Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/25/2021
We hate to be Captain Obvious, but clogged pores are not cute.
Whether they manifest as little blackheads on your nose or as big red pimples, they for sure get in the way of your flawless complexion goals.
With this, it’s safe to say that unclogging pores is something everyone should know how to do. Also important: knowing how to prevent them from getting all gunked up in the first place.
Consider this your guide! Learn what can lead to clogged pores — then discover ways to get the dirt and grime out of them.
It’s pretty straightforward: pores get backed up when a combo of sebum and dead skin cells build up in your pores. This can lead to acne and blemishes.
Pores are small openings on the skin (most notably your face) that allow your body to release gas and fluids — like sweat and oil.
As for the stuff that clogs pores, sebum is one culprit. This oil-like substance is created by your sebaceous glands and it has a purpose — through this oil production, your skin and hair are lubricated.
Sebum also serves as a barrier, protecting your skin from bacteria and other environmental factors.
Excess sebum? That’s not so good and it can lead to clogged pores. Things like hormone fluctuations (like what happens during your period) can lead to an increase in sebum production.
As can overwashing your skin — when you strip away natural oils, your skin may overproduce oil to make up for it.
As for dead skin cells, your body naturally sheds them every 40 to 56 days in a process called epidermal turnover, which is the process to renew and replace skin.
As dead skin cells mix with excess sebum, it can lead to blocked pores — which can lead to zits.
If your pores do get clogged, you’ll want to unclog them (duh).
Not only will this make your skin look good, it’ll also help prevent the possibility of acne. Here are four ways you can keep your pores clean.
You should be washing your face in the morning and at night as a part of a healthy skin care routine. It’s also a good idea to do it after the gym (you want to wash away that sweat!).
But when it comes to trying to get clean pores, not all face washes are created equal. Research points to cleansers and moisturizers being a good option — they can reduce acne and promote all-around skin health. Hers has a gentle acne cleanser that’s a good option.
Salicylic acid is a naturally occurring ingredient that is often manufactured for skin care purposes.
Here’s why: it has anti-inflammatory properties and can exfoliate skin, which may aid in unclogging pores.
Additionally, it has antibacterial properties, which may nix certain types of acne-inducing bacteria.
How you wash can also help. You want to use warm water (not hot!) and should gently massage the cleanser onto your facial skin in a circular motion before washing it away. Scrubbing hard can irritate and inflame your skin.
Speaking of exfoliation, it’s an important step if you want to keep your pores unclogged.
When you exfoliate, you are removing dead skin cells from your face — which can help prevent your pores from getting blocked.
From the makeup you choose to the moisturizer you use and everything in between, look for the word “non-comedogenic” on the label.
It’s essentially a fancy word that means these products won’t clog pores.
Other helpful words to look for on labels of skin care products are “oil-free” and “won’t clog pores.”
If you deal with acne, there’s some evidence to support that using non-comedogenic products can help.
There are two types of exfoliants — mechanical and chemical.
The first involves using something with a slightly rough texture (like a sponge or a face scrub) to physically remove dead skin cells.
The second uses chemical exfoliants (like alpha hydroxy acid) to remove those dead skin cells.
But, here’s a word of warning: if you have sensitive skin, exfoliating it can be irritating. So, you should consult with a healthcare professional first.
No matter your skin type, you want to be gentle when using a physical exfoliator, so you don’t damage skin. It’s also a good idea to apply a moisturizer after exfoliating, since it can be very drying.
Finally, you don’t want to over-exfoliate.
Charcoal is a very buzzy skin care ingredient. You’ve probably seen influencers slathering their faces with these black masks.
That’s because charcoal has been used in medical procedures to absorb toxins.
For example, if someone overdoses on drugs, medical professionals will pump their stomach with charcoal to absorb toxins.
So, the thinking is that by applying charcoal topically, it can pull out gunk from your pores to clear it.
You can even find a charcoal pore strip. These are intended to be applied to your nose. Then, when you peel them off, they purport to bring excess oil with them.
Be warned, however: there’s not much by way of research to report these claims. That said, there doesn’t seem to be much harm in trying products with charcoal. So, you could always give one a shot.
We get it. It can be super tempting to push out some of that gunk as a way of clearing clogged pores. But avoid that temptation at all costs.
If you really feel like you need to manually get some of that stuff out, the safest thing to do is visit a healthcare professional for an extraction.
A dermatology professional will be able to safely remove whatever is blocking your pore without causing infection or scarring.
You can read more about what to expect during an extraction in our guide.
Clogged pores don’t just look unsightly, they can lead to bigger blemishes (like painful red bumps and pustules).
Pores get clogged when excess sebum and dead skin cells mix and create a block.
Thankfully, there are a number of ways to get this gunk out.
Washing your face twice a day is a good start. Consider a facial cleanser with salicylic acid for added benefits. It’s also a good idea to use non-comedogenic products.
From there, you can consider exfoliating your skin to slough away what’s clogging pores or using other products specifically made to pull out what clogs pores (like a charcoal mask).
You also have the option of visiting a medical professional to do extractions on congested skin.
If you’d like customized advice on how to deal with your clogged pores, make an appointment to consult with a skin care professional.