IN THIS ARTICLE:
- What are pores?
- What causes congestion and clogged pores?
- Can clogged pores cause acne?
- How can you treat clogged pores?
- Proper cleansing
- Facial mask
- Avoiding comedogenic ingredients
- Final words
Just the other day, my friend and Holistic Skin Coach, Ingrid, was telling me about one of her clients:
“[The client] was in her mid-40s. And usually, clients like this are mostly concerned about skin aging, like fine lines, wrinkles and discolouration. But this client was mainly concerned about congestion and large pores.” Ingrid said.
Wow! How interesting!
As someone whose main concern is very dry and aging skin, this further demonstrates to me that skincare really is so personal, and no two skincare routines are really the same.
So, out of curiosity, I asked one of our team members to carry out a quick survey on our Instagram Story. We asked “Do you have congested skin + visible pores?”
The result? 80 out of 94 participants voted “I do.”
That’s a whopping 85%!!!
Evidently, having congested skin and clogged pores appears to be a problem that many people are facing these days. So let’s discuss!
What are pores?
You have pores. I have pores. Everybody has pores. That’s just a fact.
But do you actually know what pores are? Many people think that pores are just “the tiny holes on your face to let your skin breathe.”
That’s a misconception!
For one, your skin doesn’t need to “breathe” to get oxygen externally. It can (or at least the lower, living layers of skin can) get oxygen and nutrients from the micro-vessels under the tissues.
And two, pores are not just “tiny holes on your face.” Even though they are, in fact, small openings on your skin, it goes deeper than that. We actually have two types of pores:
Oil pores: These pores are connected to the sebaceous glands under the deeper layers of your skin and facilitate the secretion of sebum. They exist everywhere on our skin, except the palms of our hands and soles of our feet, and are typically visible to the naked eye.
Sweat pores: These are minuscule tubes that allow sweat to travel to the surface of our skin (AKA: sweat glands). They exist all over our skin and often cannot be seen by the naked eye.
And here’s another important (and interesting) fact: Your pore size is genetic.
What does that mean?
Basically, you cannot permanently alter your pore size. You cannot open or close them. And you definitely cannot shrink them as some people may have led you to believe. Your pores are not muscles that can contract and relax. In fact, they are created by the surrounding skin and tissues, which form the structural walls of your pores.
So unfortunately, you can never achieve that “poreless” look that photoshopped and filtered images have you wanting.
What causes congestion and clogged pores?
Even though your pores cannot close or shrink, they can appear larger.
That’s what happens when your skin is congested and your pores are clogged.
According to Ingrid, “congested skin is a very common concern. It’s characterized by the formation of raised bumps and other skin textural irregularities. The three factors that can lead to congestion are an excess of sebum production, dead skin cell buildup, and other impurities such as makeup and dirt.”
A combination of these three factors can get stuck in your pores and, over time, harden and enlarge the follicle walls. Hence, your pores will look larger and more visible, and your skin will look bumpy.
Since one of the main reasons for skin congestion is an overproduction of sebum, this problem tends to be more common among individuals with oily skin.
The good thing is, once you’ve managed to treat the congestion, your pores should go back to their normal size.
Can clogged pores cause acne?
Short answer: yes.
Long answer: it depends. There are a few different types of acne, categorized into two groups: non-inflammatory and inflammatory.
Clogged pores are only directly responsible for non-inflammatory acne. Specifically speaking, clogged pores are the direct cause of:
Whiteheads (AKA: closed comedones): This type of acne happens when dead skin cells, sebum and impurities are trapped within the pores, just underneath the top layer of your skin. The trapped mixture swells up over time, leading to small bumps across the surface of your skin. In some cases, closed comedones will develop very obvious white-looking spots (milia).
Blackheads (AKA: open comedones): This type of acne is also caused by dead skin cells, sebum and impurities clogging the pores. However, unlike in the case of whiteheads, this mixture is exposed to the air through pore openings, causing it to oxidize. The oxidation of this mixture causes it to appear black or brownish, hence the name.
Now, you might be thinking, “OMG, I have so many blackheads on my nose!”
The thing is, some of the black dots on your nose might not be blackheads at all. In fact, they might actually be something called sebaceous filaments.
Okay, now you might be wondering, “what the hell are sebaceous filaments?”
Let’s go back to our anatomy lesson on pores for a second. As you know, oil pores are tiny openings that are located all over our bodies, except for the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet. Now, underneath our pores are sebaceous glands where sebum is made. In order for the sebaceous glands to pump sebum to our pores, they need a path. Sebaceous filaments are the tubes that allow sebum to be transferred to the pores. And they naturally look like tiny black or dark grey spots on the surface of your pores due to the sebum being oxidized as it’s exposed to air, similar to how blackheads may look.
So that means some of the “blackheads'' on your nose might actually just be sebaceous filaments.
How can you treat clogged pores?
In the same survey on our Instagram Story, we also asked “Do you know how to treat [clogged pores]?”
Here are the results:
- 2 people voted for “Oh yes. I’m an expert.” You go, girl!
- 29 people voted for “Haven’t a clue!” Which translates to 34%.
- 54 people voted for “I know a little bit.” That’s a whopping 64%.
So it seemed to me that most of you want to learn more about treatments for this skin concern!
This suspicion was confirmed when 91% of you voted for “Yes please!” when asked “Is [treating clogged pores] something you would like to learn about?” on the same Instagram Story survey. (A huge shoutout to Natalie, our Social Media Manager! Her surveys are always spot on!)
