Does Hyaluronic Acid Cause Purging?

Hyaluronic Acid


Hyaluronic acid is a substance that can bind to and hold large amounts of water. It is often used in skincare products to keep the skin hydrated and moisture levels up.


Studies have shown that hyaluronic acid plays a role in increasing epidermal hydration levels and reduces transepidermal water loss.


However, it is extremely important to use hyaluronic acid correctly in your skincare routine to gain the most benefits of it.


How To Use Hyaluronic Acid Properly


To use hyaluronic acid correctly, it must be used underneath an emollient ingredient, such as glycerin, which is found in most moisturizers.


The reason for this is because hyaluronic acid draws water from whichever source it has access to.


For example, if you put hyaluronic acid on your skin without using a moisturizer on top, it will draw water out of the skin and into the dry air. The flip side, if you apply hyaluronic acid underneath an occlusive or a very moisturizing ingredient, the hyaluronic acid will draw water from the air and keep water in the skin as it has a barrier formed over top of it to prevent water from escaping.




Purging is known as the initial exacerbation of acne in response to acne treatments, such as retinoids or acids like glycolic or lactic acids.


These are known as active ingredients. 


Active ingredients are ingredients that increase cell turnover in the skin.


This means that these ingredients increase the speed at which the skin sheds dead skin cells.


Therefore, only products with active ingredients are the ones that can cause an initial flareup of acne.


Purging Vs. Breakouts


It is important to know the characteristics of purging and the difference in appearance and feel in comparison to a regular breakout or a breakout triggered by a skincare product.


Purging is often characterized by small pustules that may cluster in areas of the face that you usually breakout in after using a product that contains an active ingredient.


These spots should last no more than 2-4 days at a time, and should not persist for more than 2-3 weeks. 


Retinol – An Example


This is an example of an active ingredient that can cause purging or an initial flareup of acne. 


Retinol works by increasing cell turnover.


Again, this means that it speeds up the process by which the skin sheds dead skin cells. 


In order to achieve this, retinol penetrates the epidermis and loosens cells to promote skin shedding (1). 


By doing this, it reveals the layers of skin beneath the surface.


Therefore, acne and other inflamed breakouts lurking underneath the surface of the skin will appear more visible.


Retinol did not create these breakouts, but only pushed them closer to the surface.




A breakout is very different.


This is a new set of pimples that arise due to irritation from a new product being used. 


A breakout can occur from ANYTHING!


It can be a serum, moisturizer, face wash, and yes, even active ingredients like retinol and salicylic acid can cause true breakouts, which may signify that they are just not working for your skin.


A breakout can happen in areas that you do not usually breakout in, and can last many weeks as long as you continue to use the product that caused the breakout in the first place.


These pimples appear larger and last longer.


Can Hyaluronic Acid Cause Purging?


Based on the above information, hyaluronic acid does not cause purging.


It does not increase cell turnover.


It only works to attract water molecules to the skin and keep hydration levels up.


If you are using a skincare product that includes Hyaluronic Acid and you are experiencing more acne, this is due to one of two things:


  1. Your skin is sensitive to the hyaluronic acid in the product.
  2. Your skin is sensitive to one of the other filler ingredients in the product.


Let’s look at the first possibility further.


Types Of Hyaluronic Acid


There are two types of hyaluronic acid. 


Low molecular weight hyaluronic acid and high molecular weight hyaluronic acid.


This simply refers to the size of the hyaluronic acid, which ultimately influences the penetration of the ingredient.


Smaller molecules penetrate the skin more deeply and work to provide hydration to the deeper layers of the skin.


Larger molecules penetrate the skin less, and work to provide surface hydration to the skin.


Larger molecules promote faster, more visible results, while smaller molecules work more slowly under the skin for long-term hydration.


Because small molecules penetrate more deeply, you may find that low molecular weight hyaluronic acid is more irritating and can cause breakouts than high molecular weight hyaluronic acid.


Be sure to keep an eye out on the product bottle to see if the manufacturer mentions which weight is used.




Hyaluronic acid does not cause purging.


However, it can cause breakouts depending on the type of weight used in the skincare product you are using.


Be on the lookout for the ingredients in your products as well, to see whether there is an active ingredient in the product or not.


If there is an active ingredient, you may be experiencing purging.


If there are no active ingredients, you could just be breaking out. Stop use of the product immediately.


  1. Zasada M, Budzisz E. Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2019 Aug;36(4):392-397. doi: 10.5114/ada.2019.87443. Epub 2019 Aug 30. PMID: 31616211; PMCID: PMC6791161.

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