10 Best Face Exfoliators for Clogged Pores and Congested Skin

Purify and clear up your pores with these best face exfoliators for congested skin.
Brand courtesy / Dr. Dennis Gross
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Facial pores aren’t the easiest to deal with, especially when your skin is so often exposed to things that can clog them. Although everyone would agree keeping the pores clean and unclogged is deadly important for maintaining healthy skin, for some, it simply sounds like an impossible task — as it did to me for a while. Just a moment of carelessness can let sebum, dirt, sweat, and dead skin cells get into the pores and block them, causing tons of issues such as blemishes, congested skin, and even acne. So how do you find your way out of this skincare nightmare? The answer is simple: the best exfoliators for clogged pores listed here.

Regular exfoliation is key in treating clogged pores as it removes dead cells buildup and excess oil beneath the skin’s surface, preventing pores from clogging. But obviously, you can’t throw any exfoliator on your face hoping to get the job done. With this in mind, we’ve rounded up the best face exfoliators for clogged pores that contain the right ingredients to deliver skin-transformative results.

But first, let’s break down some facts about clogged pores, congested skin, and exfoliation that’ll help in your path to clearer skin.

How to find the best exfoliator for clogged pores?

Let me get it straightforward: you can’t shrink the size of the pores — myth busted — but you can make them appear smaller and prevent them from clogging. For that, you’ll need a good goddamn face exfoliator. 

Upfront, the best exfoliator for clogged pores should help regulate sebum production and clear up the pores from debris, oil, and dead cells. Therefore, a chemical exfoliant would do much better for clogged pores than a physical or enzymatic one. Physical and enzymatic exfoliators act only on the skin’s surface; hence they can’t reach the pores. On the other hand, chemical exfoliators, alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA), and beta-hydroxy acids (BHA) such as glycolic and salicylic acids break down the bond between skin cells unclogging pores.

In terms of ingredients, the best bet for you is to choose salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is thought to be the best exfoliator for clogged pores since it’s oil-soluble and can penetrate the fat layers, reaching pores and working to clear them. On the flip side, you should avoid comedogenic ingredients at all costs! Also, to find the best exfoliators for congested skin, we’ve looked through products containing other pore-clearing and sebum-controlling ingredients such as astringents, charcoal, and retinol. Are you eager to discover them? Take a peep.

The best exfoliators for clogged pores

Below, the best face exfoliators for clogged pores and congested skin that’ll really make a difference. 

Dermalogica Daily Superfoliant

Dermalogica Daily Superfoliant

Here’s your daily super exfoliator that does the job of purifying the pores and clearing up the skin from environmental pollutants. Dermalogica Superfoliant does that thanks to the papain-derived enzyme, lactic acid, and malic acid that gently exfoliate and eliminate the buildup of impurities, working to unclog pores and refine rough texture. On top of that, the formula also contains charcoal to further exfoliate the skin without stripping the face of natural oil while drawing out oil and debrisdeeply cleansing pores. In other words, it has all it takes to be one of the best face exfoliators for clogged pores. 

Paula's Choice RESIST Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment

Paula’s Choice RESIST Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment

Another best exfoliator for clogged pores and congested skin comes from Paula’s Choice, but this time powered by 4% salicylic acid — the holy grail of cleared pores. The addition of skin soothers, including adenosine, allantoin, and green tea, makes this formula much easier to tolerate, so you can enjoy all its benefits without worrying about irritation. Using it every night (if your skin can stand it) will result in more glow, refined pores, and enhanced texture — I know that’s what you want. 

PCA SKIN Best Pore Refining Treatment

PCA Skin Pore Refining Treatment

This one is a pore-refining treatment that uses papain enzyme and mandelic acid to exfoliate the skin in a delicate fashion while physically sloughing off the debris from the skin’s surface with rice powder. It also takes care of the excess oil that may block the pores thanks to kaolin and bentonite — absorbent clays that draw oil from the skin. Dry, sensitive skin need not worry because the formula is packed with skin-calming ingredients such as vitamin B5 and bisabolol to help soothe and hydrate. So it’s gentle enough to be used several times a week, leaving you with a soft, clear complexion.

