For many people, the only thing more tiresome than dealing with an oil-slicked T-Zone is a clogged pore. Not only can this common skincare woe result in blackheads and whiteheads overstaying their welcome on your face, but when pores are clogged they can appear enlarged (and we all know how that comes into play when the goal is a smooth complexion). Thankfully, there are steps you can take and skincare ingredients you can use to unclog your pores, but before diving into solutions, it helps to know what’s causing your pores to be clogged in the first place. Below, we’re mapping out everything you need to know about blocked pores, from what causes them and how to prevent them, to how to fend them off for good. Ready to toss your pore-filling primers to the curb? Keep scrolling to get one step closer.
What Causes Clogged Pores?
Pores are the small openings on your skin that allow oil and sweat to rise to the surface. When these pores get clogged, it can lead to breakouts, blackheads, and whiteheads. But what causes them to actually get clogged? A decrease in cell turnover, for one. As we age, our skin’s ability to regenerate new skin cells slows down, causing an accumulation of dead skin cells that can clog up your pores and contribute to a dull appearance in your skin. Excess sebum production is another major offender when it comes to clogged pores. If you over-exfoliate or over-cleanse your skin, you’re stripping your skin of its natural oils and it will compensate for the loss by overproducing sebum. Also, if you have an oily skin type, you’re more vulnerable to clogged pores, as your skin already produces excess sebum on its own. Finally, clogged pores (and a host of breakouts) can be a result of sleeping with your makeup on. Makeup can trap oil underneath your skin and interfere with the natural cell regeneration process that occurs while you sleep.
5 Methods to Unclog Pores
Ready to tackle your clogged pores head-on? Here are four clogged pores treatments to clear your congested skin stat.
Apply a Face Mask
If your skin is congested, you’re likely dealing with a dull, tired appearance and a slew of blackheads. The fix? A face mask that draws out those impurities. The best face mask for clogged pores is one that’s gentle enough to not cause irritation yet powerful enough to remove all traces of dirt, oil, and debris. Look for a clay-based face mask—like a sponge, clay absorbs pore-clogging oils, which leaves your skin feeling fresh and your pores looking clear. Heads up: they can be a bit drying, so follow up with a non-comedogenic moisturizer afterward (more on that later).
Try a Pore Strip
Using pore strips are a guilty pleasure for many (who doesn’t have fun peeling off all of the grime sitting underneath your skin?). They’re effective at removing dead skin cells, oil, and dirt, but bear in mind that they only remove the gunk that’s sitting on the surface of the skin. Still, they’re a reliable short-term solution to clogged pores that can temporarily make your makeup go on smoother and your skin feel softer. A caveat: if you have dry or sensitive skin, be wary of pore strips that contain alcohol or astringents, as these can be irritating and exacerbate dryness.
To use them, make sure the area is wet (the strip won’t stick to a dry surface) and press it down firmly. After the strip has had a chance to sit for a few minutes, begin peeling and enjoy inspecting what comes out.
Consider Skin Icing
Skin icing may be touted for its ability to de-puff and refresh, but it can also help with minimizing the appearance of enlarged pores. The cooling sensation works to tone the skin, making it appear smoother and better able to absorb the skincare products you apply afterward. Plus, a cooling skincare tool like the SiO Cryodrop helps reduce inflammation that would otherwise contribute to swelling, blemishes, and blocked pores. We like the Cryodrop because it’s an all-in-one skincare tool that combines the power of a facial massage with the tightening benefits of deep cooling to promote circulation and shrink pore size.
Making exfoliation part of your skincare routine is a sure-fire way to get squeaky clean pores, especially if you have oily or acne-prone skin. Try chemical exfoliants that make use of AHAs like lactic acid and BHAs like salicylic acid—they’re gentler than physical exfoliators and can offer deeper penetration to the skin. Salicylic acid, in particular, is an effective sebum-fighting ingredient that can be found in serums, face masks, and cleansers (just make sure to let it hang out on your skin for a few seconds before rinsing off if you’re using it in cleanser form). To unclog your pores (and keep them clear), exfoliate one to two times a week.
Use Skincare with Antioxidants
If you have acne-prone skin, you’re privy to inflammation and clogged pores, which makes using antioxidant-rich skincare products key. Not only do antioxidants fend off harmful free radicals from penetrating your skin, but they can reduce inflammation and keep breakouts at bay. Plus, they encourage skin healing and can have other beneficial side effects like stimulating collagen production (thanks, vitamin C). Green tea, zinc, and vitamin A are other anti-inflammatory antioxidants that help keep the skin clear, and you can find them in SPF’s, toners, and serums.
How to Prevent Your Pores from Getting Clogged
You’ve cleared your pores, but that’s half the battle. Now the question remains how to keep them this way. Here’s what you need to know: If you have oily or sensitive skin, always opt for non-comedogenic products, aka skincare and makeup products that don’t contain pore-blocking ingredients like coconut oil, SLS, lanolin, and PEG’s. The good news? Products that are free of these pore-clogging ingredients tend to be made with gentler, more nourishing ingredients that are better for your skin. That being said, even if you’re using non-comedogenic makeup products, they’re not a ticket to sleep with your makeup on. Makeup blocks the oil that your skin produces while you sleep from reaching the surface, which can lead to clogged pores come morning. To prevent this from occurring, try using micellar water and a facial cleanser on heavier makeup days, or a makeup wipe with a facial cleanser on lighter makeup days. Pay close attention to the sides of your nose (an area that commonly gets glossed over during the makeup removal process).
Dealing with clogged pores may feel like a hurdle but knowing the right ingredients to use and what proper skincare protocol calls for can make the process easier. Incorporating salicylic acid and antioxidants into your routine will be a game-changer, as will exfoliating consistently and using non-comedogenic products. Finally, use a skin-tightening tool to tone the skin and reduce pore size