If talking to people about their skin for the past thirty years has taught me anything, it’s that clogged pores are a HUGE topic. Why? Because everyone thinks they have them. The reason for this is that the term “clogged pores” is often thrown around very generically in the beauty industry to refer to any kind of raised bump or acne-related issue. As a result, everyone’s interpretation can be a little bit different.
Since properly identifying clogged pores is half the battle, what I decided to do for this post was crowdsource images from our customers and followers asking them to send in pictures of their clogged pores. For the sake of you, my readers, I chose six photos to assess. For each photo, I give my expert opinion as to what’s going on and offer solutions. My hope is that you’ll be able to match your skin to what you see in these pictures and learn how to address your own concerns! It was really interesting to see the different things people considered clogged pores, I had such a fun time with this post. A big thanks to everyone who submitted pictures!
*I’ve only consulted with one of the people in this post. Everyone else’s skin I assessed based on the images they provided.
What Are Clogged Pores?
For me as an esthetician, clogged pores have a very specific definition. When I say “clogged pore,” I’m talking about what’s officially known as a closed comedone. Closed comedones are whiteheads without any inflammation (meaning, there is no soreness or infection) that just sit under the skin. The pore becomes clogged by hardened oil and dead skin cells that fall into the pore instead of properly shedding. Together, these create a blockage, and eventually a bump.
One telltale sign of a closed comedone is that it doesn’t go away. While red, infected blemishes tend to resolve—usually by a whitehead being pushed to the surface of the skin—closed comedones just hang around. Because there isn’t an infection, your body isn’t working as hard to get rid of it, and the pore could remain blocked for a very long time unless you get a manual extraction.
Of course, when a pore is blocked, it can (and often eventually does) lead to an inflamed blemish. This is because the mixture of dead skin cells and oil blocks oxygen from reaching the pore, and without the presence of oxygen, P. acnes bacteria are able to thrive.
Learn more about how clogged pores are formed and lead to breakouts.
Problem: Indented scarring from previous acne
Inside circle 1, you can see indented marks on the skin. To me, this looks like scarring left behind from either cystic or nodular blemishes (you know, those hard, painful bumps that never come to a head?). These types of blemishes occur so deep within the skin that they can damage elastin and collagen fibers. Because of this, the tissue is unable to regenerate and sort of “falls in” on itself, resulting in an indentation.
Since this person looks fairly young, it’s possible that the indents can improve on their own. That said, full volume will probably never be restored to the skin without some kind of cosmetic intervention.
- Use vitamin C and a prescription retinoid. As far as at-home solutions, this will help boost and restore collagen to create a smoother texture.
- Seek out professional treatments. If at-home solutions aren’t enough, I would suggest looking into one or more of the following: chemical peels, laser treatments, microneedling combined with radiofrequency, or having filler injected into the area. It’s important to consult with a dermatologist to determine which course of action is best for you!
Problem: Enlarged pore from piercing
I could be wrong, but because of the location and the way this indent forms a perfect circle, it looks like there was a piercing at one point that this person decided to remove.
Aside from maybe filler, there isn’t much that can be done to close this up. I always tell people to consider piercings carefully since you’re basically creating a permanently enlarged pore!
Problem: Enlarged pores in the crevice of the chin
As you can see, the person in this picture is pulling their lip taut to reveal enlarged pores in the crevice of the chin.
Let me tell you, I get a lot of clients complaining that they can see the same thing when they pull their lip taut, and my solution is pretty simple—don’t pull your lip like that! We tend to focus on what we perceive as imperfections when examining our faces in the mirror, but the reality is that’s just not something anyone else is going to see when you’re walking around without making that expression. Trust me when I say, almost everyone has enlarged pores in this area of the face. Because there’s a crease, oil naturally collects here and since the pores in the crease are a little bit “bent,” they’re even more likely to collect debris. Bottom line, it’s a normal thing to have and the best thing you can do is make sure this area is kept clean. (You can do this by always cleansing morning and night and by wiping an antibacterial toner over the area.)
Note: if you feel like you have blackheads on your chin that never go away, they might actually be sebaceous filaments.
Problem: Blemish (papule)
In circle 4, we have a more classic-looking red blemish. After a pore becomes clogged and forms a closed comedone, the next stage of a blemish is called a papule. It’s the result of a clogged pore becoming inflamed due to infection and usually means it’s on its way to becoming a full-fledged pimple, complete with a surface whitehead that can eventually be extracted. (This final stage is also known as a pustule, aka, a good ol’ zit.)