SkinCeuticals Clarifying Exfoliating Cleanser

SkinCeuticals Clarifying Exfoliating Cleanser

SkinCeuticals holds nothing back with this 2 in 1 multitasking exfoliating cleanser. It’s a cocktail of acids combining the renewing power of salicylic, glycolic, and lactic acids to purify and clarify the skin. This killer combo is just as good for purging pores, dissolving skin’s surface impurities, and minimizing aging marks. SkinCeuticals Clarifying Exfoliating Cleanser is also something you’d want to clear acne blemishes or if your skin is prone to breakouts thanks to zinc PCA. In case you’re not familiar with it, zinc PCA helps regulate sebum production and inhibit acne-causing bacteria. After using this cleanser, follow up with SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense for serious skin-changing results.

Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Serum

Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Serum

If your goals aren’t just to unclog and clear your pores but minimize wrinkles and delay aging marks, reach for this pore-perfecting exfoliating serum by Dr. Dennis Gross. It’s full of rejuvenating actives and pore-clearing elements such as salicylic, glycolic, lactic acids, retinol, and willow bark extract but also includes a slew of skin-soothing ingredients like green tea, hyaluronic acid, and bisabolol. There’s not much this serum can’t do.

COSRX One Step Original Clear Pad

COSRX One Step Original Clear Pad

This one comes as one of the best exfoliating pads for enlarged and congested pores. The pads are soaked in a base of willow bark water to soothe and clarify the skin to which betaine salicylate is added — an exfoliant similar to salicylic acid with pore-clearing effects but more gentle and moisturizing. There’s also panthenol, allantoin, and sodium hyaluronate to pamper skin and hinder irritations. As a side note, the pads have a strong tea tree scent, so if that bothers you, you’d better say pass to them. 

Cos De BAHA Exfoliant for Clogged Pores

Cos De BAHA BHA Exfoliant Liquid

This liquid exfoliant clears and minimizes the look of congested pores with 2% salicylic acid, no matter what. At the same time, it soothes and hydrates the skin with niacinamide, aloe vera, and green tea, revealing a radiant and smooth complexion. Cos De BAHA Exfoliant Liquid is that pore cleaner free of skin enemies such as parabens, alcohol, and fragrance.

Biossance Squalane + Glycolic Renewal Mask

Biossance Squalane + Glycolic Renewal Mask

So far, one of the best clean exfoliators for clogged pores is Biossance Squalane + Glycolic Renewal Mask. It works like a charm at dissolving pore congestion and promoting skin clarity thanks to its formula enriched with glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and malic acids. This potent mix of alpha-hydroxy acids supports cell turnover, polishes dull and rough skin, and reduces the look of enlarged pores by dissolving the dead cells and sebum trapped in them. Besides, the addition of squalane and hyaluronic acid makes your skin look and feel juicier and fuller than ever.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Micro-Exfoliating Astringent Toner

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Micro-Exfoliating Astringent Toner

If you have oily skin, you already know how important astringents are to shrink the appearance of pores and remove surplus oil. This micro-exfoliating toner does just that, powered by lipo-hydroxy acid, a salicylic acid derivate sharing the same skin-renewing benefits but without dryness and irritations. P.S: You should avoid alcohol-based astringents (like this one) if you have dry or sensitive skin.

Vichy Normaderm Daily Acne Treatment Face Wash

Vichy Normaderm Phytoaction Daily Deep Cleansing Gel

Sometimes you don’t need a powerful exfoliant to keep your pores cleared, but a cleanser containing salicylic acid — like this one. Vichy Normaderm Phytoaction got the right recipe for congested skin fighting sebum and blackheads with 0.5% salicylic acid and zinc. It also uses thermal water as a base to calm irritation and give some extra TLC, leaving the skin soft and clean without stripping its natural oils.

Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana is a sociologist and feminist with a shared passion for literature, psychology, and skincare, the combo that made her determined to start Women's Concepts. With over five years of experience in dermatological research, she has now become a certified skincare consultant keen to convince others of the importance of a diligent routine. Her close relationships with dermatologists around the globe, along with years of researching, analyzing studies, and hand-testing products on a daily basis, made Ana one of the best persons you can get advice from.
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