Clogged pores aren't just unsightly—they can also lead to pimples, acne, and even painful cysts. For many people, dealing with clogged pores feels like a daily struggle. But did you know that treating them early can lead to smoother skin and help keep breakouts at bay? Read on to learn how to clean clogged pores and why they happen in the first place.

What Are Pores, Exactly?

Pores (which Dermatologists call "comedones") are tiny openings in your skin that release oil and sweat. You have them all over your body, but the oil-producing pores are usually most concentrated and noticeable on your face. Your genes largely determine the number and size of your pores.

What Do Clogged Pores Look Like?

Pores can get clogged with oil (sebum), dead skin cells, and bacteria. If a pore gets clogged but stays open to the air, it oxidizes, forming a blackhead. These look like tiny black dots, usually over your nose, cheeks, and chin. A whitehead forms when a clogged pore closes—this makes them look like tiny, smooth, white or skin-colored bumps.

How to Clean Clogged Pores

You can't change the number of pores you have, but unclogging them can make them appear smaller and help your skin feel smoother. Cleaning clogged pores can also help prevent unsightly blemishes. Follow these Derm-approved tips for clean pores and smooth, radiant skin.

1. Start with the Right Cleanser

Some over-the-counter ingredients can help clean clogged pores, making them smaller and less visible. Cleansers with Salicylic Acid decongest pores, and those with Benzoyl Peroxide can help eliminate pore-clogging bacteria on your skin. Alternating with a gentle, pH-balanced cleanser like EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser can help minimize any irritation from these medicated formulas.

2. Exfoliate Correctly and Regularly

Exfoliating your skin helps break up the debris and dead skin cells that clog pores. When it comes to exfoliating, you have two main options: chemical and physical exfoliators.

Chemical exfoliators, like alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids, help your skin turn over naturally and dissolve dead skin cells. Physical exfoliators, on the other hand, manually remove the excess debris and skin cells. If you use a physical exfoliator, stick with milder options like a soft facial brush or cloth rather than harsh scrubs.

If you have sensitive skin, gentle chemical exfoliators are probably your best bet. Just keep in mind that you shouldn't exfoliate too often, or else you run the risk of disturbing your skin barrier and making matters worse.

3. Minimize Skin Oil

Excess oil is one of the main culprits of congested pores, so reducing how much oil is on your skin will help them stay open and clear. Products like the EltaMD Oil-In-Gel Cleanser combine the beneficial effects of traditional and oil cleansers to effectively bind to and melt away oil and minimize acne.

Also, if you wear makeup, choose products that don't clog pores. The same goes for sunscreen (which should most definitely be part of your regular skin care routine). Look for formulas that say "oil-free" or "noncomedogenic" like the EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 sunscreen.

4. Use Pore Strips to Deep Clean Pores at Home

Pore strips act like magnets, lifting debris and dead skin cells out of pores. This isn't a permanent solution, but using one every few weeks can help remove much of the heavy debris. One caveat: if you have sensitive skin, they may not be the best option since they can cause irritation in some people.

5. Consider a Retinoid

You've probably heard about the anti-aging benefits of Retinoids, but you may not realize they help with pores, too. They improve your skin's natural exfoliating abilities to get rid of dead skin cells, stimulate collagen production, and lower oil production. All these effects work together to clean clogged pores and make them appear smaller.

6. Visit a Professional

Board-certified Derms are pros when it comes to keeping your skin and pores healthy. A Derm can safely perform acne extraction, which uses sterile equipment to get rid of blackheads and whiteheads. They can also perform other in-office procedures like acne facials and microdermabrasion and advise you on the best over-the-counter and prescription products for your skin.

7. Avoid Touching Your Face

This may be the simplest step, but for many people, it's the hardest. Frequently touching your face transfers extra oil, bacteria, and other pollutants to your face. It can also be tempting to squeeze blackheads and pimples, but this can cause inflammation and make you more prone to breakouts. So, no matter what, resist the temptation and leave the pore extraction to the pros.

Pores help keep your skin healthy and vibrant, but when they become clogged with dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria, they can be frustrating to deal with. Incorporating a few simple steps into your daily routine can purify your pores and keep your skin smooth and blemish-free so you can be your brightest, most confident self.



    Maria Robinson, MD, MBA is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist with over ten years of clinical experience. Dr. Robinson has a passion for nutrition and integrative dermatology, and is the co-founder of, where people can explore holistic dermatology treatments. Through her writing, she strives to empower people with accurate health information so they can make positive decisions that lead to healthy and vibrant skin.

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