How to Get Rid of Clogged Pores

Tips to smooth out and prevent bumpy skin |

Clogged poresClogged pores can be a harmless type of acne (as long as you don't squeeze them), but these tiny flesh-colored bumps are really annoying because they give your skin an unwanted bumpy look and feel. Clogged pores occur anywhere on the face, but are common at the forehead and chin area.

Like with treating acne, successfully treating clogged pores will require a customized approach. What works for one person's clogged pores may or may not work for you because everyone's skin is different. However, if you invest the time to figure out what's causing your skin to get clogged pores, the reward is knowing how to keep your skin nice and smooth all the time.

Clogged pores can be pretty stubborn, but the below tips will hopefully help you figure out how to get rid of and prevent clogged pores for good!

How to Get Rid of Clogged Pores

To get rid of clogged pores, you must first set your skin up for success. This means doing all you can to prevent clogged pores from occurring in the first place by using suitable products and making sure you properly cleanse your skin. Once this is achieved, you can then experiment with various active treatments for the clogged pores. Let's go through each of those concepts in detail.

  1. Look at the products you are using:
    With any type of unwanted skin issue, first analyze at what you are doing to your skin. Clogged pores are usually caused by and relieved by something topical, so look at what products you using. This can be anything from moisturizer, cleanser, toner, makeup, to hair products and laundry detergent. Anything that touches your skin is a potential clogged pore culprit.

    Clogged pores can take up to 2 weeks to show up on your skin, so something you used several weeks ago (3-6 weeks) could have caused that reaction.

    Here is a list of products that may clog pores, as well as ingredients that very clog-prone people might want to avoid using in their skin care products:
    • Products that may clog pores:
      • Moisturizer
      • Primer
      • Sunscreen
      • Makeup - (especially liquid foundation, mineral makeup, or blush)
      • Anything creamy - (ex. treatment creams/lotions, creamy cleansers, etc.)
      • Facial oils - (not all oils are bad, but if you are clog-prone, you will have to test each oil out to see which ones don't clog your skin)

    • List of skin care ingredients that may clog pores:
      • Anything with "cone" at the end - ex. silicone, dimethicone, etc.
      • Mica
      • Zinc Oxide
      • Titanium Dioxide
      • Bismuth Oxychloride
      • Shea Butter
      • Corn Starch
      • Facial Oils - this varies wildly from person to person
      • Coconut derived additives and ingredients:
        • 1,2 Octanediol 
        • 2 Phenoxyethanol 
        • Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate 
        • Capryl Glycol 
        • Caprylic Acid 
        • Caprylic Glycol 
        • Caprylic/Capric 
        • Caprylyl Glycol 
        • Ceteareth-20 
        • Cetearyl Alcohol 
        • Cetearyl Glucoside 
        • Ceteth-20 Phosphate 
        • Cetyl Alcohol 
        • Cetyl Esters 
        • Cocamide MEA 
        • Cocamidopropyl Betaine 
        • Cococaprylate/Caprate 
        • Cocomide DEA 
        • Coconut Oil 
        • Disodium Cocamphodiprop 
        • Emusifying Wax 
        • Glyceryl Caprylate 
        • Hexyl Laurate 
        • Isopropyl Myristate 
        • Laureth-3 
        • Olefin Sulfonate 
        • Organic Sodium Cocoate 
        • Phenoxyethanol 
        • Polysorbate 20 
        • Sodium Cocoate 
        • Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate 
        • Sucrose Stearate 
        • Sodium Laureth Sulfate 
        • Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinat 
        • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate 
        • Sodium Stearate 
        • Sorbitan Stearate 
        • Stearyl Alcohol 
        • Vegetable Cetearyl Glucos 
        • Vegetable Glycerine
      The above is not a comprehensive list by any means, but it is a good starting point if you are trying to isolate what ingredient is causing your skin to get clogged up. A product with any of the above ingredients will also not automatically clog your pores. It really depends on how your skin reacts to specific ingredients, as well as how much of the ingredient is in the product. An ingredient that may be problematic at large doses (higher on the ingredient list) may not be problematic at small doses (lower on the ingredient list.)

      Unfortunately, the only way to tell if your skin is getting clogged from any of the above ingredients is trial-and-error. When you try new products, cross reference all past skin care products that have caused you problems to see if they have any overlapping ingredients. This will help you figure out what ingredient they have in common that your skin does not like. For example, if you used a cleanser that gave you clogged pores and a moisturizer that broke you out and both of them happen to have ceteareth-20 as an ingredient, ceteareth-20 may be responsible for those breakouts.

  2. Remove waterproof products and cleanse properly:
    Not only is it important to use the right products on your skin, it is also important to properly remove products that you apply to your skin, especially products like waterproof makeup and sunscreen. If left on your skin, residue from these products could potentially clog your pores. Many people like using an oil-based cleanser, a cleansing oil, or the OCM to make sure all waterproof products are completely removed.

