On any given day, your skin is battling sweat, pollution, and pore-clogging face makeup. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, keeping your pores squeaky clean is especially hard work. After all, in daily life, there are so many things trying to congest your pores, including skincare ingredients and even your own body’s natural oil production. See, a pore (or follicle) is “a duct in the skin that is attached to the sebaceous glands that produce sebum,” explains esthetician Renée Rouleau. Oily skin types are more prone to experience blockages in their pores, which causes bacteria to thrive, leading to whiteheads, blackheads, and papules. Ick.
The goal, of course, is to clear your pores, allowing oxygen to flow freely through them so bacteria can’t cause problems. But it’s easier said than done. Luckily, we are in the business of helping you cure your skin woes and have put together a list of easy, effective ways to keep your pores in tip-top shape.
Watch Now: 3 Natural Ways to Unclog Pores
Keep scrolling for all the best DIY, over-the-counter, and professional remedies for clogged pores.
Soak Your Skin With Parsley Water
This green garnish actually makes an amazing DIY pore-decongesting treatment—who knew? As a natural astringent, parsley effectively pulls out toxins and other skin-clogging impurities for normal skin types.
To incorporate the ingredient into your skincare routine, take freshly washed parsley and submerge it in a bowl of boiling water. Allow it to soak until the water has cooled. Then dip a washcloth into the water and place it on your face for 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat this ritual every other day.
Another way to harness the power of parsley is to use it in a facial steam. An important step in a professional facial treatment, steaming encourages the skin to soften and loosen the dirt and debris trapped inside for easy removal. To create your own parsley steam, soak a handful of the herb in a bowl of very hot water. Then, hold a towel open behind your head and lean over the bowl to trap the steam and focus it on your face. After 10 minutes or so, continue with the rest of your skincare routine.
Cleanse With Baking Soda
While we're on the topic of kitchen ingredients that work surprisingly well to unblock clogged pores, don't overlook the power of baking soda. As it turns out, the standard household ingredient makes for an easy deep pore cleanser that gently exfoliates, too. For those with truly congested skin, try a DIY baking soda cleansing scrub.
First, mix two teaspoons of baking soda with one teaspoon of water to make a paste. Scoop the mixture with your fingers, with circular motions, gently massage the baking soda paste onto your face. Leave it on the skin to set for five to 10 minutes and then rinse clean. Not only is this effective for removing dead skin cells and buildup in the pores, but baking soda also works to neutralize the pH level of your skin. If your pH is off-balance, your skin can experience anything from acne breakouts, dryness, and even premature aging, so it's important to keep yours in check.
Exfoliate With Citric Acid
For squeaky-clean pores, raid your fruit basket. When it comes to exfoliation, you have two main options: physical exfoliators (which we'll get into a little later) or the chemical kind. Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are a kind of chemical exfoliant that is plant-derived and commonly referred to as fruit acids (hence the fruit basket). One commonly used AHA is citric acid. The citric acid in lemons works to exfoliate the skin, clearing out any dirt or oil residing in your pores.
To try an at-home lemon exfoliator, simply cut one in half and rub the juices over the affected area. Let it stand for five minutes and then rinse with lukewarm water. It should be noted that those with sensitive skin should pass on this at-home treatment, which has the potential to be irritating. And because exfoliation can make your skin more sensitive to sun exposure, diligent sunscreen application before, during, and after is a must.
Deep Clean With Pore Strips
Back in the day, pore strips were the be-all and end-all for removing blackheads and buildup around the nose. These days, there are gentler and more effective ways to unclog the pores around the nostrils, but if you have found success with strips and no irritation, by all means. Bioré Deep Pore Cleansing Strips ($10) are made with selective bonding agents that act as a magnet, locking into and lifting away dirt and buildup from deep down in your pores.
Once you've thoroughly cleansed your face and prepared your pores with an at-home steam, you're ready to remove the loosened dirt and debris. Follow the pore strip instructions for the best results, and definitely avoid using them if you have sensitive or already irritated skin.
Try a Mechanical Exfoliator
As we mentioned before, the power of regular exfoliation can never be overstated. It’s one of the simplest and most fundamental ways to unclog pores and keep them that way. For those with sensitive skin, skip the physical exfoliants (which are known for being more abrasive) and stick with a gentler chemical exfoliant, as recommended by your dermatologist. But if you love using a physical exfoliator (also known as manual or mechanical) and your skin can handle it, at least opt for a less harsh tool, such as a brush or cloth, rather than a scrub if you have acne-prone skin. Gritty scrubs can actually spread bacteria, which is the exact opposite of what you want when unclogging pores.
And if your manual exfoliators aren’t cutting it, try the combination of a cleansing device with a chemical exfoliator. Grab your Clarisonic Mia Smart 3-in-1 Sonic Beauty Device ($99) and use it with an acid cleanser (like Peter Thomas Roth 3% Glycolic Solutions Cleanser, $38, or Dermadoctor Ain’t Misbehavin’ Medicated AHA/BHA Acne Cleanser, $32).
Apply a Charcoal Mask
Activated charcoal is a skincare superstar for congested complexions. A powerful adsorbent, charcoal works by getting into the pores and attracting the oil and toxins. In fact, it can absorb up to 200 times its weight in impurities. Pretty impressive. So, where can you get your hands on activated charcoal? Glad you asked…
The activated charcoal paired with sebum-clearing clay in Glamglow Supermud Clearing Treatment ($59) and the Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask ($24) work magnetically to draw out excess oil, pollutants, and other waste materials that get trapped inside pores. Those with truly congested skin will find great benefit from using a charcoal-based product like one of these.
Get an Extraction From a Professional
With stubborn blackheads and clogged pores, sometimes an extraction is necessary for removal. The process, which usually occurs during a facial with an esthetician, involves a manual cleaning of clogged and compacted pores with a tool like this Sephora Collection Double-Ended Blemish Extractor Purple ($17) that is specifically designed for this purpose. Warning: extractions aren't exactly pain-free and not a good idea to try for yourself if you don't know what you're doing. Going the professional route is always best, especially when you’re dealing with super-clogged pores, but it's a good solution to look into if you're not having success with at-home products and treatments.
Try a Retinoid
If you haven't jumped on the retinoid bandwagon yet, you might want to reconsider (if you're not pregnant or breastfeeding, that is). The powerful ingredient is commonly praised for its ability to fight signs of aging, but you'll be glad to know it's just as effective at tackling breakouts. Many dermatologists recommend an over-the-counter retinoid called Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment ($13) to their patients for its ability to unclog the pores and treat and prevent breakouts and blackheads. Even better? Once those dead cells are cleared away, your other skincare products will be able to penetrate deeper into the skin and be much more effective.
But like all powerful skincare ingredients, take caution when using retinoids. Because retinoids can make your skin more susceptible to the sun, apply them at night and be diligent about wearing sunscreen during the day. Talk to your dermatologist about trying a retinoid to see if it's the right choice for your skin.