Got Clogged Pores? A How-to Guide for Unclogging Pores: Find it Again Friday

glycolic acid clogged pores

Do you have persistent clogged pores?

Do you wash your face twice daily and still have clogged pores?

Clogged pores are a year-round struggle that never seem to cease. Unfortunately, routine washing does not cut it. However, there are tricks to maintain "unclogged facial skin" according to Dr. Bailey in her post: How to Unclog Your Clogged Pores. Clogged pores will become a thing of the past with powerful products and a few simple treatments.

What Causes Clogged Pores?

Unclogging clogged pores is half the battle. Understanding the causes for clogged pores is essential. Blackheads are among the most notorious culprits for clogged pores, but there are several other suspects as well.
  • Natural oil secretions: Believe it or not, many of the supposed blackheads are your oil secretions mixed with normal skin germs.
  • Milia: Milia is normally white, but some rupture and create the appearance of blackheads
  • Traditional blackheads: Compacted dead skin cells forming a "hard plug," generally a consequence of acne-type skin

Once you identify the causes of your clogged pores there are two general regimens Dr. Bailey follows: unclogging non-blackheads and unclogging blackheads.

Methods for Unclogging Non-Blackhead Clogged Pores

Skin Cleansing to treat clogged pores

1. Clarisonic or other sonic skin cleansing brush system with a gentle cleanser

Sonic skin cleansing brushes like the Clarisonic and Foreo remove more dirt, oil, and makeup from your clogged pores than traditional cleansing methods. These sonic cleansing tools helps cleansers enter deeper into your pores via sonic waves. The sonic waves and brush head gently massage your pores aiding in the release of clogged contents. A deep pore cleansing method also prevents future clogged pores. 

Harsh or strong cleansers often irritate the skin when paired with a sonic brush skin cleansing system because the cleansers enter the pores more deeply. Choose a gentle and mild cleanser to pair with your sonic brush and use your other cleansers when not using the sonic brush.

Dr. Bailey's recommended cleansers to pair with sonic skin cleansing brush systems such as the Clarisonic based on skin type:

2. Exfoliating Sponge with a Gentle Cleanser

If a sonic skin cleansing brush system is out of your price range, an exfoliating sponge such as a Facial Exfoliating Sponge serves as a decent substitute. These sponges will remove dead skin cells and debris from the surface of the skin (not the pores themselves), allowing cleansers to penetrate deeper into the pores. Gently massage the skin with one of the gentle cleansers mentioned above in the previous section to unclog your clogged pores.

3. Exfoliating Cleansers and Creams

If you prefer not to use a physical exfoliating sponge or a sonic-cleansing system then you can focus on 'chemical' exfoliation alone with glycolic acid, salicylic acid and/or benzoyl peroxide as a cleanser or scrub.

Glycolic acid combined with salicylic acid is a powerful exfoliating combination to unclog clogged pores. This ingredient combo removes or prevents clogged pores. It even brightens your skin. Find it in Dr. Bailey's Triple Action Exfoliating Cleanser and Foaming Acne Treatment Cleanser. 

best glycolic acid anti-aging face cream for clogged pores

Dr. Bailey frequently uses glycolic acid products in her practice. While glycolic acid cleansers treat your clogged pores immediately, glycolic acid creams work over time and continue to exfoliate pores throughout the day such as Dr. Bailey's Glycolic Acid Anti-Wrinkle Face Cream.


You can combine a physical exfoliator with a mild exfoliating cleanser and cream for especially hard plugs. Dr. Bailey has compiled all these elements in her Glycolic Acid Facial Skin Care Kit

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4. Gentle Manual Massage

If several weeks of deep cleansing skin care regimens (sonic skin cleansing brush or Facial Sponge) are not enough to remove tough clogged pores, consider a gentle massage technique. A gentle massage technique squeezes out the junk in your pores. Aestheticians call this technique an "extraction" and it is commonly used during their facial routines. Very gently with tissue pads, pinch 1/2 inch of your skin (be careful not to push too hard or you will bruise your skin). If nothing comes out, then the clogged pores are not soft and ready to undergo an extraction.

facials can help to unclog clogged pores

Extractions are a tricky business, and the best way to unclog clogged pores is to visit your local aesthetician for a facial. Aestheticians have all the tools to remove even the hardest clogged pore. As Dr. Bailey says, "Getting a facial every 6 to 8 weeks is ideal to keeping pores really clean." 


Methods for Unclogging Blackhead Clogged Pores

1. Keratolytics

Keratolytics soften the "glue" that stubbornly holds the debris and oil in a blackhead. Look for skin care products with the following keratolytics:

  • Glycolic Acid
  • Salicylic Acid
  • Benzoyl Peroxide
  • Retinoids (retinol or tretinoin/Retin-A)

Keratolytic cleansers are the simplest treatment. Combining a keratolytic cleanser with a sonic cleansing brush is even more effective. For stubborn clogged pores, leave-on keratolytic products may be necessary such as creams, lotions, and gels. After a month use, a leave-on keratolytic will soften the pore and allow the skin to naturally dissolve the plug. They may even soften your clogged pore to a point that allows the manual massage technique discussed above.

Dr. Bailey's favorite keratolytic options combine several different keratolytic ingredients and exfoliation methods which are shown below:

For classic and teenage acne with clogged pores, Dr. Bailey recommends her Ultimate Acne Solutions Skin Care Treatment Kit
Ultimate Acne Solution Kit for clogged pores

For acne and/or aging skin concerns, Dr. Bailey recommends her Glycolic Acid Facial Skin Care Kit  or Triple Action Exfoliating Cleanser and Glycolic Acid Face Cream during the day and Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream at night

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2. Visit a Professional

If keratolytics aren't working, it may be time to visit a professional to clean up your clogged pores.  Start a facial series with extractions every few weeks. For the toughest clogged pores, it might be necessary to discuss them with your local dermatologist. A dermatologist may perform an extraction or recommend a prescription. Dr. Bailey usually recommends Retinol Intensive Night Cream or prescribes tretinoin/Retin A to patients for unclogging clogged pores. Even a mild chemical peel will be helpful to clear up clogged pores. Talk with a medical professional to see if you are a candidate for these treatments.

What's the bottom line with clogged pores?

Identify the culprit of your clogged pores to form the skin care routine that will best suit treating your skin type. As you can see, there are several methods to employ and even professionals to seek for advice. Once the clogged pores are removed, maintenance is necessary to prevent future blackheads or plugs.  Dr. Bailey's bottom line for clogged pore maintenance is:
And remember, if you’re prone to blackheads, you’re going to need to continue using your keratolytic products and the Exfoliating Facial Sponge or Clarisonic System to keep new blackheads from forming again.  Unclogging clogged pores is an ongoing project!

For a more thorough discussion on this topic, read Dr. Bailey's original blog post: How to Unclog Your Clogged Pores 

Dr. Bailey Skin Care Team Photo attribution: Thanks and gratitude to © Doable/amanaimages/Corbis