There's a Right and Wrong Way to Use Pore Strips—See Our Best Tips

Woman applying pore strip to nose in mirror

Lucas Ottone/Stocksy

Is there anything more oddly satisfying than staring at a pore strip after it’s removed all that gunk from your nose? While it may be a bit icky, there’s something so mesmerizing about examining everything that had been living in—and clogging up—your pores just moments before. On the other hand, you're probably here because you've heard concerns that pore strips may not actually be so great for your skin, so we've gathered more insights to help you decide whether (and how) to use them.

Pore strips have become pretty controversial in the skincare world. “They contain strong adhesive that actually pulls out the dead cells from the blackhead, which is an open clogged pore,” explains board-certified dermatologist and Dr. Loretta skincare founder Loretta Ciraldo, MD. Though it may sound straightforward, when used incorrectly, pore strips can actually do damage. Still, the situation is complicated, so keep reading for our experts' full thoughts about whether pore strips are actually bad for your skin.

Meet the Expert

  • Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, is a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist with over 40 years of experience. She is also the founder of her eponymous skincare brand, Dr. Loretta.
  • Jaimie DeRosa, MD, is a double board-certified facial plastic surgeon and founder and lead facial plastic surgeon of DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa in Boston and Palm Beach. She is an assistant professor in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Harvard Medical School.  

What Are Pore Strips?

“Pore strips are devices that can be applied to the skin to remove blackheads and dead skin cell debris that can clog pores,” explains double board-certified facial plastic surgeon Jaimie DeRosa, MD. “They are usually made up of a waterproof fabric-like layer with one side coated with a polymer that is supposed to attach only to the sebum within the pores and a non-sticky adhesive that allows the strip to attach to the skin (usually on the nose).” 

To activate them, you have to wet the skin before applying the pore strip so the resin and adhesive can work. After waiting about 10 to 15 minutes, you then gently pull the strip (and hopefully some blackheads) away. “Technically, water provides a positive charge that helps the polymer bind to the negative charge within the pores,” DeRosa says.

Benefits of Pore Strips for Skin

The perks are clear for this one: Pore strips get the gunk out of your pores. “The original pore strips worked solely on a strong adhesive that pulls out the buildup of dead cells and debris in blackheads,” Ciraldo says. “Since blackheads are clogged pores that are open to the air, all the debris in them oxidizes and they look like little dots of black dirt. It is visually impressive to see a long strand of debris come out of pores on removal of the strip.” 

While it seems like an easy way to exfoliate, Ciraldo notes that the original strips don't improve the appearance of skin between each pore. “The newer generation of pore strips also incorporates charcoal for its oil-absorbing benefits so there is a more matte surface to be expected if you use the charcoal strips,” she says. “The charcoal strips are black like charcoal, and the solely adhesive strips are white like glue.” 

Are Pore Strips Bad for Your Skin?

Pore strips have a bad reputation because if used incorrectly, they can damage the skin and even increase oil production in the area, which could potentially worsen blackheads over time. “This is because if you use pore strips too often, you could strip the skin of necessary oils and basically ‘tell’ your skin to ramp up its production of oil, resulting in increased shininess and oil that can block the pores,” DeRosa explains. 

It’s best if certain skin types avoid them entirely. “If you have a combination of blackheads and whiteheads and some scattered red pimples, these are probably way too aggressive for you,” Ciraldo says. “The whiteheads, which are covered with a layer of skin that creates a barrier to penetration of the actives in the strips, will most likely get inflamed by pore strips, not resolved. Red, inflamed acne lesions will get more irritated.” 

You should also steer clear of pore strips if you use a lot of exfoliants or aggressive skincare actives in your regimen, since the adhesive will make your skin more sensitive and you may even get some mild scabs when you pull off the strip, Ciraldo cautions. Additionally, don’t use them if you're about to get steamed during a facial, since your skin is very sensitive for a day or two after the strips. 

