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Clogged Pores

Clogged pores, also known as comedones, can be a precursor to bigger skin problems, most notably acne. Comedones are simply hair follicle pores that are obstructed by dead skin cells and an oily substance called sebum. Sebum is a sticky, oily substance produced by sebaceous glands that line the hair follicle. It normally keeps skin moist and supple, but too much sebum can cause problems too.

When the sebaceous glands produce too much sebum, it blocks off the pore opening and dead skin cells and other debris accumulate causing a blockage. If the clogged pore becomes infected or inflamed, it can lead to the familiar papules and pustules we know of as acne. At other times, pores can be obstructed without becoming inflamed. In this case, they appear as blackheads or whiteheads on the surface of the skin. All occurrences are considered unsightly and unpleasant, which is why there’s so much focus on treating them.

What Causes Them?

Clogged pores are usually caused by the overproduction of sebum. Sebum has the useful purpose of providing the oils needed to keep skin well moisturized. But when sebum production goes into overdrive, it can cause comedones and, even worse, acne. Excess production of sebum is often triggered by hormonal changes. That’s why clogged pores and acne are so common in adolescents as their hormone levels fluctuate around puberty.

According to research, some people have larger sebaceous glands. This predisposes them to comedones and acne. People with clogged pores and acne usually also have a rapid build-up of skin cells around follicles that causes them to become blocked. In addition, there’s a genetic component to clogged pores and acne. It runs in families to some degree.


Fortunately, there are ways to treat clogged pores and reduce blackheads, whiteheads and acne. Start by cleansing skin twice a day with a mild cleanser, but never use an abrasive cleanser or hot water. This can irritate skin and increase sebum production. Choose a cleanser which contains salicylic acid. This will allow for a deep cleanse without irritating the skin or stimulating excess oil production. The cleanser will help slough off surface skin cells that can clog pores. Salicyclic acid is a proven effective treatment for comedones.

Follow up by applying a mattifier to oily areas and areas with comedones. Choose one that contains salicyclic acid along with ingredients that ease irritation, clarify skin and reduce pore size. Your pores will look visibly smaller after using this type of product consistently.

Many cosmetic products contain ingredients that can clog pores and worsen comedones. Always look for skin care products and make-up that is marked “non-comedogenic” clearly on the label. There is a long list of cosmetic ingredients that can trigger comedones. Learn to recognize them when choosing products you apply to your skin.

In more severe cases, especially when acne is also a problem, comedones can be treated with prescription-strength topical retinoids such as Retin-A. Retinoids help to increase the rate that surface skin cells are shed, and it reduces their tendency to stick together. This diminishes pore obstruction. Unfortunately, many people cannot tolerate topical retinoids because of redness and skin irritation. That is why it is a good idea to try products containing salicyclic acid first. They may cause mild skin irritation but not to the same degree as retinoids.

If you have clogged pores and comedones, avoid wearing hats, scarves or helmets that touch your face, and don’t pick at your skin. This will only make the problem worse and can trigger acne outbreaks.

The Bottom Line?

Clogged pores are a common problem in adolescents, teens and adults. Fortunately, there are treatments such as salicyclic acid that can make comedones far less of a problem.

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