Whiteheads and blackheads won’t stand a chance against these simple yet effective pore-unclogging techniques.

By Melanie Rud Chadwick
Updated May 30, 2018
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Clogged pores are undoubtedly a pesky complexion concern that can be tricky to deal with. And while there are plenty of pore products out there, how do you determine which is right for you? First, let’s start with a quick refresher as to what exactly is happening when you have a blocked pore. “A pore is an opening in the skin through which oil and sweat can reach the skin’s surface,” explains Chicago dermatologist Jordan Carqueville, M.D. “Each is associated with a sebaceous gland, and can become clogged with oil and dead skin cells, creating a blackhead, whitehead, or pimple.” And while it’s a myth that pores open and close, they can expand and contract (and subsequently appear larger and smaller) depending on how much of that gunk is stuck in them. Luckily, there are a multitude of ways to get that grime out. Here, Carqueville’s five suggestions for how to effectively deep clean your pores.

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Use Retinoids Regularly.

These vitamin A derivatives increase cellular turnover, preventing dead skin cells from sitting on the surface of the skin and, you guessed it, blocking pores, says Carqueville. They’re also tried-and-true anti-agers, helping to stimulate collagen for smoother skin (talk about added benefits). Keep in mind that they can have some potentially unsightly side effects—namely dryness and flaking—so use just a pea-size amount for your entire face, and apply only every other night until your skin acclimates to the ingredient. One product to try: StriVectin Advanced Retinol Pore Refiner ($69, strivectin.com).

Pick Up Pore Strips.

Admittedly a little gross, there are still few things quite as satisfying as seeing all those blackheads come off on a pore strip, which are ideal to use for your nose. Try the Bioré Deep Cleansing Charcoal Pore Strips ($8; ulta.com). Just be cautious not to yank too hard when pulling one off, as you want to remove just the blackheads, not any skin. And if you’re also using a retinoid or have a condition such as psoriasis or rosacea, these can be too harsh, warns Carqueville.

Ask for Extractions.

“Extractions, if done correctly, will result in an immediate clearing of the plugged pore,” says Carqueville. In other words, instant gratification. The key is, as she says, that they be done correctly. That means this method is best left up to pros (a dermatologist or licensed aesthetician) who know how to properly manipulate the skin. Taking the DIY route and aggressively squeezing a pore can cause inflammation, which can lead to scarring, Carqueville cautions.

Cleanse With Salicylic Acid.

This beta-hydroxy acid is lipophilic, meaning it’s attracted to and can dissolve oil, ideal when there’s excess sebum clogging your pores. Not to mention that it also dissolves the connection between pore-clogging dead skin cells. Try a salicylic acid based face wash, like Clean & Clear Acne Triple Clear Bubble Foam Cleanser ($6, jet.com), and use it daily to help keep skin clear. If your skin is super sensitive, opt for one of the other methods, notes Carqueville.

Try Mechanical Exfoliation.

At the dermatologist, options like microdermabrasion and resurfacing lasers work by removing the top layer of skin, eliminating blockages and making pores appear smaller, says Carqueville. At home, a scrub with physical particles, like Alba Botanica Hawaiian Detox Scrub ($8; amazon.com), will buff away dead skin cells and leave skin looking brighter and more radiant.