At this point, I would apply a non-drying, anti-inflammatory spot treatment like Anti Bump Solution. Once the papule turns into the aforementioned surface whitehead and is ready to be extracted, it can be gently squeezed out. After this you can apply a drying spot treatment to knock out any infection lingering inside the pore.
Problem: Post-breakout marks
As the last step in the life cycle of a blemish, we have post-breakout marks. You can see a cluster of them on this person’s chin (this definitely seems to be their problem area) from past blemishes that have healed but left discoloration behind.
The cornerstones of fading post-breakout hyperpigmentation are exfoliating and using plenty of sun protection during the day. Learn more about how to fade dark marks from blemishes.
Of course, the ideal scenario is to prevent breakouts before they can leave a scar behind. (Easier said than done, I know!) Breakouts on the chin and jawline are really common (especially for women) and are often hormonally driven. Here are my best tips for preventing annoying chin and jawline acne.
Problem: Clogged pores (closed comedones)
The raised bumps (the white ones, not the red ones) you see here are what I consider true clogged pores. You can see that this person’s skin is congested because they have these white-ish, non-infected bumps, also known as closed comedones, all over. There is, however, a large cluster of them inside the circled area.
Here are the tips I would give this person for getting rid of skin congestion caused by clogged pores:
- At-home practices for clearing out pores
- Cleanse well. Keep your skin clean by always cleansing both morning and night. Make sure makeup and sunscreen are properly removed by using a gentle washcloth after cleansing to ensure everything is properly getting wiped off the face. (Read how to properly wash your face.)
- Exfoliate often. Like anyone with clogged pores, this person should be incorporating regular exfoliation into their routine. Part of what causes clogged pores is irregular shedding of dead skin cells—since they’re not being shed normally, they fall into pores and build up. This also disrupts the healthy flow of oil. Exfoliating, particularly with a chemical exfoliant a few times a week, will help correct this by clearing a pathway for the blockage to come to the surface. I also tell clients to use a gentle physical scrub once or twice a week to physically lift dead cells off of the skin.
- Hydrate with water-based products. This one seems counterintuitive to a lot of people when they have clogged pores, but keeping the skin properly hydrated is SO very important. Since skin cells—like all cells—need water to live, they die off more quickly when they’re dehydrated. This leads to an increase in dead cells on the surface of your skin and if they aren’t being properly shed, that’s more dead cells that can build up in your pores. Dry skin also traps oil, dirt, and bacteria underneath, leading to an even higher chance of pores getting clogged. The key is using a lightweight moisturizer that provides the skin with plenty of water and avoiding thick, heavy creams.
- Don’t overdry the skin. Speaking of dehydration, acne-focused products are notorious for causing it! Again, it might seem counterintuitive, but I would want this person to stay away from harsh or drying products that could cause more clogged pores in the long run by exacerbating surface dryness. The key is to use products that can still reduce bacteria but won’t dry out the skin. This cleanser would be a great option.
- Be wary of heavy makeup. While I believe wearing makeup every day is actually good for the skin since it provides much-needed UV protection from the damaging rays, you want to make sure you’re using something that isn’t contributing to your clogged pores. I would suggest this person stay away from heavy, long-wear foundation, cream blushes, and primers. In my experience, these types of products can often cause congestion in the skin. Here’s a list of foundations that would be suitable for clogged prone skin types like hers.
- Professional treatments for clearing out pores
- Get extractions. Since this person has so many clogged pores, I would suggest they see an esthetician for extractions. In most cases, a clogged pore must be manually removed or it’s not going anywhere. This isn’t something you want to do yourself since extractions done incorrectly can damage the skin. On that note, not all estheticians are good with extractions, so you’ll want to make sure you find someone who really knows what they’re doing (and by this, I mean someone who knows when to stop squeezing!). If a closed comedone is squeezed and messed with too much before it’s ready to come out, it can get pushed deeper into the skin and become inflamed, leading to a full-blown blemish. This is why some people will complain about breaking out after a facial. It’s usually from improper extractions.
- Get chemical peels. Over time, a series of professional-grade exfoliation through chemical peels will help clear a pathway for pores to become unblocked. You can also use a product like Triple Berry Smoothing Peel at home.
My final bit of advice would be to be patient. This person didn’t get all those clogged pores overnight, and they won’t go away after one visit with an esthetician or skincare professional. Getting rid of congestion like this requires patience and consistency, and it may take up to a few months to see real results. The good news is that once the pores are clear, it’s much easier to keep them that way! Read all about how to keep your pores clean.
