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How To Manage (and Prevent) Clogged Pores on Your Face

This pesky skin concern is more common than you think.
By
  • Cat Matta
July 10, 2024

If you’ve ever found yourself searching for a remedy for clogged pores on your face, you’re not alone. Clogged pores on the face are a common (and frustrating) skincare concern, and managing them can be tricky. The truth is, before even learning how to clean out clogged pores, you’ll need to understand a few basics, starting with the answer to one important question: What causes clogged pores?

Here, we’re sharing what you should know about clogged pores, including what pores are, what causes clogged pores, and what congested skin looks like. Plus, we’ll share some of our top skincare tips for managing and reducing the appearance of clogged pores. Find it all ahead.

What Are Pores?

Pores are tiny openings on the surface of the skin that connect to the oil and sweat glands in the dermis (the middle layer of skin). These tiny holes play an important role in keeping our bodies cool and flushing out toxins the body doesn’t need. We have pores all over our bodies, but they tend to be most visible on the face. That being said, pore size depends on several factors including genetics, aging, and skincare practices, per the Cleveland Clinic.

What Do Clogged Pores Look Like?

Clogged pores develop when dirt, oil, or dead skin gets trapped within the pores, per the Cleveland Clinic. This congestion can lead to an array of skin concerns, including:

  • Whiteheads (a.k.a. closed comedones): Clogged pores that present as flesh-toned or whitish raised bumps on the face.
  • Blackheads (a.k.a. open comedones): Clogged pores that look like flat, dark brown or black specks on the face. These specks, it should be noted aren’t dirt, but rather, oxidized (darkened) oil.
  • Pimples and pustules: Common types of acne that occur when an abundance of dirt and oil causes redness, irritation, and swelling around a clogged pore. If the blemish also contains pus, then it’s known as a pustule.
  • Nodules and cysts: Nodules are deep (and often painful) breakouts that develop beneath the surface of the skin. If a nodule contains pus, it’s known as a cyst (in other words, cystic acne).

You can experience clogged pores anywhere on your skin that has oil glands. Clogged pores on the face—such as on the nose, forehead, and chin—are most common, but fortunately, they can be addressed with a dedicated skincare routine.

What’s the Difference Between Clogged Pores and Enlarged Pores?

Clogged pores and enlarged pores may look similar, but they’re not exactly the same thing. As explained above, clogged pores develop when dirt, oil, or other debris gets stuck within your pores—which can happen regardless of the size of your pores. Enlarged pores, meanwhile, are simply stretched-out pores. They can be caused by congestion, but are also influenced by other factors, including your age, biological gender, and lifestyle. Some of the most common causes of large pores include:

  • Excess oil: Certain areas on your skin that produce more sebum, like the center of your face or T-zone, have more oil-releasing sebaceous glands, which can make pores located front and center appear more noticeable.
  • Sun damage: Repeated sun exposure can damage the skin and leave it less elastic over time. This can, in turn, cause your skin to sag—which may make your pores appear stretched out.
  • Aging: The natural skin aging process is also associated with sagging skin. Again, this lack of firmness can make your pores appear larger.
  • Sex: When it comes to enlarged pores, people who are born male may be at an additional disadvantage, as their skin tends to naturally have more sebaceous glands and, hence, more oily skin.
  • Hormones: It’s no secret that pimples are almost a rite of passage for many teenagers. In fact, about 85% of people get some form of acne in their teens. This is because hormone fluctuations can ramp up oil production. Similarly, so do hormone fluctuations that occur during menstruation. In both cases, the excess oil can make pores appear larger.

What Causes Clogged Pores?

In order to manage clogged pores, it’s important to understand what’s causing the congestion to begin with. Here are four common causes of clogged pores.

1. Dead skin

According to the Mayo Clinic, pores can become clogged when dead skin cells accumulate on the skin’s surface. As you get older, your skin’s ability to shed those dead skin cells slows down, which can lead to a dull complexion, buildup, and congested skin.

To help prevent dead cells from accumulating on your skin, try incorporating exfoliation into your daily routine. L’Oréal Paris RevitaLift Radiant Smoothing Cleanser gently exfoliates and nourishes your skin while cleansing it of all makeup and impurities. Or, you could use an exfoliating toner, like the L’Oréal Paris RevitaLift Derm Intensives 5% Glycolic Acid Peeling Toner, to chemically exfoliate dead skin cells and promote a visibly brighter, smoother complexion.

Editor’s tip: If you need another reason to use SPF daily, exfoliation makes your skin more sensitive to the sun. To help protect your skin, we suggest adding a non-comedogenic sunscreen like L’Oréal Paris Bright Reveal Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Daily UV Lotion to your daily morning routine. Be mindful to reapply your sunscreen every two hours (or after sweating or swimming), and seek shade whenever possible.

2. Excess oil

Your skin’s sebaceous glands create natural oils that help keep your skin moisturized and nourished. In a perfect world, sebum production would be perfectly balanced. However, there are times when sebaceous glands can become overactive, leading to an excess amount of oil being created. If you have dead cells on the surface of your skin, this oil can get trapped within the pores, leading to clogged pores.

If you have a skin type that produces an excess of oil (like oily skin and acne-prone skin), there’s a good chance that you deal with clogged pores on the forehead or clogged pores on the chin, because the T-zone has the most oil glands. To manage excess oils, reach for oil-absorbing products, such as clay masks, and wash your face twice daily with a cleanser designed for your skin type.