“The perfect candidate for them is someone with normal, not sensitive, skin who has many blackheads, meaning that the pores are open and the dead cells and debris can readily extrude from them,” Ciraldo says. “They are also good for people who want a ‘one and done’ approach to ridding themselves of blackheads." 

Generally speaking, if your skin is up to it, pore strips can be a helpful way to remove blackheads if you use them properly—just be sure not to use them more than once per week. Like any type of exfoliant, overdoing it is bad news. 

How to Use Pore Strips

“The best way to use pore strips safely is to cleanse the skin first and then apply while the skin is still wet so that the adhesive sticks properly and the water can activate the polymers that pull out the blackheads and debris,” DeRosa says. “When removing the strip, stabilize the underlying skin so that it’s not pulled with the strip, thereby lessening the risk of skin damage.”

Ciraldo says to always apply pore strips in front of a well-lit mirror, and never use them on peeling, red, or irritated skin. When using pore strips for the first time, leave them on for less time than directed to be sure that they're not too harsh for your skin. Also, avoid using any retinoids or acids (AHA/BHA) on the area for at least two days before applying pore strips—otherwise, you run the risk of peeling away healthy skin.

As for a good set of pore strips to try, Ciraldo recommends the Patchology Breakout Box ($20), which comes with three nose strips, plus salicylic and hydrocolloid patches to help prevent new acne and rehydrate skin. The classic Bioré Deep Cleansing Pore Strips ($9) are DeRosa’s go-to. “These are some of my favorite pore strips—I remember using these when I was a teen,” she says. “Why I like them is that they have a patented technology that has the pore strip stick to the blackhead and not the skin, so it decreases damage to the skin when you pull them off.” 

Pore Strips Alternatives

It’s important to remember that pore strips aren’t the only option when it comes to exfoliation. “Pore strips work only for blackheads, and neither the solely adhesive or charcoal strips do anything to prevent you from getting new blackheads,” Ciraldo says. “For maximum treatment and prevention, it is advisable to incorporate acne-preventative products with salicylic/BHA and glycolic/AHA into your daily skincare regimen.” 

To help prevent new breakouts, Ciraldo recommends the Dr. Loretta Micro-Exfoliating Cleanser ($35), which has 2% salicylic acid to get into pores and prevent clogging as well as help extrude any existing buildup. “This is registered with the FDA as an OTC topical acne drug, so it is quite effective and proven for acne lesions of all types, not just blackheads,” she says. Another go-to of hers is the Dr. Loretta Micro Peel Peptide Pads ($60), which contain 10% glycolic acid to exfoliate the entire skin surface, help with all types of acne lesions, and fade dark spots left over from breakouts. 

DeRosa is a fan of both chemical and physical exfoliants. For the former category, she recommends the Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant ($34), a gentle leave-on product that contains salicylic acid, so it’s great for those who have both breakouts and sensitive skin. It helps with unclogging and shrinking pores, reducing the appearance of wrinkles, and evening out skin tone. One of DeRosa's favorite mechanical exfoliators is ZO Skin Health's Exfoliating Polish ($68), a scrub that works great for most skin types with its non-irritating, ultra-fine magnesium oxide crystals that help remove dead skin cells and debris and don't leave a residue. Added to the scrub is a vitamin C that in combination with the exfoliant results in bright, glowing skin.  

The Final Takeaway

While pore strips can be bad for your skin if you overuse them, have breakouts they're not made for, or use them in combination with sensitivity-inducing products like exfoliants, they can still be helpful for extracting blackheads if you use them carefully. “I think there is a place for pore strips if one wants a quick fix to remove blackheads,” DeRosa says. “If you use one, make sure that you wash your hands and the area that you’re treating. If possible, add gentle steam to help open the pores before applying the strip. What’s important to understand is that pore strips will not prevent blackheads, so you need to use other skincare products to help control their production.”

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