How To Tackle Clogged Pores + Sebaceous Filaments

Blocked pores can lead to breakouts, blackheads and acne so it’s no surprise that everyone seems obsessed with shrinking their pores. The reality is you can’t make them smaller but you can minimise their appearance by keeping them unclogged and clear, which stops pesky blemishes in their tracks. 

To understand what causes blocked pores let's first think about what our pores do. Found in the middle layer of the skin, known as the dermis, pores are connected to our hair follicles and act as little tubes with small openings that connect the oil glands to the surface of the skin to release oils and sweat. When we hit puberty and the oil glands switch on, there can be a lot of traffic. When oil mixes with dead skin cells it creates little blockages. When these blockages are exposed to air, they become blackheads or open comedones and when not exposed, they're white heads or closed comedones.

It’s crucial to understand that every acne breakout starts out as a blocked pore so keeping pores clog-free is key for controlling acne. Having said that, if you’ve got those annoying little dots on your t-zone they may be sebaceous filaments rather than blackheads. Annoyingly, they both appear in the same areas of the face but sebaceous filaments are completely normal formations that line the inside of the pore. It’s very common to have some visible matter in your pores but if they bother you, a consistent pore strategy will help everything look brighter and clearer. 

Although blocked pores are an extremely common skincare issue, when left untreated they can be challenging to clear up. But, with the right advice, products and consistency, you can achieve clear, healthy and glowing skin, so let’s get into the steps that matter. 


Step 1 - Remove Any Products That Are Making Matters Worse

Sometimes you need to do a skincare audit and assess everything you’re currently using to see if any are triggering your skin and hindering your progress. It’s also the first thing I do with patients and ensures I can give them the correct treatment plan. This is obviously a highly individual process but I often eliminate high-risk products such facial oils, balms and longwear foundation that are often more prone to clogging pores.


Step 2 - Use A Beta Hydroxy Acid

Beta-hydroxy acids such as salicylic acid are exfoliants that can penetrate deep into the pore due to its oil-soluble nature. Over-the-counter topical treatments come in concentrations between 0.5% to 2%, this is the simplest thing to add  and may be enough if you’re just getting a few blackheads. I advise a leave-on product of 1-2 % BHA with no alcohol or fragrance. Click here to read more on how salicylic acid can help your skin.


Step 3 - Consider Using Azelaic Acid 

Long term readers will know I love azelaic acid - my acid with extra which I typically always add into a regime for breakouts and blackheads. Not only does it work incredibly well for clogged pores and preventing further congestion, it’s anti-inflammatory properties help to reduce any associated redness. It's also very well tolerated and safe to be used in both pregnancy and breastfeeding.


Step 4 - Introduce A Retinoid 

Retinoids are comedolytics which means not only do they help remove existing clogged pores, they also prevent future ones from happening.  With so many overall skin benefits, it’s a case of why wouldn’t I use one rather than why would I?

If you’re new to retinoids, it is important to remember not to run before you can walk! With multiple strengths found in over-the-counter products, it’s best to start with a low percentage and build up your strength rather than grabbing something too strong which can often do more harm than good.


Step 5 - Niacinamide Is A Great Support Act

Niacinamide is a gentle anti-inflammatory ingredient which also acts as a powerful pore-clearing agent and helps balance the skin barrier. With far-reaching ingredients it’s the perfect partner for exfoliating acids and retinoids which can sometimes irritate the skin. It’s gentle nature makes it recommended for those with  sensitive skin too. 


Step 6 - Throw Away The Magnifying Mirror!

Perhaps the most important step for your morale! Stop torturing yourself and put the magnifying mirror away. Nobody needs to 10X their skin on the hunt for a blocked pore which will invariably lead to trouble as it's so hard to resist the siren call to squeeze. 

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