And who’d be better to provide more information on treating clogged pores than my friend, Ingrid? Trick question. The answer is “no one!”
So without further ado, here are eight expert-approved, holistic approaches to treating clogged pores:
This is a physical technique to remove blackheads and whiteheads, typically done with an extraction tool after some facial steaming. This may feel uncomfortable or even a bit painful at times, but a trained professional will be equipped with the best techniques to do the job properly. You should typically get this done once every five to eight weeks.
Before you go and start squeezing the spots by yourself, just stop! Although extraction is a quick and easy way to get rid of clogged pores, I’d recommend leaving it to a trained expert, like an aesthetician. If you do it by yourself, you may risk infection and even worse, scarring.
Similar to extraction, a HydraFacial is a physical process to get rid of clogged pores. And you can only get this done in medical spas or dermatology offices.
Essentially, HydraFacials are a 3-step process, involving: 1) using water pressure to deep clean the pores and remove blockages, 2) using a small skin-friendly vacuum to extract debris from the pores, and 3) using a machine to directly pump the skin with beneficial active ingredients. The best part is that your skin won’t be red and inflamed afterwards.
3. Proper cleansing
While it’s great to consider professional treatments, it’s equally as important to properly maintain your skin in your day-to-day and prevent congestion from happening in the first place. One of the best ways to do this is to double cleanse your skin.
I’ve spoken about my love for double cleansing many times before, and for good reasons too!
This simple, yet extremely effective, method consists of cleansing your face twice, using different cleansers. For your first cleanse, I recommend using an oil, a balm or a cream cleanser, like our Aloe Milk Cleanser, to get rid of oil-based impurities like sebum and makeup. Then use another cleanser, such as Face Foam, to cleanse your face again and get rid of water-based impurities such as sweat and dirt.
This is the process of removing dead skin cells from your skin with the use of a chemical exfoliant or a physical exfoliant. You can either do this during the cleansing step of your skincare routine or make it a step on its own.
A chemical exfoliant includes exfoliating acids like salicylic acid, lactic acid, glycolic acid or exfoliating enzymes like pumpkin, papaya or pineapple enzymes. A physical exfoliant is a tool such as a cleansing brush, exfoliating cloth or scrubbing beads. Depending on what you like, you should choose an exfoliant that works best for your skin.
At Graydon Skincare, we love gentle physical exfoliation. In fact, our Bamboo Charcoal Sponge does a pretty good job at it!
5. Facial mask
This is one of Ingrid’s favourite ways to take care of her skin and keep clogged pores under control. However, the key is to pick the proper mask for the job.
In general, Ingrid recommends either using a clay mask or an exfoliating mask. A clay mask, such as bentonite or kaolin clay, does an exceptional job at drawing excess sebum and other impurities out of your pores. An exfoliating mask, typically formulated with chemical exfoliants, does an excellent job at removing dead skin cells and re-texturizing your skin, keeping it smooth and lovely to the touch.
Pro Tip: While cleansing your face with Face Foam, which is formulated with a natural BHA, you can leave it on for 5–10 minutes then rinse it off. This way, it can also act as an exfoliating mask. Isn’t that neat?
Retinoids are a class of topical vitamin A. They’re beloved ingredients in the skincare world for their many magical benefits, one of which is their ability to help your skin produce more collagen, keeping it smooth, plump and youthful.
They’re also extremely beneficial for clogged pores due to their ability to normalize keratinization (AKA: preventing dead skin cells from clumping together and clogging the pores). On top of that, they also reduce the amount of sebum your pores make, which also aids in de-clogging the pores.
At Graydon Skincare, we use moth bean extract and bakuchiol, which are natural alternatives to retinoids. They both offer similar benefits to the beloved traditional retinoids, without the side effect of dryness that may occur. Find moth bean extract in our Fullmoon Serum and moth bean extract and bakuchiol in Phyto Clear.
7. Avoiding comedogenic ingredients
Simply put, these are ingredients that can clog pores and lead to acne. In actuality, this topic is a bit more nuanced and complex than just “ingredients that clog pores” and “ingredients that won’t clog pores” as each person may respond to an ingredient differently.
However, if you are prone to clogged pores and acne breakouts, then you should avoid ingredients such as olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil. I also recommend that you see an aesthetician or dermatologist to pinpoint the exact ingredients that you should avoid.
As a Holistic Skin Coach, Ingrid practices beauty from the inside out. Namely, she believes that your skin is a reflection of your internal health, which means that a healthy and balanced diet is an important part of skincare!
Particularly, Ingrid recommends avoiding processed sugar, dietary fats and carbohydrates as much as possible, as they can lead to inflammation and an increase in sebum production. However, if you do find yourself indulging in sugary treats, Ingrid recommends flushing your system with extra amounts of water or juice afterwards.
Ingrid also recommends consuming alkaline water. From a holistic medicine standpoint, being alkaline means the body is less prone to disease, which can also help with digestion and better absorption of nutrients. This may help the body function better, which then also reflects onto the skin as it's our largest organ.
Congestion happens when your pores are clogged with sebum, dead skin cells and other impurities. While it doesn’t cause any real harm, it can look quite unsightly. However, the good news is that there are many things you can do to treat and prevent clogged pores. And once you have a regular routine in the bag, you can pretty much maintain your skin at a healthy level.
When in doubt, I always recommend seeking help from a professional.
I wish you good skin days, every day!
More than just a pretty name, rosehip oil offers acne-fighting and pro-aging benefits. Click here to learn how this superstar ingredient benefits the skin.