How to Unclog Pores: A Skincare Pro Answers Your Most-Asked Questions
Including product recommendations for clear, smooth skin.
Spoiler alert: this isn’t a feature about how to get rid of your pores, because that’s literally impossible. Pores are a natural feature of our skin and are vital to maintaining good skin health, since oil travels up through the pores in order to keep the top layer of our skin moisturized. Without pores, the ingredients we love wouldn’t be able to absorb into our skin.
However, what we can do is to make sure that pores are clean and free of the debris that can make them visible. On any given day, our pores are up against potential blockages caused by sweat, makeup, pollution, skincare ingredients, and even your skin’s own natural oil production. What’s more? If your skin is prone to oiliness and breakouts, you’re more likely to experience stubborn clogged pores, which can trigger bacteria growth and eventually lead to whiteheads, blackheads, and papules.
So how exactly do we keep our pores clear? From what causes clogged pores, to the best ingredients to use to clear them, we spoke to aesthetician and Dermalogica Education Executive Victoria Schofield to answer your most pressing questions.
What Causes Clogged Pores?
Let’s start with the basics. According to Victoria, “Pores become clogged easily, but especially if you have oily skin that pumps out too much oil. The natural oily substance (known as sebum) that’s secreted from pores combines with dead skin cells that shed within the opening of the pore, causing a blockage.” With this in mind, it’s important to consider what you’re putting on your skin and how it’s effecting your pores. “Wearing makeup and using skincare products with comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients such as artificial color exacerbates the problem,” Victoria says. “Pollution particles (particulate matter) are also tiny enough to enter our pores, contributing to congestion and irritation.”
How Do You Know If You Have Clogged Pores?
When pores are clogged, they’ll appear larger and darker, contributing to the effect of lots of tiny black dots on your skin. “Skin can feel bumpy and you’ll have blackheads,” Victoria says. “Any spot or inflamed breakout in the skin started out as a clogged pore.” So, if you’re experiencing an increase in blemishes, unclogging your pores will also help to prevent future breakouts.
Why Do Clogged Pores Form More on the Nose and Chin?
We all experience clogged pores at some point in our lives, and chances are your nose and chin will be the first places you’ll spot them. Victoria explains that “the pores that clog easily are called sebaceous follicles, and we have more of these on the T panel of our face, plus our chest and upper back.” This also explains why we experience more breakouts in these areas.
What Gets Rid of Clogged Pores?
The first thing to do is to take a look at your current products and routine, and identify anything that could be causing issues. According to Victoria, it’s important to “avoid comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients, which can worsen breakouts” and check ingredient lists for the likes of “artificial colors, acetylated lanolin, isopropyl myristate and talc.”
The basics of a good skincare routine will help make a big difference to your pores. Victoria recommends double cleansing morning and night. “Start with an oil-based pre-cleanser to thoroughly remove makeup, dirt and pollutants from the skin,” she advises. “Then follow with a cleanser specific to your skin type to remove any last traces of debris.”
Not just for treating dry skin and scarring, chemical exfoliation is one of the quickest ways to dissolve the gunk out of your pores. “Include regular exfoliation in your regimen,” Victoria suggest. Shee recommends introducing hydroxy acids such as salicylic acid. “It exfoliates inside the pores, helping clear congestion by sloughing off pore-clogging dead skin cells and stimulating natural exfoliation, and as it’s an oil-loving acid, it has the ability to exfoliate inside the pores too.” It’s no one-trick-pony, so to speak, but consistent exfoliation will help you to achieve the closest thing to an “unclogged pore” as possible.
Finally, Victoria reminds us not to neglect hydration — since skin functions at its best when it’s healthy, and is at its optimal level of health when it’s well-hydrated. “Avoid dehydrating the skin with harsh cleansers or alcohol-based toners that can strip skin of necessary oils and trigger even more oil production,” she says. “Tight and dehydrated pores will clog more easily, so ensure you have a good hydrating moisturizer in your regimen and include a hyaluronic acid serum to optimize skin hydration levels.”
Products That’ll Help Unclog Your Pores
Mimicking the effects of an oxygen facial (a professional pore-clearing treatment), this creamy mask bubbles upon application, delivering stabilized oxygen, salicylic acid and vitamin A straight into cells to remove excess oil and dirt. Since bacteria can’t survive alongside concentrated oxygen, the product helps to reduce breakouts as well.
Victoria recommends this rice-based exfoliating powder, which activates upon contact with water, releasing papain, salicylic acid and rice enzymes to polish skin to perfection. “This is perfect for daily use to keep skin soft and smooth,” she adds.
This cult exfoliator marries both salicylic acid and lactic acid (perfect for obliterating build-up at multiple layers of the skin) with fruit enzymes to make light work of sloughing away the build-up of dead skin, makeup and pollutants that leads to congestion.
A favourite amongst beauty editors and bloggers alike, this concentrated salicylic acid toner helps to unclog pores and shed dead skin cells before they run risk of forming blackheads. In addition, it noticeably boosts skin’s brightness and radiance.
Dermalogica’s Clear Start collection is designed to clear young skin that’s prone to excess oil, blackheads and breakouts, but it is also perfect for treating clogged pores. Victoria’s top pick is the Blackhead Clearing Fizz Mask. The unique active fizzing formula activates upon application, helping to open pores, decongest skin and facilitate blackhead clearing.
Take your cleansing routine one step further by investing in a manual exfoliating device. Gentle enough to use every day to keep on top of congestion, the soft silicone bristles and sonic pulsations help to lift away dead skin cells and impurities.
Grace Day is a full-time beauty editor based in Manchester, UK. Her first job, as a beauty advisor in department stores, was where her love of beauty began — and where she discovered the importance of a good concealer. She loves the science of skincare and counts herself as the resident skincare advisor among friends. You can find Grace on Instagram and her blog.