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The Best Pore-Clearing Ingredients To Use If You Have Clogged Pores

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Clogged pores are a common skincare concern resulting from the buildup of dead cells, debris, sebum, and dirt blocking the hair follicles. To get a better picture, let’s understand what pores are. Pores are tiny openings in the skin connected to the hair follicles and sweat glands. Their role is to release sebum to the surface to keep the skin moist and protected. Also, it’s important to note that pores do not open and close, but they can get enlarged or clogged. When pores get blocked (most often with dead cells or sebum), it can result in issues such as whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, and large pores. To avoid this, it’s best to use products containing ingredients that target the primary causes of clogged pores. 

What are the best ingredients for clogged pores?

Ingredients that unclog the pores work by removing dead cells buildup on the surface, as well as getting into the pores and cleaning them of sebum and dirt. These include chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs, retinol, niacinamide, charcoal, and clays.

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), a type of exfoliant with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Salicylic acid is considered the best ingredient for clogged pores because it works in the skin’s deeper layers to remove pore-clogging elements and prevent dead cell buildup and excess sebum. More precisely, as a lipid-soluble compound, it can penetrate past the fatty layers to dissolve the plug of oil and dirt as well as clear bacteria trapped in pores.[1]

Beta-hydroxy acids are also keratolytic agents, meaning they break down keratin to loosen the bound between skin cells and make them easier to come off. Besides, salicylic acid helps regulate sebum production, so pores are less likely to get clogged. This makes salicylic acid one of the most effective ingredients to unclog pores and prevent breakouts.

People who can’t tolerate this BHA should consider using lipohydroxy acid (LHA) instead, a milder alternative to salicylic acid.

Related: 12 Best Salicylic Acid Serums for Blemishes

Glycolic and lactic acids

These acids are called alpha-hydroxy acids, and just like their counterparts (BHAs), they’re also exfoliating acids. However, compared to BHAs, AHAs are water-soluble compounds derived from sugary fruits. They help unclog pores by working on the skin’s surface, loosening the topmost layer, and increasing cell turnover.[2]

Among AHAs used in skincare formulations, glycolic and lactic acids are the best for decongesting clogged pores and clearing the buildup of dead cells. They also have humectant properties and keep the skin hydrated while exfoliating gently. For the record, people with sensitive skin should opt for lactic acid instead of glycolic acid, as it’s gentler and more hydrating.

Related: 13 Glycolic Acid Serums for Smooth, Radiant Skin

Clays

Clays, such as bentonite and kaolin, are one of the best pore-clearing ingredients if you have oily skin because they reduce the amount of sebum secreted by sebaceous glands.[3] So using a clay mask once a week is great for unclogging pores and keeping them clean as they draw out sebum and balance oil production.

To use a clay mask, dissolve the clay powder by mixing it with water or rose water, then apply it to the skin. Let the mask sit for 10 to 15 minutes before you wash it off. Limit the use to once a week for dry skin and twice a week for oily skin — overusing clay masks can dry out the skin, which can drive the sebaceous glands to produce more oil. You can also use clay-infused products like La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clay Mask and Innisfree Super Volcanic Pore Clay Mask to cleanse your pores.

Related: 12 Best Face Masks for Clogged Pores

Charcoal

As far as skincare is concerned, charcoal is a detoxifying agent with oil-absorbing properties, effective for purifying clogged pores. Due to its spongy structure, which makes it very absorbent, charcoal soaks up all the dirt and excess sebum that can clog the pores. It absorbs all the grim and toxins as well as clears whiteheads and blackheads.[4]

Just like clay, if charcoal is in powder form, mix it with water, apply the mixture to the skin and leave it for a few minutes. You can also use a charcoal-infused cleanser or mask. People with oily skin will greatly benefit from this superb pore-unclogging ingredient.

Niacinamide

There are a lot of reasons to have a niacinamide-infused product in your skincare routine. It helps build protein in the skin, provides antioxidant protection, offsets photoaging, reduces dark spots, and on top of everything, cleanses the pores and balances sebum production.[5] So niacinamide is particularly effective for clogged pores as it prevents oil and debris from getting stuck as well as shrinks pore appearance.

Retinol

By reducing oil secretion, killing acne-causing bacteria, and stimulating cell turnover, retinol is one of the best ingredients to unclog pores and prevent further breakouts. Retinol makes it easier for debris to slough off the skin while eliminating dead cells and excess oil buildup. It also makes the skin around pores firmer thanks to its collagen-stimulating abilities, reducing the chances of pore blockage.

Fruit enzymes

Fruit enzymes are the new cool when it comes to exfoliating because of how mild and nourishing they are. Briefly, they unclog pores by gently dissolving dead cells on the skin’s surface. The enzymes found in fruit are also a type of protein, so they help break down keratin and facilitate the shedding of dead cells, thereby decongesting the skin and unclogging pores. People with sensitive skin might find exfoliating acids like AHAs and BHAs irritating, so they would fare better with enzymes due to their gentleness. Great examples include bromelain from pineapple and papain from papaya.

Why is it important to keep pores unclogged? 

It’s essential to keep your pores unclogged because they serve as a passage through which substances can get in and out of the skin. When pores are cleared and not clogged with debris and excess sebum, the skin becomes more permeable and receptive to skincare products. This means that your routine will be more effective as actives have more chances to get into the skin. On the other hand, when pores are clogged, it can trigger pimples and other forms of breakouts and make skin appear dull and aged.

What ingredients can clog the pores?

It’s also important to avoid comedogenic ingredients that obstruct and block the pores. Comedogenic ingredients include coconut oil, cocoa butter, lanolin, wheat germ oil, avocado butter, bees wax, and soybean oil. These ingredients rank high on the comedogenic scale and should be avoided or limited, especially if you have oily skin.

Read next: How to Unclog Your Pores Once Forever


References

  1. Arif T. Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015 Aug 26;8:455-61. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S84765. PMID: 26347269; PMCID: PMC4554394.
  2. Tang SC, Yang JH. Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin. Molecules. 2018 Apr 10, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6017965/
  3. Velasco, Maria & Zague, Vivian & Dario, Michelli & Nishikawa, Deborah & Pinto, Claudineia & Almeida, Mariana & Trossini, Gustavo & Vieira-Coelho, Antonio & Baby, André. (2016). Characterization and Short-Term clinical study of clay facial mask. Revista de Ciencias Farmaceuticas Basica e Aplicada. 37. 
  4. Kulkarni, Sweta & Bairagee, Deepika & Choudhary, Neetu & Abdul, A. (2018). Formulation and evaluation of activated charcoal peel off mask, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333130903
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