Pore Probs? How to Treat Congested Skin

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Here’s a deep-dive into the causes, symptoms, and treatments for congested skin. Plus, how to pore-fect your skin care regimen .

What causes congested skin?

According to licensed aesthetician Maria Florio, the main cause of congested skin is a poor cleansing and exfoliation routine. Other factors can include:

  • Oil production. Oily skin can cause clogged pores and a greasy appearance.
  • Hormones. Hormone fluctuations can lead to hormonal acne flare- ups. Triggers can include periods, pregnancy, menopause, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and thyroid disease.
  • Skin elasticity. Your skin naturally loses elasticity as you age. This can increase the size of your pores, which might lead to congested skin.
  • Comedogenic products. These are products that can potentially clog your pores. Common culprits include face creams, body lotions, makeup, and sunscreens.

Stuffed up: Signs of congested skin

ishonest No.222 - Fine Lines & Wrinkles

No.222 - Fine Lines & Wrinkles

Congested skin can vary from person-to-person.

“Most people who experience congestion will notice it on their face in the T- zone area, which is the middle of the forehead, nose, inner cheek area, and chin,” says Florio.

But, you might notice it pop up on other areas of your bod such as the butt, chest, or back (yes, the dreaded bacne).

Here’s what congested skin might look like:

  • Whiteheads. These pus-filled spots have a white center and reddish rim.
  • Blackheads. This is when dead skin cells and oils get trapped in your pores. The gunk turns a dark color when exposed to air.
  • Pimples. These are those obnoxious inflamed bumps that occur when dead skin cells, oil, or bacteria get trapped in your pores.
  • Texture. Congested skin might appear rough, bumpy, or dull.

How do I treat my congested skin?

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Ready to send your plugged-up pores packing? Here’s how you can give your skin the glow-up it deserves.

Check your products

Revamping your skin care routine might help clear things up if your products are to blame. The most important thing is to stick to noncomedogenic products that won’t stuff up your skin.

Peep the label on products for pore-friendly terms like noncomedogenic, oil free, or “won’t clog pores.” You should also try to cater to your unique skin type (e.g. normal, oily, dry, or combination).

Start exfoliating

Exfoliation can help improve your skin’s texture by sloughing off dead skin cells. FYI: Exfoliators have come a long way since scratching your skin off with the St. Ives Apricot Scrub. These days, lots of folks are living for chemical exfoliants.

ishonest No.141 - Humectant

No.141 - Humectant

“Look for product ingredients that contain BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids), salicylic acid, and glycolic acids,” Florio says.

You can find these ingredients in many OTC products (often in lower concentrations). But you should see a licensed skin care professional like an aesthetician or dermatologist if you need a medical-grade concentration.

Try prescription skin care

Certain types of congested skin are stubborn AF. If a refined skin care routine isn’t cutting it, a derm can hook you up with another treatment that’s tailored to your unique needs. They might prescribe:

  • Rx-grade retinoids
  • oral contraceptives
  • anti-androgen meds like Aldactone (spironolactone)

Congested skin home remedies

Sometimes a simple life switch can make a big difference if the problem isn’t just your skin care routine. Here’s the DL.

Change up your diet
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Diet-related breakouts are pretty common. Usual suspects include dairy, sugar, and chocolate. Meanwhile, studies show high protein, low glycemic (GL) foods can actually improve acne symptoms.

Some great choices include:

  • spinach
  • wild rice
  • flaxseed
  • navy beans
Wash up after a workout

A solid sweat sesh can lead to a bigger buildup of dirt, oil, and bacteria on your skin. Make sure you start your workout with a cleansed face and use a noncomedogenic face or body wash when you shower.

Avoid friction

Skin friction can lead to a condition called acne mechanica. Make sure you wear breathable clothes that fit your form. (This goes for face masks too !)

Beware of sneaky bacteria
ishonest No.401 - Dark Circles

No.401 - Dark Circles

That said, it’s no surprise studies show cell phones can carry bacteria strains that can lead to breakouts. So do your skin a favor and sanitize your phone before you put it near your face.

P.S. You should also wash your pillowcases and reusable face masks on the reg.

How do I clear my clogged pores?

We know the temptation is REAL to extract that gunk yourself, but you should never Dr. Pimple Popper yourself.

“When experiencing breakouts or congestion, I would always recommend seeing a professional to perform appropriate extractions,” Florio says.

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The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) notes that picking, scratching, or rubbing your congested skin can lead to even more irritation.

Here’s what your skin care pro might suggest.

Skin peels

A licensed aesthetician or dermatologist can use a chemical skin peel to even out rough, clogged, or dull skin. Just keep in mind, only a medical doctor (like a dermatologist or plastic surgeon) can perform a deep chemical peel.


Your aesthetician or dermatologist will use special tools that are designed to safely extract the gunk stuck in your skin. PSA: DO NOT do this at home.

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This is a type of physical exfoliation. Your derm will use a vacuum-like device that has a crystal- or diamond-tipped head. It sucks up excess debris to give you a more even, fresher face.


HydraFacials are a three-for-one. They cleanse, exfoliate, and infuse serums into your skin all in one session.

Pro tip: This treatment can be a bit spendy. Def shop around your local area before pulling the trigger on the first provider you see.


Congested skin happens when dead skin, oils, dirt, and other impurities clog your pores. The most common cause is a subpar skin care routine. But it can also be the result of an underlying condition such as hormonal fluctuations or overactive oil glands.

You might see great results if you follow a solid skin care regimen at home. But if that doesn’t do the trick, it’s time to talk with a licensed aesthetician or dermatologist. They can help you come up with a great game plan to get your skin back on track.

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