What is Congested Skin, and How Can You Treat It?

While not everyone will agree on the exact definition, dermatologists and skin care professionals will generally know what you’re talking about when you say you have “congested” skin.

Congested skin is often more prone to acne and clogged pores. It can be caused by dead skin cell buildup, exposure to irritants, or even an allergic reaction to makeup.

Let’s take a look at some of the more common causes of congested skin, as well as ways you can treat it.

Congested skin symptoms

Congested skin is frequently associated with oily buildup on your skin, so it’s no surprise that it typically affects areas on your face where oil tends to collect. Your chin, nose, cheeks, and forehead are places you might experience it.

Congested skin causes your skin to look visibly distressed. Symptoms can include:

  • whiteheads
  • blackheads
  • cystic acne
  • clogged pores
  • redness
  • rough, bumpy skin
  • skin with a dull appearance

What causes congested skin?

The causes of congested skin are similar to the causes of acne and skin irritation. The cause can vary, depending on your skin type.


Hormones play a role in the day-to-day appearance of your skin, and acne that’s caused by hormonal imbalances tends to congregate around your jawline and the bottom of your cheeks. This can make your skin look congested, with visible pores and pimples.

Oil production

Some people have naturally oily skin. This doesn’t always cause acne or blackheads, but it can be a contributing factor. Skin that produces excess sebum (oil) can also be more prone to large, open pores.

Skin elasticity

As you age, your skin’s natural elasticity declines. This can contribute to enlarged facial pores, according to at least one small study with 60 participants.

Once pores are open and visible, they can be magnets for dirt and oil that result in blackheads and whiteheads.

Comedogenic products

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Using products that irritate your skin can be a trigger for acne and skin irritation.

The following common ingredients in soaps and other skin care products are known to clog pores but are still used:

  • isopropyl myristate
  • propylene glycol
  • lanolins

Additionally, triclosan, phthalates, and parabens are also in many products and can cause allergic reactions and skin irritation, among other health risks.

Congested skin treatment

Treatments for congested skin can range from home remedies you can start right now to prescription-strength topicals that you can get from a dermatologist. The severity of your symptoms will ultimately help you determine what’s right for you.

Home remedies

Your first-line treatment for congested skin may start at home. Home remedies for congested skin can be effective at clearing up the area and make it less likely for symptoms to recur. These treatments may include:

  • Natural exfoliation. You may be able to cleanse dead skin cells and give skin a fresh, clean start using ingredients you already have at home. Homemade masks and scrubs made with honey, ground almond, or sea salt can become a valuable part of your beauty routine. Over-exfoliating can damage your skin, so don’t use these remedies every day.
  • Hydrating. Drinking plenty of water each day can sometimes be enough to clear up your skin, and cutting out caffeine and sugary drinks can also help restore balance.
  • Washing your face. You can start with a simple regimen of cleansing with warm water at the end of each night before bed, if you aren’t doing so already. Always remove all of your makeup before you go to sleep.
  • Dietary changes. Sometimes, congested skin can be related to a diet high in processed foods, carbohydrates, and white sugar. Making adjustments to the way that you eat can be a simple place to start healing your skin.
Over-the-counter treatments

A simple skin care routine using over-the-counter_products/article.htm' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer' >over-the-counter products can help with patches of congested skin on your chin, cheeks, forehead, and nose.

  • Exfoliators. These chemical- or natural-based products can peel off skin cells and stimulate collagen production. Salicylic acid and lactic acid are ingredients to look for when it comes to liquid exfoliating products for congested skin.
  • Serums. Serums that contain retinol or alpha-hydroxy acid can help boost your skin’s elasticity, giving pores room to breathe. Applying a serum after an exfoliator a few times a week can help you see a reduction in your congested skin symptoms.
  • Cleansers. An everyday cleanser that contains a gentle exfoliant can sweep dead skin cells away while also promoting healthy cell regeneration. Botanical ingredients like green tea extract and grapefruit may do the trick.
  • Moisturizers. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, sealing moisture into congested skin that’s been cleansed and exfoliated can help restore balance to oil-prone areas. Look for moisturizers with hypo-allergenic, non-comedogenic ingredients to help restore the moisture barrier of your face.
Prescription medications and medical treatment

If you have severe symptoms, you may need to work with a dermatologist to try to resolve patches of congested skin.

In addition to the treatments above, they may prescribe a topical cream or oral medication as a treatment.

  • Retinoids can be prescribed to slough off dead skin and encourage new cell growth.
  • Oral contraceptives are sometimes used as an anti-acne medication if your congested skin is linked to a hormonal imbalance.
  • Anti-androgen medication (such as spironolactone) can also be used to balance out your hormones and reduce your symptoms.
  • Isotretinoin (accutane), a prescription medication that can clear up congested skin, but has numerous side effects and should not be a first-line treatment. It’s typically used only when other treatments are not effective.
  • High-grade chemical peels performed by an aesthetician or dermatologist may be able to successfully exfoliate skin that is bumpy and rough, exposing smooth skin underneath.
  • Laser skin resurfacing to help stimulate areas with clogged pores and damaged skin may also be an option.

When to see a doctor

If your symptoms are making you self-conscious to the point where it’s affecting your daily activities, or if you have tried home remedies and over-the-counter treatment and are still experiencing symptoms, it is time to seek medical help for congested skin.

You may start out by mentioning the condition to your primary care doctor, or you can go straight to a dermatologist.


The term “congested skin” can refer to any skin that becomes bumpy, irritated, and acne-prone. Since it’s a subjective term, the symptoms can vary.

Everyone’s skin is different, and that applies to people who have congested skin. There’s not a one-size-fits-all treatment approach to getting smooth, acne-free skin.

You may have to try a few different treatment options or combine home remedies with a dermatologist-approved treatment plan, to get the results that you are looking for.

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