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Skin Purging: Is it good or bad for you

Skin Purging: Is it good or bad for you

Posted by Dr. Hannah Sivak and Mack Leonard on Sep 23rd 2021

Across today’s skin care media, from magazines to blogs to social networks, you will find references to “skin purging.” Often, it is described as a period of inflammation following the introduction of a new ingredient to your skin care routine, and it is presented in a positive light. “Getting through the bad to reach the good” is a commonly reported stance on the subject. 

But the name alone should give us pause. Do we really want our skin to “purge”? Is experiencing a period of inflammation actually beneficial? In this post, we’ll look at the history behind purging as a medical practice and the ways purging is used in modern skin care. Finally, we’ll reveal whether we encourage our customers to try this practice. Hint: we don’t.

The Grim History Behind “Purging”

The fascination with purging—whether in the skin or another part of the body—of unwanted elements has a vivid, if unfortunately grim, history in early medical practice. The advent of this practice was rooted in a theory of medicine prevalent in Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, known initially as the “Four Humors” theory. 

This theory, prominently espoused by Hippocrates, stated that the interior of the human body was dominated by Four Humors: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood. Pretty foul description of human physiology, right? 

According to believers in the Four Humors theory, maintaining a proper balance between these four substances was crucial to achieving good health. If the body was exhibiting an illness, it meant that the four humors were out of balance—and the best way to restore health was by “purging” the body of the excess humor, whether by bloodletting, administering emetics or forcing the patients to purge their bowels. 

Clearly, believers in the Four Humors—which later developed into a broader field known as “humorism”—were very wrong about the composition of the human body. Their ostensible “treatments” were equally as misdirected and caused vast suffering. Opening wounds on a patient or administering poisonous chemicals could quickly cause the patient to dehydrate, develop an infection or experience toxic shock. The true death toll of this practice is impossible to calculate. 

Incredibly, humorism maintained a following by physicians until much later, in the 1800s, when advances in microscopy tipped the scales in the favor of germ theory, which held that most illness could be traced back to a microbiological origin. Today, no credible physician would prescribe bloodletting or a course of vile emetics for the treatment of a cold. And yet, in both medicine and skin care, a vestigial fascination with the concept of purging the body of unwanted elements remains. 

Purging in the Modern Day 

We’re gratified to know that medical and skin care science have developed beyond such things as seeking to vomit up “black bile.” But have we truly stamped out the legacy of this harmful description of the human body, or do some relics remain? When we hear comments like “getting through the bad to reach the good”, we can’t help but be reminded of this wrongheaded approach towards achieving health through inflicting further damage. 

Today, purging comes in less intense forms, but operates under much the same principle. We’ve heard reports of people using superheated saunas, consuming bowel cleansers and applying caustic chemicals in an attempt to rid their bodies and skin of unwanted elements. Unfortunately, these practices are not supported by documented science. Is it going too far to suggest that purging in the modern sense may be a marketing concept designed to encourage people to keep using poorly formulated products?

At Skin Actives, we believe that millions of years of evolution have equipped the body with highly effective systems for regulating itself. We do not support applying substances or creating environmental conditions that lead to inflammation or violent reactions in the skin, even if those effects are temporary and less intense than the bloodletting of generations past. That’s why most of our products seek to leverage, stimulate and enhance existing bodily mechanisms, rather than to disrupt them.

The Right Way to Promote Cell Turnover

Refreshing the skin to achieve a youthful, blemish-free appearance is a goal we share—but you shouldn’t have to damage your skin to achieve it. To promote cell turnover, try Epidermal Growth Factor from Skin Actives, either by adding it as a DIY ingredient to your favorite product or applying one of our readymade formulas. EGF stimulates your natural mechanisms for cell division, not by triggering regrowth of damaged skin, but by gently enhancing and supporting growth on a cellular level.

Apocynin and ROS BioNet, available across our Advanced Ageless collection, also help maintain the dermal-epidermal junction, leading to accelerated healing and delayed aging. But, like EGF, Apocynin and ROS BioNet work by expanding the skin’s capacity for new growth, not by making new growth necessary to begin with. Don’t use any product that causes redness, inflammation or dry, flaky skin. These are not signs that you’re achieving a healthy “purge”—they’re signs that you’re harming your skin.

Keep in mind, your skin is constantly stressed by aging and environmental factors, among others. Your skin is discarding old and damaged cells and replacing them with new ones every second of the day. In effect, your skin is constantly “purging,” but doing so in a natural, healthy way. In the words of our founder, Dr. Hannah Sivak, “Remember: You are not more clever than nature.”