What Causes Clogged Pores?

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It doesn’t take much for pores to become clogged, and, once they do, everything from blemishes to acne become so much more likely. 

But what exactly causes pores to become clogged in the first place? 

It usually happens when everything from dirt and oil to dead skin cells and bacteria build up on the surface of the skin, and there are a number of reasons as to why this can happen…

Excess Oil Production

Every part of the skin, apart from the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, contains sebaceous glands. 

The role of these glands is to produce sebum, otherwise known as oil, to keep your skin moisturized and protected. 

Sebum is important when it comes to the health of your skin, but, sometimes, the skin produces too much sebum…
Infographic on sebaceous gland
What happens then? 

The excess oil mixes with the dead skin cells and dirt on the surface of the skin, forming a blockage in the pores. 

You are probably wondering…

What causes the skin to produce too much sebum in the first place? 

Well, there are actually a number of different factors that can contribute to this:

  • Genetics – some people have an excess of a hormone known as dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which encourages the sebaceous glands to produce more oil 
  • Hormonal Imbalances – your hormone levels change so much as you progress through life. When your body is producing too much testosterone, this can then trigger the sebaceous glands to produce more oil 
  • Diet – certain foods can reduce sebum production while also providing your skin with anti-inflammatory benefits. Try eating more omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in oily fish, walnuts and flax seeds, as well as foods that are high in sulfur, such as eggs, nuts, fish, legumes and onions 
  • Over-Exfoliating – you may be tempted to up your exfoliation game to tackle the excess oil, but this is the last thing you should do. While over-exfoliation does strip these oils away, your skin notices this sudden dryness, and ends up producing even more oils to compensate for this

So, how can you cut back on the excess oil in order to treat and prevent clogged pores? 

Well, if your skin is producing excess oil due to your diet or over-exfoliation, these are both easy to change. Simply improve your diet or stop exfoliating for a while, as you need to give your skin some time to heal. 

You could also try to incorporate some of the following ingredients into your skin care routine, as they each have unique benefits when it comes to reducing excess oil: 

  • Green Tea Extract – research shows a significant decrease in sebum production after using green tea extract for just a couple of months
  • Licorice Extract – inhibits testosterone activity, meaning that the hormone is not able to send signals to your skin to produce extra oil
  • Clove Extract – works in the same way as licorice extract 
  • Clay – absorbs excess oil, along with dirt and impurities 
  • Niacinimide – absorbs sebum while strengthening the skin’s natural protective barrier
  • Retinol – firms up the skin and tightens up the pores, meaning that they produce and secrete less oil

There are so many other ingredients out there that can help to reduce excess oil production, from seaweed extract and lavender oil to peppermint extract and cedarwood oil. If the first few combinations of ingredients you try don’t seem to be working for you, don’t give up, as there are still so many other ingredients out there that can help you to reduce the amount of oil that your skin produces. 

Dead Skin Cells

Your skin loses thousands of dead skin cells every minute of every day, and this process is absolutely normal. 

In fact, it’s necessary in order to keep your skin healthy…

New skin cells are produced deep within the skin’s layers. As these mature, they slowly work their way to the surface, where their fresh radiance is exposed to the world. 

Sadly, skin cells only live for a couple of weeks. As they age, they turn drier and duller. When they die, they settle onto the surface of the skin until the skin naturally sheds them. 

This whole process is known as skin cell turnover. 

How long does it all take? 

This depends on your age…

For babies, the cell turnover process takes just two weeks, which is why a baby’s skin always looks so plump and radiant. 

However, the cell turnover process slows down the older you get…

As a young adult, your rate increases to about 20 days, after which it becomes 30-45 days in older adults. Once you reach the later stages of life, your cell turnover rate could be as long as 90 days!

It doesn’t help that some lifestyle factors, such as smoking and over-exposure to the sun, also cause the cell turnover rate to slow down. 

So, what does the cell turnover rate have to do with clogged pores? 

Well, when your skin doesn’t shed its dead skin cells as quickly as it should be doing, these excess dead skin cells have nowhere else to go but into your pores. 

As you can imagine, with thousands of dead skin cells accumulating every minute, it doesn’t take long for your pores to become clogged with them. 

This is why regular cleansing and exfoliation are both so important, especially as your skin ages. 

Why? 

Cleansing is something that you should be doing each day, ideally in the evenings. This means that you are clearing away all of the dead skin cells, oil, dirt and other impurities that have settled on your skin throughout the course of the day, preventing them from working their way into your pores while you sleep. Infographic on de-clogging pores

A cleanser containing salicylic acid would be most beneficial…

This is an ingredient that is able to penetrate into clogged pores and clears them out from within. It removes oil as well as dead skin cells, allowing the pores to breathe again. However, salicylic acid cleansers tend to be most beneficial for those with oily skin. If you have dry skin, you may find this ingredient too drying on your skin, resulting in more skin problems cropping up. 

