When dead skin cells, dirt, and make-up combine with the sebum in your pores, it can be a recipe for clear-skin disaster—cue clogging that turns your skin into the perfect breeding ground for acne, blackheads and more. If you have congested skin then, it can be helpful to know how to unclog pores, to stop acne in its tracks.
But it's worth bearing in mind that your pores are not necessarily the enemy. “Your pores are an absolutely crucial component of your skin, helping it to stay cool through sweating, and hydrated by allowing sebum to reach the surface of the skin, which keeps it healthy and free of toxins,” explains aesthetics expert Dr Sophie Shotter. (opens in new tab)
However, cleaning your pores gently and with the right methods can help you to achieve a clearer complexion. And according to Shotter, there are a number of skincare ingredients and pore cleansing tools that you can add to your arsenal to help unclog your pores, all from the comfort of your own home. When it comes to the skincare product order in which you should employ these methods, generally you should do them before anything else, at the cleansing stage. Here’s how…
How to unclog your pores
1. Invest in exfoliating acids
To unclog pores, you need to ‘clean’ them out—and exfoliating acids work wonders in that department. “Oily skin types should use Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) salicylic acid, as it’s oil soluble, meaning it can cut through sebum to help break up plugged pores. It also has antibacterial properties that can help keep acne at bay,” shares Shotter. However, if you don’t have overly oily skin, “mandelic acid can be an excellent alternative as it’s slightly more hydrating, while sensitive and delicate skin types can try polyhydroxyacids like gluconolactone,” adds Shotter.
Try them laced in cleansers, pads, wipes, or serums but start slowly. Use your chosen acid-based product every other day to see how your skin reacts before increasing use. According to Shotter, “some skins can tolerate exfoliating acids morning and evening every day, whereas others only manage two uses per week. So, what you don’t want to do is push your skin to its limit and compromise the health and effectiveness of your protective skin barrier.” Try once a week to begin with, and build it up from there.
2. Add Niacinamide
There are a plethora of vitamins that are essential in helping our body function at its best, and there are a fair few that when applied topically work wonders on the complexion too. Niacinamide is one of those wonder vitamins.
A form of Vitamin B3, niacinamide has become a buzzword in beauty over the last few years and it’s not surprising. Offering a brighter, firmer, smoother and clearer complexion, there really isn’t much that niacinamide can’t do. When it comes to keeping pores clear, “niacinamide helps to control oil production in the skin,” shares Shotter. The less excess oil in your pores, the lower the chances of them clogging will be.
Plus, “this hero active helps to reduce acne and can make pores appear smaller over time. It’s also incredibly gentle on the skin and generally well tolerated by all skin tones and types,” explains Shotter.
3. Don’t skip cleansing
Cleansing is vital when learning how to unclog pores, as it removes dirt, oil, pollution, dead skin cells, and even ‘bad’ bacteria. It's a “crucial skincare step that should never be skipped. And no, face wipes don’t count” says Shotter—sorry!
Cleanse as soon as you wake up, and at the end of the day, do it twice—double cleansing is a great option for people with problem skin. It's especially important to do this if you’ve been wearing a lot of make-up, and even more so if you’ve been in a city environment, which could have resulted in lots of dirt and pollutants sitting on the skin. "You don’t want these to penetrate into your pores as they will only exacerbate your clogged pore problem,” explains Shotter.
4. Embrace retinol
The best retinol serums have truly earnt their place as gold standard complexion perfectors, as it has the ability to boost skin-firming and wrinkle-busting collagen and elastin levels, reduce pigmentation, regulate oil production, and speed up cell turnover. Phew! All of which are game-changers when it comes to looking after your pores, especially as you age.
Shotter said, “Blocked pores are more common with age—as our skin loses elasticity, pores loosen and become more prone to holding onto plugs. Also, as we age our skin sloughs off dead skin cells at a slower pace, which contributes to a rise in clogged pores too".
She advises, “Start with a lower strength product and work your way up in strength over the course of a few months. Also be sure to introduce your retinol slowly. Twice a week for the first fortnight, then every other night for two weeks before aiming for every night." That way, you should avoid the dreaded retinol uglies—e.g retinol peeling.
5. Use at-home tools gently and with caution
Clogged pores could result in blackheads, closed comedones, or a range of different forms of acne. While some would say it’s best to let a professional deal with extractions, there are some at-home tools that will help you with how to unclog pores, and that you can use safely, too.
“Comedone extractors which look like small metal loops are excellent as they will minimise the risk of trauma to the pore as you extract," shares Shotter. "Suction devices when tag teamed with exfoliating acids can get the job done too. You can also find radio frequency devices work to boost collagen production in the skin, which will help keep pores tighter, reducing the risk of clogging due to loss of firmness of the pore."
Before using these tools yourself, be sure you fully understand how to use them, and be sure to only put them to the test in a sterile environment. If you feel unsure, consult a skincare professional.
Amerley is an award-winning beauty & lifestyle journalist who has been writing for the UK’s most well-known glossies, websites and newspapers for over a decade. Known for her ability to predict the next big trend, there is really very little she won’t try for a story. From microblading and injectables, to10 step skincare plans and breathing her way to better skin, Amerley loves to share her experiences and write relatable, informative and trend-led copy for beauty novices and junkies alike.