How to Unclog Your Clogged Pores

Cynthia Bailey, MD|June 1, 2010

And have fresh, clean-looking skin!


Did you know that not every clogged pore is a black head?

Sometimes the "dark stuff" you see in your pores is a collection of what pores naturally secrete (oil and dead skin cells) mixed with a lot of normal skin germs. Other times, that black stuff in your pore is a true blackhead, meaning it’s a hard plug of dead skin cells that have gotten stuck in the pore, just like a cork stuck in a bottle.  Most of the time, this is due to acne. Sometimes, however the hardened blackhead-looking material is due to little milia cysts that have opened up, creating the appearance of blackheads. If you have clogged pores, then just washing your skin won't get the pores cleaned.  Whether you have blackheads or not, you'll need special products and some simple treatments to get that stuff out of your pores so that your skin looks clean, healthy and beautiful.  The good news is that you can do a lot of effective skin treatments yourself, without seeing a doctor ... but, a warning, this topic is a little gross.

Steps to clean and unclog your pores to get your skin looking its best!

I'm dividing my instructions into unclogging pores without blackheads and unclogging pores with blackheads. Cleaning Out Your Clogged Pores That Don't Have Blackheads This involves giving your skin a regular good cleaning and an occasional gentle massage to release the pore contents (yes, this sounds gross). The first step is cleansing in a way that gets deeper into your pores.  The best and simplest way to do this is with the regular use of the Clarisonic brush and a gentle cleanser. The sonic waves get the cleanser into your pores and gently massage your skin.  You may want to use a slightly gentler cleanser than you normally use because cleansers can be irritating and they will penetrate more deeply into your skin when you use them with the Clarisonic.

Click here to see the Clarisonic System.

how to unclog your clogged pores dermatologist recommended clarisonic I even have my husband using it.

Cheryl M, Gualala CA

The best cleanser choices to use with your Clarisonic(click on the blue highlighted links to learn more about these cleansers)

For deep pore cleansing, we sell the more powerful, professional version of the Clarisonic system: Clarisonic Plus. Another simple exfoliating option is to use an exfoliating facial sponge like the Buf Puf Facial SpongeIt will help exfoliate stubborn dead skin cells and debris from the surface of your skin so your cleanser can get a little bit farther into your pores.  Use one of the cleansers I mentioned and cleanse your skin with a very gentle massaging motion.

If your pores still don’t appear empty and clean after several weeks of deep cleansing with the Clarisonic or Buf Puf sponge, then the process can be helped along with a little gentle manual massage to get the stuff out (yes, we're back to the gross part).  Think of your pores like little tubes of tooth paste, filled with the stuff they secrete (oil and cells that look dark and dirty inside your pores) instead of toothpaste.  Normally, this stuff comes out on its own, but it can be hurried along with a little gentle squeeze. This photo sort of gives you the to unclog your clogged pores This is what's meant by extractions during a facial. The aesthetician VERY GENTLY compresses small areas of skin together to get the pore contents out, like squeezing toothpaste out of the tube!  For example, gently pinching together about 1/2 inch of skin on your nose  will cause the material in the pores to come out if it’s soft and ready.  It's important that the skin never be pinched so hard that it becomes injured or bruised.

Of course, the best way to do this is to have a regular facial by a good aesthetician, and let them take care of the pore cleaning and extractions.  They even have a little instrument that does a really good job on stubborn pores.  Getting a facial every 6 to 8 weeks is ideal to keeping pores really clean. If you live locally, we offer these services and you don't have to be a patient in the dermatology practice to take advantage of our great professional aesthetician services.  Click here to learn more.

I'm loving these products better than anything I have ever tried, and I have tried them all!” 

Kathleen S

How to Unclog Your Clogged Pores That Have Blackheads

Whether the stuff in the pores are truly black heads, or just normal secretions that have hardened up over time and are acting like blackheads, it's important to use products called keratolytics to soften them. Keratolytics loosen the material that holds the dead cells into a firm plug inside your pores. The ingredients in skin care products that act as keratolytics include:

  • glycolic acid
  • benzoyl peroxide
  • salicylic acid
  • retinoids like tretinoin in Retin A.

