How to deal with clogged pores

Everything you need to know to prevent and treat clogged pores

4 minute read

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We’re here to tell you what we know, but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider about your specific health concerns.

How Pores Get Clogged

It’s no mystery that zits start out as clogged pores. What’s mysterious is how to prevent pores from getting clogged in the first place! In this guide, we’ll give you the low-down on what’s really going on in there—and what you can do about it. Let’s dig into the dirty details.

Whiteheads, Blackheads & Clogged Pores

Diagonal row of 5 eggs with the second egg to the left cracked and orange yolk spilling out, all against a light neutral background

Pores get clogged when new skin cells begin to grow in a pore where dead skin cells are still hanging out. This happens when the body makes too many skin cells, or if dead skin cells haven’t been sloughed off. When the face naturally starts producing more oil (aka sebum), these already overcrowded pores fill up and stretch out.

Inside the pore, this excess collection of skin cells and sebum form a bump known as a whitehead. But when the pore stretches out so much that it gets exposed to air, the contents get dark. That’s when it becomes a dreaded blackhead.

Pore Clogging Ingredients

Pores can get clogged by the products you use on your face, so take a closer look at the ingredients using CosDNA.com to find out if your moisturizer or makeup might be the culprit. As a rule of thumb, always opt for products labeled “non-comedogenic” or “non-acnegenic.” You could also check for mentions of “does not clog pores” or “won’t cause breakouts.”

Cream against a peach background with a magnifying glass over it

Watch out though — the use of these labels isn’t well regulated, and companies can call their products “non-comedogenic” even if they contain pore-blocking ingredients.

  1. Search the product name on CosDNA.com. An analysis of the ingredients might already be on the site!

  2. If you don’t find it on the site, Google the product you want to find its ingredients list. The manufacturer’s website should have this information handy, or check with a reseller like Amazon.

  3. Copy the list of ingredients.

  4. Go to CosDNA and click “Analyze Cosmetics” on the yellow bar at the top. Paste the ingredients into the text box, then click “Analysis.”

  5. Check the score in the “Acne” column. 1s and 2s are okay, but if there’s any score higher than 2, we advise you stop using the product. If you think a product is causing some irritation, look for anything scoring 2 or higher under the “Irritation” column. Irritation contributes to acne, too, so if a product has irritating ingredients, you might want to avoid it.

Text: "CosDNA" in bold, "Look under the "Acne" & "Irritant" columns," a check mark and "2 or lower – safe for acne prone skin," an "X" and "3 or higher – stop using these products" in red

Best Ingredients - and Products - to Help Treat Clogged Pores

Ingredients like salicylic acid (a beta hydroxy acid, aka BHA) can be helpful in preventing and treating blocked pores. You can find it in a cleanser like Neutrogena Oil Free Acne Wash, or for a little more muscle, try Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid or Stridex alcohol-free face wipes. Start with just one BHA-containing product to make sure it doesn’t irritate your skin too much—it’s better to slowly introduce it than to overdo it!

Product images; left, Paula's Choice bottle with text "Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid;" right, Stridex box with text "Stridex wipes;" all against a neutral gray background

If you have sensitive skin, look for something gentler—salicylic acid can be irritating. Remember: the burn doesn’t mean it’s working!

Despite its convenience, a lot of people just don’t find that over-the-counter options do enough. That’s where Curology comes in: we use ingredients that help prevent clogged pores, and this stuff you can’t just buy at the drugstore. Plus, we customize the formula to suit your (sk)individual needs. (See what we did there?)

Illustration of a face outline and hands with text "Cosmetic dermatologist for deep pore cleansing or more hands-on help"

If your clogged pores seem really stubborn, you might want to try pore strips—like Biore Deep Cleansing Pore Strips— about once a week. (They’re oddly fun.) Another nice indulgence is an exfoliating mask like Mint Julep Masque from Queen Helene. This sets up in minutes and is known to help persistent blackheads!

Lastly, you can always see an aesthetician or a cosmetic dermatologist for deep pore cleansing or more hands-on help.

Sometimes it helps to remember that your skin is taking cues from your body and your surroundings, so it’s natural to have ups and downs. Try to relax — treating clogged pores is a process. As time goes by, dead cells and extra oils will work their way out of your pores, and pimples will vanish. Be patient, and you’ll see results slowly but surely!

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