How to Unclog Your Pores and Keep Them Clear

Whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, oh my!

What can you do to unclog your pores and keep them clear? Our dermatologists are sharing what works and what doesn’t.

First of all, what are pores? A pore, also called a follicle, is a duct in your skin attached to the glands that produce sebum, an oily substance meant to coat, moisturize, and protect the skin.

When too much sebum is produced, it can mix with sweat, dead skin cells, and other environmental contaminants, clogging up your pores and causing acne. If bacteria is introduced, the pore can become inflamed, causing a papule or pustule.

Why do some people tend to suffer with clogged pores while others don’t? It’s largely due to genetics. Here are some dermatologist-recommended ways to help clear out pores and keep your skin clear, smooth, and beautiful.

Baking Soda

A common household ingredient, baking soda is good for a lot of things, including acting as a pore cleanser and gentle exfoliant. Mix two teaspoons of baking soda with one teaspoon of water to make a paste. Massage the paste onto your skin using gentle, circular motions. Leave for five to ten minutes, then rinse clean. Follow immediately with a toner and moisturizer.

Keep in mind, people with sensitive skin may find baking soda irritating, so be sure to test it in a small area of skin before applying to your entire face.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid works as a chemical exfoliant to reach deep into pores and remove impurities. It not only treats, but also helps prevent breakouts and is oil-soluble, so it penetrates sebum to get all the way down into pores. Salicylic acid also encourages the release of dead skin cells to prevent clogging.

Many over-the-counter cleansers include salicylic acid. Wet your face with lukewarm water and gently apply the cleanser in a circular motion, working it into a lather. Once you’ve cleansed your face, rinse thoroughly.

As with all chemicals, it’s a good idea to test a small area of skin first. Many people are able to use salicylic acid daily, but if you find your skin gets too dry or irritated, reduce the frequency of use.

Pore strips

Pore strips work by using an adhesive or other substance that adheres to the material clogging a pore. When the strip dries and you pull it off, the material comes with it. Our dermatologists warn that pore strips have mixed effectiveness, depending on the individual and the active ingredients of the strip, but it generally doesn’t hurt to try them. At best, they work as a compliment to other treatments rather than solving the problem of clogged pores on their own.

Be wary if you have sensitive skin as the ingredients may be irritating. Follow the pore strip instructions, and follow up with moisturizer to prevent dryness.

Physical Exfoliants

Exfoliants are abrasive substances that physically remove the top layers of your skin. They are one of the simplest ways to help keep your pores clear. Physical exfoliants can come in the form of a brush, cloth, or scrubbie (i.e. Buff Puff) or they can be small, abrasive particles in a facial scrub.

If you have clogged pores on your back and shoulders, regular physical exfoliation can help. However, the more sensitive skin of the face generally benefits from less exfoliation—once or twice a week at most. For some people, too much physical exfoliation can make the problem worse by disrupting the skin barrier, spreading bacteria, and/or causing damage to the top layers of skin. If this is the case for you, you’ll benefit more from a chemical exfoliator, like salicylic acid.

Bentonite Clay Masks

Bentonite clay is a mineral-rich clay made from volcanic ash that absorbs excess oil, exfoliates, and is anti-inflammatory. On top of those qualities, bentonite clay also detoxifies skin and reduces the appearance of pores. Bentonite clay works best for people with very oily, acne-prone skin, not those experiencing a few clogged pores, as it may overly dry the skin. Use a bentonite clay mask about once a week, being careful not to pair it too closely with other drying treatments.

Professional Extraction

Regular professional extractions in combination with chemical treatment are an excellent way to control acne in adults. During extractions, an experienced aesthetician opens your pores with steam. This also softens the material clogging them, making it easier to remove. Using gloved fingers or a special metal tool, they remove the debris and sebum clogging the pores.

Extractions can be uncomfortable, even painful at times, but having them done regularly (every month or two) can help keep skin clear, and most patients find the discomfort is worth it. At Arizona Dermatology, our medspa offers extractions and other modalities for acne, like chemical peels, under the supervision of our expert dermatological team.

Prescription Medications

For some people, no matter what you do at home, you simply won’t get relief from acne without help from prescription medications. The good news is there are so many options, from prescription-strength salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide to retinoids, Accutane, or a hormone modulator for females (Spironolactone). Because different people respond differently to the active ingredients in these medications, it may take you and your doctor some trial and error to find the right one for you, but it is possible to have clear, unclogged pores and beautiful skin, even if you are prone to acne.