A Guide to Treating Blackheads & Clogged Pores

Welcome to the first Sunday Facial of 2020. Unlike previous weeks, I’ve decided to theme this episode around how to treat clogged pores and blackheads. It was one of the most requested asks. Before we begin, I want to preface this guide with a little reminder. Consistency in your skincare routine is key for both morning and night. Finding the right products for your skin and following these steps ad-hoc will not bring about the results you want nor long-term skin improvements. There is no magic skincare step. You must commit to it and be diligent. 

What are pores?

Pores are an essential component on our skin. Their main function is that they regulate oil flow. People who struggle with clogged pores tend to have oilier skin but this isn’t always the case.

You cannot change the size of your pores. The size of your pores are genetically predisposed so it cannot be altered. Don’t be taken in by any “pore shrinking” claims by products. However, having a dedicated skincare routine with the right products that suit you, can help take care of your pores keeping them clean which will make them look better and appear smaller.

What are blackheads?

Blackheads are not dirt and they are definitely not an infection. When an open or large pore with sebum/oil in it is exposed to the air it oxidises. This oxidation makes the sebum turn black. It’s the same process as when you cut up an apple and leave it out on the counter – it eventually turns brown. 

How to treat blackheads and unclog pores

The most effective way to get rid of blackheads and clogged pores is by manual extraction – especially if you have deep blackheads. It is a worthwhile skin investment that I would recommend having done professionally every 6 weeks or more depending on how prominent this skin concern is for you. The reason I don’t recommend doing manual extractions yourself is that it’s very easy to go at it too hard and create post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. 

I understand that manual extraction treatments won’t be accessible for all on a frequent basis. This is why your at-home skincare routine is everything. You must streamline your routine to fit the needs of your skin. You don’t need hundreds of products but instead opt for key ingredients that work and be consistent with using these.

TIP #1: If you struggle with blackheads, don’t use products that are too emollient and creamy or too oily. Stick to lighter formulations such as gels and foaming washes.

TIP #2: Remember, blackheads are not infections. Do not use blemish treatment products on your blackheads/clogged pores.

a guide to treating blackheads and clogged pores

At-home Skincare Routine for Blackhead-prone Skin

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Step 1: Cleansing

This is a super important step! Choose a light gel-based cleanser. I recommend the Medik8 Pore Cleanse Gel Intense*. I like it because it’s a light gel that rinses off easily leaving skin feeling fresh. It contains an acid blend of AHAs and BHAs. AHAs are water soluble acids and BHAs are oil soluble acids.

You need a blend of both because the AHAs will clear the skin’s surface by removing all the dead skin. The BHAs are oil soluble so they can get into the pore lining and clear out the oil. The general rule is that an effective cleanser for clogged skin is one with this acid blend!

Step 2: Masking

Because it’s a sunday facial there is a mask treatment step. In my Primark Skincare Collection the Pore Balance Range is one I developed specifically for treating this type of skin concern. The Pore Balance Super Detox Clay Mousse Mask is one of the most popular masks in the range. It contains kaolin clay and salicylic acid to purify the skin but also niacinamide – a brilliant anti-inflammatory ingredient. Even when you’re working to decongest your skin there’s never a reason to be harsh. In the same range there is the Anti-Blackhead Stick which you use on damp skin over the nose, chin, etc.

Step 3: BHA Exfoliant

This is an essential step. The reason why you need an extra shot of BHA is because this is a leave-on exfoliant (unlike step 1’s cleanser). The Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant* is a lotion you can smooth over the skin with a cotton pad avoiding the eye area. It cleanses the pores preventing oil build up. With all BHA exfoliants, if you do have an extraction done, wait at least 24 hours before putting acid on the skin. This gives your skin a chance to settle itself.

Step 4: Vitamin C

I almost feel like this is the secret ingredient for dealing with blackheads that doesn’t get talked about enough. Vitamin C can help keep your pores clean. Why? It is an antioxidant so it will help prevent the oxidation of the sebum and oils in your pores. Going back to our apple analogy above, when you add a few drops of lemon juice to a cut apple, it stops it from going brown (aka oxidising). Vitamin C works in the same way for our pores. The Is Clinical Super Serum Advance is one of my favourites. For the most part, combining acids with Vitamin C shouldn’t be a problem as they are all low pH formulations. However, if you do tend to have reactive skin, I’d recommend waiting 20 minutes in between skincare steps. 

Step 5: Moisturising

Not everyone needs a moisturiser. If you have particularly oily skin, perhaps just an SPF during the day will suffice. But if you would like some extra moisture, an oil-free formulation is the best choice. The Bareminerals Poreless Oil-Free Moisturizer* has a beautiful texture which will not add extra emollience to the skin. Check out my oily skin edit for other lightweight product recommendations.

Step 6: The At-home Extraction Tool

I still stand by my statement of getting extractions done professionally. However, there is one new at-home tool that I would actually recommend if you feel confident in treating your pores at home. The Skinesis Pro Pore Refiner has been created by Sarah Chapman who is one of the world’s best facial therapists so she knows a fair bit about what it takes to get clean, healthy skin.

The Pro Pore Refiner is a double-sided device. You start with the bottom side which is a metallic plate that heats up when you turn the tool on. It warms up the skin to open the pores. In step 2 the metal plate starts vibrating. Apply it to the congested area and it helps dislodge the blocked pore through the vibrations. Step three uses the other side with the nozzle. When applied to the skin it acts as a suction to pull out the blackhead. You can see me demonstrate using this on my Instagram Story Highlights. There are also proper demos on the Skinesis website

If you have skin that is prone to congestion, you are likely to see these concerns return but being really consistent with this routine you will see real improvements build over time.  Skincare alone is no magic step to remove deep blackheads (that’s why you need the manual extractions). However, these product recommendations will help soften and clean the skin so you can witness long-term improvement.