Do you need a toner too?

A toner can be helpful…

Not only will this help to re-balance your skin’s pH level, which can prevent excess oil production, but it will also clear away any residual oils or dead skin cells that have been left behind on the skin after cleansing. A witch hazel toner is especially beneficial for clogged pores, as it helps to minimize their appearance at the same time. 

You might be wondering…

If I cleanse every day, do I really need to exfoliate too? 

Yes, although you should only be exfoliating about twice a week. As mentioned above, over-exfoliation can lead to excess oil production, which can then cause clogged pores. 

Why do you need to exfoliate? 

Cleansing tackles the surface of your skin, and while some cleansers, such as those containing salicylic acid, work a little deeper, the actual product still doesn’t remain on your skin for very long. 

Your skin needs a deeper clean on a regular basis too, along with the surface cleaning that a cleanser provides. 

This is where exfoliation comes in…

There are two main types of exfoliation: 

  • Physical Exfoliation – this makes use of an abrasive material, such as a scrub or a sponge, to physically dislodge dead skin cells from the surface of the skin 
  • Chemical Exfoliation – these exfoliants contain chemicals that dissolve away the glue-like substance that keeps dead skin cells connected to the skin’s surface, enabling the skin cells to be washed away

Both have their pros and cons, so give each one a try before settling on whichever works best for you and your skin type. 

Pore-Clogging Cosmetics

There are certain cosmetic ingredients out there that are known as comedogenic. Simply put, this means that they are known to clog pores. 

The list of comedogenic ingredients is a long one, and certain ingredients, such as seaweed and algae extract, can be surprising culprits to frequently clogged pores.

So, how do you know if your cosmetics contain pore-clogging ingredients? 

Well, if you are prone to clogged pores, then you need to look for cosmetic products that state that they are non-comedogenic. This means that their ingredients will not clog your pores up. 

Is oil-free the same as non-comedogenic? 

No, because even ingredients that aren’t an oil can still clog your pores, such as the seaweed extract mentioned above. So, even if a product claims to be oil-free, you need to make sure that it is non-comedogenic too. 

Dirty Beauty Tools

When was the last time you cleaned your makeup brushes? 

If the answer is longer than a week ago, then dirty beauty tools could be the reason behind your clogged pores. 

Think about all of the different surfaces your makeup brushes come into contact with…

With each new surface, your brush picks up bacteria, dirt, oils, and, of course, makeup. 

This quickly builds up on a brush, meaning that each time you use the brush, you are transferring all of these impurities back onto your skin. As you can imagine, these impurities soon end up inside your pores, clogging them up. 

How to Treat and Prevent Clogged Pores

A number of ways to treat and prevent clogged pores have already been mentioned, such as: 

  • Improving your diet 
  • Using ingredients to help reduce excess oil production 
  • Regular cleansing and exfoliating, without over-exfoliating
  • Staying away from pore-clogging beauty ingredients 
  • Regularly cleaning your beauty tools 

However, there are a few other steps you can take when dealing with clogged pores…

Purifying facial masks are always a good move. 

The best masks for tackling clogged pores will contain one of the following ingredients: 

  • Charcoal – soaks up the dirt and oil from within the pores, clearing away any clogs, while also minimizing pore size 
  • Clay – absorbs oil and impurities, therefore unclogging pores 

Professional facials can also be helpful, especially if you are looking to prevent clogged pores in the long run. You will need to have these carried out regularly though, in order to keep the skin in the cleansed and hydrated state that a professional facial will leave it in. 

Another option to consider would be a chemical peel…

Don’t worry, these aren’t as frightening as they may initially sound!

They are basically a more intense form of exfoliation. They peel away the outer layer of skin, along with its dead skin cells, to reveal the fresh and youthful skin beneath. They also trigger a process that clears out any debris from within the pores, therefore unclogging them and reducing their appearance.

Of course, you do need to make sure that you pick the right strength of peel, but this is something that you can discuss in more detail with your dermatologist. 

Non-ablative laser treatments are also becoming quite popular for preventing clogged pores. 

How does this work? 

The laser lights trigger the production of collagen deep within the skin, which then plumps the skin up. This not only makes pores much less visible, but also helps to prevent them from becoming clogged. 

If you are worried about laser treatments on darker skin tones…

You could consider micro-needling instead.

Also known as collagen induction therapy, this treatment makes use of tiny needles to create microscopic punctures in the skin, which then encourages the skin to produce more collagen in order to heal. This gives the skin a beautiful rejuvenating effect, while also shrinking the pores, meaning that they produce less oil. 

Infographic on collagen induction therapy

Clogged pores can be so frustrating to deal with, especially when this keeps happening on a regular basis. The key is finding out why your pores are becoming clogged in the first place, and then tackling that problem at its root, while also treating and preventing clogged pores with the methods mentioned above. 

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