  3. What to use to treat clogged pores:
    Once you can rule out topical products (step 1 above) and not removing products properly (step 2) as reasons for why you're getting clogged pores, you can then proceed to treatments for the clogged pores.

    • Exfoliating Treatments - Exfoliating your skin will help get rid of clogs in your skin, as well as improve your skin's renewal rate. Chemical exfoliation is usually better than manual exfoliation for clogged pores because the acid in chemical exfoliants can help "melt" away the sebum that is binding together and forming the clog. Manual exfoliation can also sometimes be a bit too abrasive and harsh. Here are some ideas for exfoliating treatments:
      If your skin is sensitive, a non-drying cleanser with an active ingredient (ex. a BHA cleanser) may be better than a leave-on treatment (ex. a BHA serum).

      Keep in mind that some exfoliating treatments may cause your skin to purge. Some clogged pores will turn into an inflamed pimple before your skin can push the clog out. For more information about purging, please check here.

    • Oil Cleansing - Not only do oils ensure complete removal of waterproof makeup and sunscreen, using oils can also help with clogged pores because of the "likes dissolve likes" concept. Some people find that switching to a facial oil as a moisturizer eliminates clogged pores, while others find that using oils to cleanse their face helps un-clog congested skin. Whatever the case, be aware that oils are a double edged sword. They can help clear up clogged skin, but they may also cause clogs too. Peoples' skin react very individually to oils, so it is always best to patch test any new oil on your skin to see if there are any adverse reactions to the using the oil.

    • Retinoids - Some clogged pores can be particularly stubborn and will require a stronger treatment. Over-the-counter retinoids are an option, but for clogged pores that just won't budge, you may have to get a prescription-strength retinoid.

    • Extractions - While popping and squeezing pimples is not recommended, some clogged pores can be cleared out faster with some professional extractions. Definitely proceed with caution though! Squeezing a non-inflamed clogged pore can actually turn it into an inflamed, red pimple, not to mention increase the potential for the pore to scar. If you must extract, go to an experienced facialist. If you insist on doing it yourself, follow the instructions for popping pimples here. The "safest" type of clogged pore to extract is the kind that has a dry, hardened plug in the center. These kinds of clogged pores are usually raised with a tiny divot in the center, like a donut. The type of plug that comes out of these kinds of clogged pores will be hard and dry.

    • Moisturize - While moisturizers can cause clogged pores, moisturizing can sometimes help prevent and treat clogged pores by keeping your skin soft and supple. If your skin is too dry, dead skin cell build up contributes to skin congestion. A moisturizer with an active treatment (i.e. a BHA moisturizer) may be something to consider.

Quick Clogged Pore Treatment Guide

That's a lot of information to digest, so here is a quick breakdown of what you should do to treat your clogged pores:

  1. Make sure you aren't using anything that's clogging your pores in the first place.
  2. Make sure you are removing all makeup and sunscreen.
  3. Make sure you are moisturizing your skin if it is dry.
  4. Try a BHA product for 2-3 weeks. If it works, great! If not, move on to step 4.
  5. Try oil cleansing + BHA. The BHA will help loosen up some clogs and massaging an oil into your skin can help rub the clogs out of your pores.
  6. If oil cleansing and a BHA don't work, try some other treatments like AHAs or apple cider vinegar.
  7. If that doesn't work, try a prescription strength retinoid.
  8. If a prescription strength retinoid doesn't work, try oil cleansing + BHA + retinoid.

Some combination of the above steps will usually clear even the most stubborn clogged pores, but it will take some experimenting to find the right combination of treatments.

But wait, are they really clogged pores?

How do you know if you have really clogged pores or if you have something like milia? Well, clogged pores are typically non-inflamed, raised, skin-colored bumps. Sometimes they can be hard and white, but they are usually small and flesh colored with a solid plug (think toothpaste consistency versus liquid pus) that comes out when squeezed.

You may not be able to see clogged pores (i.e. no white tip like a whitehead) but you can definitely feel them under your skin or see them if you stretch out a pore. Clogged pores usually are caused by and effectively treated by products you use on your skin (although some people get clogged pores from hormonal acne). Milia, on the other hand, usually occurs around the eyes and needs to be professionally extracted in order to clear completely.

Clogged pores may also be confused with irritation or allergies. To rule out irritation or allergies, try using an anti-inflammatory product (ex. hydrocortisone or benadryl) for a few days. An anti-inflammatory product would reduce inflammation in a comedone but it will not actually clear a pore. So, if the clogs are still there after using an anti-inflammatory for several days, then they are clogged pores. If the bumps go away, then they were a reaction to something.

To summarize, if you know what you have on your skin are indeed clogged pores, some combination of smart product selection and active treatment should start clearing them up in 3-4 weeks.

Last updated: May 4, 2013

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