The simplest treatment is to use a keratolytic in a cleanser form to wash your skin.  They'll be extra effective if you use them with the Clarisonic Plus.   If your pores are badly clogged then you're going to need leave-on keratolytic products too.  These include gels, lotions and creams.  I recommend picking products with one or more of these keratolytic ingredients and using them according to the instructions for about one month.  By softening the material in the pores, your body may be able to gradually dissolve the plug.  You may also be able to then get it to come out with the gentle massage technique I mentioned above. My favorite keratolytic options include my:

Ultimate Acne Solutions Acne Kits for classic and teenage acne

how to unclog your clogged pores: Acne Solutions Treatment Kit Ultimate Acne Solutions Treatment Kit  

Glytone Mild Gel Wash and Exfoliating Lotion for acne and or anti-aging skin concerns

how to unclog your clogged pores - Glytone   If keratolytics don't unclog your pores, then you're going to need professional help to get your clogged pores cleaned up.  A series of facials that include extractions, done every 6 weeks is good for most people.  Click here for more information.  For really tough clogged pores, it may be necessary to have medical extractions done in a dermatology office by the doctor or the nurse. And remember, if you're prone to blackheads, you're going to need to continue using your keratolytic products and the Buf Puf or Clarisonic System to keep new blackheads from forming again.  Unclogging clogged pores is an ongoing project!

"I am a dedicated reader of your blog and my skin is better for it.

Paul B

What's the bottom line for how to unclog your clogged pores?

My product choices to keep pores clean and healthy for people prone to clogged pores: If you have acne prone or tough oily skin,I recommend my Ultimate Acne Solutions Skin Care Kits, which contain all 3 of the best non-prescription pore-cleaning keratolytic ingredients.

Click here to see more about Acne Kits.

how to unclog your clogged pores Ultimate Acne Solutions Skin Care Kits   If your skin needs exfoliation, but isn't prone to pimples (pustules), I like glycolic acid products to keep the pores clean and unclogged.  You'll get anti-aging benefits from using glycolic acid too.  The best glycolic acid products for people with clogged pores are in my Glycolic Acid Facial Kits.

Click here to see my Glycolic Acid Product Kit for oily skin.

how to unclog your clogged pores Glycolic acid AHA Products kit for oily skin and clogged pores

Click here to see my Glycolic Acid Product Kit for normal skin.

how to unclog your clogged pores  Glycolic Acid Products for Normal Skin Glycolic Acid Treatment Kit for Normal Skin   If you have acne-prone skin but are allergic to salicylic acid or have skin that is too sensitive for glycolic acid, then I recommend products with benzoyl peroxide alone.  Wash with the benzoyl peroxide foaming cleanser:

Foaming Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cleanser

how to unclog your clogged pores Foaming Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cleanser Foaming Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cleanser   If you also need a leave-on benzoyl peroxide product to fight blackheads and pimples use:

Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cream

how to unclog your clogged pores Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cream Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cream   Remember, you also want to use either the Facial Buf Puf Sponge, or better yet, the Clarisonic Plus Sonic Skin Cleansing System to get your cleansers deeper into your pores. Lastly, if you have clogged pores on your back and chest, I recommend my Back Acne Kit.

Click here to see more about my Back Acne Kit.

how to unclog your clogged pores Back Acne Treatment Kit Back Acne Treatment Kit Always know that there are at-home and professional tricks to unclogging your clogged pores.  If your pores aren't getting fully unclogged with the ideas and products I just mentioned, then schedule an appointment with your dermatologist because you may also need prescription products and professional skin care treatments to really unclog stubborn pores.  For my patients who need prescription products to unclog their pores, I usually prescribe tretinoin/Retin A.  Professional procedures like mild chemical peels will help to control clogged pores too.  Talk to your skin care professional to see if you are a good candidate for these procedures. Clogged pores are frustrating and common.  No one likes them, but with the right products and techniques it's possible to have clean, healthy looking pores, and great looking skin that you're proud of! If You Found This Information Helpful, You May Want To Also Read: Facial Skin Care For Problem Skin With Rosacea, Seborrhea And Clogged Pores Common Reasons Why Your Acne Treatment Might Not Be Working Back Acne & Chest Acne: Will They Ruin Your Summer?

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Photo Attributions: Derek Gavey

Photo Modified 7/21/16 Copyright © Dr. Bailey Skin Care LLC

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