Problem: Blemishes (pustules and papules)
While this person doesn’t have a lot of inflammation in their skin, it looks like some of their clogged pores have turned into infected blemishes.
Check out my 17 tips that just might banish your breakouts for good.
In circle one, I noticed this person has some blackheads. Fun fact, blackheads ARE technically a type of clogged pore. Instead of closed comedones, they’re what’s known as open comedones. What happens is that, instead of being trapped under the surface of the skin, the gunk inside the pore is exposed to air. This causes it to oxidize and turn black (or sometimes more of a grey-ish color). Hence, a blackhead.
Blackheads are a concern for so many people, and I always tell my clients that it’s normal to have them to an extent. The ones pictured here, however, are quite large and could easily be extracted by an esthetician following the proper protocol. Can’t make it in to see an esthetician? Here’s how to safely extract blackheads.
Milia is a form of a clogged pore that occurs when keratin gets trapped under the surface of the skin. They are usually more perfectly-rounded than closed comedones (they’re sometimes described as little “pearls”) and are often more off-white in color. It’s common to see milia around the eyes, like in this picture, but they can also crop up around the nose or on the cheeks. Why do milia occur? It’s hard to always know, but some people get them from greasy eye creams or smoking, which leads to under-circulated skin. Sometimes it’s simply their genetics.
It’s very important not to squeeze milia on your own. They are very challenging to remove since the skin over the bump is very hardened, so picking at it will just damage your skin. Milia needs to be removed by a professional, either a cosmetic dermatologist or a qualified esthetician. Once removed, milia usually won’t come back in that same pore.
The skin here has a crinkly texture, almost like an onion peel. To me, this looks like classic dehydration similar to what I show in this video of dehydrated skin. In this case, it’s probably caused by the use of drying acne products this person was using in an attempt to clear blemishes and clogged pores.
It’s so important to keep healthy water levels in the skin by using a moisturizer for your skin type and not overdoing it with harsh, drying products. A couple years ago, my nephew came to me with the exact same problem (as have so many clients in the past). He had been using topical acne products to dry out his blemishes and was left with rough, dry, irritated skin. Here’s how I helped him fix dryness caused by acne products.
Problem: Blemish (pustular)
This red mark looks like a pretty classic blemish, but I believe it was caused by an impacted blackhead based on the fact that I can still see a little opening in the skin.
This blackhead needs to be extracted, and once the blockage is removed the skin can start to heal itself.
Problem: Post-breakout marks
Since there are no leftover bumps or redness in this area, this seems to be post-breakout marks left over from healed blemishes.
I would recommend the same course of action I recommended for the person in Example #1. Again, exfoliation and sun protection are key! You can learn more in this post.
Problem: Cystic breakout
It’s a bit difficult to see from this picture, but I can tell this person has a stubborn cystic breakout here on their jawline. Again, the chin and jawline are common places to experience cystic acne, especially for women.
- DON’T pick at it. Cystic blemishes occur deep within the skin and are meant to be reabsorbed as opposed to coming to a head.
- Apply a non-drying spot treatment. I would tell this person to apply Anti Bump Solution, which will work with the body’s natural healing process so the bump goes away faster.
- Cut out dairy. I would also suggest this person try limiting dairy consumption since this is a common trigger for many with cystic acne. Learn more about how dairy is linked to cystic acne.
Problem: Inflammation (redness)
Inside of this larger circle, you can see some redness and flushing. This redness stands in pretty sharp contrast to the rest of the skin, which appears a little sallow and dull. To me, this signals that there’s some stagnation in the skin, meaning circulation isn’t great and things aren’t being filtered out as well as they should be. This could potentially be linked to the gut microbiome or something else internal, so I would recommend this person see a nutritionist or holistic doctor who can advise them on this. Learn more about the role the microbiome plays in your skin.
In the meantime, I would share with this person one of my favorite tricks: every night, hang your head upside down for three minutes to bring blood flow to the face and increase circulation. I do this faithfully and swear by it for glowing skin. In this person’s case, encouraging proper circulation throughout the skin could really help improve it.
Problem: Clogged pores (closed comedones)
The white bumps circled in number three are classic closed comedones.
I would give this person the same advice I gave the person in Example #2: exfoliate regularly, keep the skin hydrated with a lightweight moisturizer for your skin type, and seek out professional extractions from a trained esthetician. In addition, I would advise against using any kind of retinol or retinoid at this point. Retinol causes a certain level of inflammation and since this person is already experiencing visible inflammation, we don’t want to add fuel to the fire. Instead, they should focus on using products with calming ingredients.
