looks like. A skin purge will usually look like small red and tender bumps that are usually accompanied with some whiteheads and blackheads as well. But that can also be easily confused with rosacea. You can tell if it’s rosacea or not, because rosacea usually affects the center of your face.
So now that you can tell the difference between purging, breakouts and rosacea. I’ll be sharing with you how I add products into my routine to prevent purging and breakouts or to make them easier to manage.
How to deal with purging and breakouts?
The first step is not to add too many products to my routine at once or too quickly. If you do that, you risk giving your skin too much stuff to handle. And that will make it really stressed cause it to freak out– I mean break out.
In addition to slowly introducing products into my routine. Another thing I really like to do, and highly recommend, is to always patch test. Fist of all you should patch test somewhere on your skin, away from your face, to see if you’re allergic to it. If all is good apply it to a small area of your face where you would normally get breakouts. And when you’re feeling a little bit more brave, apply it to one side of your face. This way you can easily tell if you’re breaking out or purging.
As we said before, if you breakout in areas where you normally don’t breakout you should stop because the products may not be suited for your skin type.
If not, and those breakouts are getting fewer and fewer, then you’re good! You’re purging and your skin clears in about six weeks. You can keep using the product.
What to do when I breakout?
To help you manage that breakout, something I always do when I get a bad reaction is to strip down the amount of products I’m using, and cut back to the basics.
I just use the products that I know won’t sensitize me.
I use a really simple gentle cleanser. Like the CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser.
Then I follow it with a basic moisturizer like the Am and Pm CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion or The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Hemi-Squalane. (if my breakouts are really bad, I stick to the squalane because it never irritates my skin)
And of course I’ll throw in a sunscreen in there as well.
That’s a really simple four product day and night routine that you can follow. It’s not exactly going to give anyone that dewy skin look. But I know it won’t cause me (or you) to break out more and it can with skin recovery.
As for that serum that caused you to break out, you don’t have to feel bad about it. You can always give it to a friend, and it might work out really well for them.
Now, what if it turns out it’s not a breakout and your skin’s actually is purging.
What to do when I’m purging?
First let’s make sure that it’s actually the serum that’s causing the problem. Remember that purging usually happens with an exfoliant, because it speeds up your cell turnover rates. So, are you sure you didn’t add any new Salicylic Acids or Retinols to your routine?
Even if you think you’re not using any exfoliators, double check. Exfoliators are hiding in a lot of products. So check your cleanser, does it have any enzymes? Are you using a scrub? Check your moisturizer labels. Are you using a toner, it could be hiding in there too! This is not a drill!
Let’s go through the list of ingredients that you’re actually looking for:
- Hydroxy Acids (that’s AHAs BHAs and PHAs as well as fruit acids)
- Vitamin c
- Exfoliating scrubs
- Enzyme treatments
- Cleansing brushes
Now that we know the difference between breakouts and purging, and we are sure it is not any of the other products in your routine, let’s talk about The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% +zinc 1%.
the ordinary serum has 10% Niacinamide and 1 Zinc pca and the other 89% is mostly water. This ordinary serum can definitely cause some issues. Here’s why:
First of all, I’ve heard a lot of people say that Niacinamide isn’t an active ingredient and I just wanted to clear that up. An active ingredient is just an ingredient that targets a specific concern so Niacinamide is definitely an active ingredient.
They might also be saying that Niacinamide is not an exfoliant. But that could be wrong. There was a study done in 2005 and i’m just gonna quote directly from it:
So there you have it. If that study is correct, then Niacinamide can definitely cause some purging.
The second thing you should know is that most clinical studies about the benefits of Niacinamide without the irritation got results for Niacinamide concentrations between 2% to 5%. But the ordinary has a much higher concentration of 10%.
Obviously that 10% concentration could potentially be an issue for some skin types. You could try a Niacinamide product with a lower concentration.
If hyperpigmentation from acne scarring is an issue, I really recommend the Good Molecules Niacinamide Brightening Toner. It has 3% Niacinamide, which is in the 2% to 5% range that’s been studied. It also has a 10% vitamin C derivative and 0.1% beta arbutin. So it’s got a really nice mix of ingredients that can help you fade discoloration.
Is the Zinc causing these issues?
Going back to the ordinary formulation, another thing that you can be thinking is: the zinc may be causing the problem.
It’s probably not the case. Zinc has been shown to really help with breakouts. Actually, it balances out the skin’s microbiome keeping the bacteria in check. it’s also an anti-inflammatory, so it should reduce acne related redness. Therefore, it should be much more beneficial and not causing the purging issue.
The last potential issue with The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% +zinc 1% is that it could be the preservatives in the formulation or the overall formulation. So if the ordinary one doesn’t work for you and you still want to stick to a 10% concentration you can try the Good Molecules Niacinamide Serum which has 10% Niacinamide.
And if you are getting a reaction from this one too, then it maybe the high concentration of Niacinamide that is the issue here. If so you should go down to the 3%.
Oh boy did we go through a lot in this post! Hope it helped you figure out what is going on.
See you in our next Blog Post!
Sources & more reading for your skincare-nerding:
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