3. Over-cleansing and over-exfoliating

As stated previously, cleansing and exfoliating should play an essential role in your skincare routine—but too much of a good thing can backfire. If you cleanse or exfoliate too much, you may risk stripping your skin of its natural oils, which can cause your oil glands to overcompensate and create even more oil, per the American Medical Association (AMA). Then, that excess oil can clog your pores. The AMA also advises against scrubbing your skin too aggressively, which can irritate the skin and potentially worsen breakouts.

Make sure you cleanse twice a day (once in the morning and once before bed) or after sweating, and pay attention to your skin when you exfoliate. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), how often you exfoliate depends on your skin type and the type of exfoliation (chemical vs physical) you practice. Start by using a gentle exfoliant once or twice a week to see how your skin reacts before increasing frequency. If you do notice irritation, reduce the number of times you exfoliate per week.

4. Using the wrong beauty products

As sad as it is to say, some of your favorite beauty products could be to blame for your clogged pores. If you’re prone to congested skin, look for skincare and makeup products with non-comedogenic formulas, which are created with ingredients that won’t clog pores. When it comes to your face makeup, many drugstore favorites fit the bill. We love the lightweight L’Oréal Paris True Match Super-Blendable Foundation for a lightweight, skin-like finish, while the L’Oréal Paris Infallible Up to 24H Fresh Wear Foundation in a Powder is ideal for a matte makeup look.

In addition to using non-comedogenic makeup, the Cleveland Clinic recommends sticking with face products (makeup and skincare) that are oil-free if you have acne-prone skin, as oils can be one of the main causes of clogged pores.

What are pore clogging ingredients?

If a product is non-comedogenic, it’ll usually say so on the label. But if you want to be extra sure your chosen products won’t worsen congestion, take a peek at the ingredients list. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), many emollient and occlusive ingredients—including sunflower oil, lanolin, kernel oil, and avocado oil—can lead to (or exacerbate) congestion.

When choosing a moisturizer, it’s best to look for a lightweight formula made without these potentially pore-clogging ingredients. We’re fond of the L’Oréal Paris RevitaLift Derm Intensives Micro Hyaluronic Acid + Ceramides Line-Plumping Water Cream, which provides deep hydration without a heavy or greasy feel. The L’Oréal Paris RevitaLift Triple Power Anti-Aging Moisturizer Fragrance-Free is another non-comedogenic pick ideal for use morning and night.

How To Get Rid of Clogged Pores

Now that you know what clogged pores are and what causes clogged pores on the face, here are a few things you can do to help keep pores clean and reduce their appearance.

1. Double cleanse

Before bed, double cleanse with an oil-based cleanser and a water-based cleanser. The first cleanse with the oil cleanser will remove makeup, sunscreen, and surface debris, while the second cleanser helps remove any leftover residue to ensure that your skin is fully clean.

For your first cleanse, reach for something gentle, like a lightweight cleansing oil or cleansing balm that can easily remove your makeup without clogging your pores. For the second cleanse, try something that provides gentle exfoliation, such as the L’Oréal Paris RevitaLift 3.5% Glycolic Acid Cleanser. This gel cleanser with glycolic acid helps remove dead skin cells, oil, and makeup while gently exfoliating to reveal smoother, brighter skin over time.

2. Use products with salicylic acid or retinol

Routinely exfoliating with topical acids like salicylic acid and using topical retinol can help address and prevent clogged pores, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

You’ll find salicylic acid in the L’Oréal Paris RevitaLift Derm Intensives 12% Pure Vitamin C + E + Salicylic Acid Serum, which helps brighten the skin, even skin texture, and minimize the appearance of enlarged pores. Add the fast-absorbing serum to your morning routine after cleansing and before applying your moisturizer (as always, be sure to end your morning routine with broad-spectrum sunscreen). If you’d prefer more thorough exfoliation, you can try an at-home peel, like the L’Oréal Paris Bright Reveal Dark Spot Exfoliating Peel, which contains alpha, beta, and polyhydroxy acids. Just note that this isn’t a daily-use product: Start with once weekly usage (at night) and gradually increase usage to up to four times per week depending on how your skin responds.

Retinol, meanwhile, is best saved for nighttime use. Introduce this ingredient into your routine with the L’Oréal Paris RevitaLift Pressed Night Moisturizer with Retinol + Niacinamide. With a blend of retinol and niacinamide, this non-comedogenic moisturizer quickly absorbs into the skin and smooths uneven texture with continued use over time.

3. Moisturize

While you may want to skip moisturizer because you feel like it clogs your pores or makes your skin oily, doing so can dehydrate your skin—which can, paradoxically, increase your oil production. Instead, use a lightweight, fast-absorbing moisturizer to hydrate your skin. Gel moisturizers are particularly well suited for those with oily skin, since they’re lightweight and don’t leave behind a sticky or greasy feel.

4. See a professional for extractions

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If your clogged pores manifest as blackheads on your face, avoid picking at them and save that for a professional, like a dermatologist. Picking at blackheads and acne can worsen the breakout or lead to dark spots, redness, and even scarring.

If you are dealing with dark marks from picking at a clogged pore or blemish, add L’Oréal Paris Bright Reveal 12% [Niacinamide + Amino Sulfonic + Ferulic Acid] Dark Spot Serum to your routine. The potent serum helps visibly reduce the appearance of dark spots to promote a brighter, more even complexion.

5. Consult with your doctor

If your acne becomes painful or if you’re doing the right things for your clogged pores and still not seeing results, talk to your dermatologist. You may be a good candidate for topical creams or prescription medications that can help manage clogged pores.

Next: 6 Tips for Minimizing Large Pores With Makeup

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