Problem: Skin growths
This person is actually a client of mine from years back who had previously seen a dermatologist about these bumps on their forehead. The dermatologist diagnosed them as sebaceous hyperplasia (a common, benign type of skin growth), which is exactly what it looks like to me as well. These can also be mistaken for clogged pores since they may appear as white bumps, especially in those with lighter skin tones. Sebaceous hyperplasia tends to look longer and flatter than closed comedones, though. There are a few things that can cause them, but thickened skin from sun exposure is one of the most common reasons, and I think that’s exactly what has happened here. The forehead is a common part of the face for these to occur since it gets so much sun exposure. I also see these more often in people with oilier skin. Again, you definitely do not want to try squeezing or extracting these.
To have these removed, you would need to see a dermatologist. They’ll typically use either electric cauterization or cryotherapy. Learn more about different types of bumps on the skin and how to get rid of them.
This last skin assessment is for Gayle. I actually did a virtual consultation with her recently that she won as part of an Instagram giveaway! So, in addition to examining the photos she sent, I was able to talk with her a bit about what was causing some of her concerns.
Problem: Post-breakout marks
Like many of the people whose skin I’ve assessed in this post, Gayle has some post-breakout marks. To me, it looks like she was trying to do some extractions or squeeze at her breakouts. One thing to be mindful of is that darker skin tones are more prone to discoloration and that these dark marks take longer to fade than in lighter skin tones. Since there is naturally more pigment in the skin, any trauma or injury that causes inflammation will easily send pigment cells into overdrive.
The protocol here is the same as what I would suggest for anyone with post-breakout marks: exfoliate using a combination of chemical and physical exfoliants, and protect with vitamin C and sunscreen during the day. If you have a darker skin tone and are prone to dark marks, the key really is preventing injury to the skin as much as possible. The reality is that when you’re someone who gets clogged pores and breakouts, these marks are inevitable to an extent. But you DO have control over how you manage a breakout once it appears. I always encourage treating pimples in a way that works in harmony with your body’s natural healing process to get rid of a blemish fast. This way it causes the least amount of damage.
Problem: Clogged pores (surface-level closed comedones)
While you can see that I’ve circled clogged pores in both Areas 2 and 3, the difference between them is that these are very close to the surface and appear ready to come out. You can see more of a whitehead—they’re what I like to call “ripe.” This is part of the body’s healing process, it eventually purges things that aren’t supposed to be there.
Since these non-infected clogged pores are so ready to come out, I would suggest using a sterile lancet to pierce the whitehead followed by very gently extracting it from the skin. If you can go to a professional to have it done, that is ideal, but I know that isn’t a great option right now because of the pandemic. The reason I suggest self-extracting these is that they should come out really easily, meaning they won’t cause damage or leave much hyperpigmentation behind. Using a lancet is helpful because it creates an opening for the blockage to come out, so you shouldn’t have to squeeze very hard at all. But of course, be very, very gentle.
Problem: Clogged pores (deeper closed comedones)
Like I said, these are also clogged pores but are not as close to the skin’s surface.
- Find a trusted professional. Since they’re in there deeper, I would not suggest Gayle try to extract them herself. She should either see an esthetician or wait until they’ve come to the surface like the ones near her cheek.
- Use makeup for your skin type. She did mention to me that she uses a lot of heavy foundation and cream blush, so much like the person in Example 2, I would recommend she stop using these makeup products. In this case, I think they may be the culprit. Instead, she should be using one of these foundations.
- Exfoliate often. Because her skin is pretty oily, she should exfoliate using BHA (beta hydroxy acid). She needs to be careful though—a lot of BHA products can be pretty drying, and this is the last thing you want since dry skin can trap oil and bacteria, leading to more clogged pores. She needs to look for a BHA product with a gentle, hydrating formulation.
- Use lightweight products. Finally, Gayle should make sure she’s using lightweight, water-based hydrating products. She mentioned she was using a lot of very moisturizing masks and creams, but for her skin type (she is a skin type #2), this is too much. Using something water-based will keep her skin looking glowy and even-toned without clogging her pores.
So there you have it! If you came to this post looking for solutions, I hope you saw yourself in one of these photos and gained some helpful insights. Clogged pores are a huge topic but once you get a handle on them, they’re so much easier to stay on top of in the future.
The post Your Complete Guide to Clearing Clogged Pores—Once and For All appeared first on Expert Skin Advice from Renee Rouleau.