Healthy skin looks clear and translucent with a faint glow. The texture is smooth and even without areas of roughness or unevenness. On the other hand, some people have congested skin - skin that’s troubled by clogged pores and blackheads. This can be a frustrating problem, but, fortunately, there are ways to help open up pores that are clogged so that skin looks and feels smoother and more even in texture.
What Causes Clogged, Congested Pores and Blackheads?
There are glands in the skin called sebaceous glands that produce a sticky substance called sebum. Sebum has the function of lubricating and protecting skin from infection. Hormonal fluctuations, especially an increase in hormones called androgens, stimulate sebum production. If too much sebum is produced, it can stick to dead skin cells within follicles and cause the opening called the pore to become blocked.
Sometimes clogged, congested pores become blackheads. Blackheads are simply follicles filled with dead skin cells and sebum. They look black because a chemical reaction that happens with exposure to oxygen. Clogged pores can also become whiteheads. Unlike blackheads, whiteheads lack the black because they’re closed off from the surface of the skin so that it is never exposed to the air. Clogged pores, blackheads and whiteheads can develop into bumps and pimples if bacteria feed on the dead skin cells and sebum and inflammation sets in.
Genetics play a role in who gets clogged pores and congested skin, and hormones are also a factor. Blocked pores are more common during puberty when hormone levels are rapidly changing. Sometimes they also reappear during late adulthood when the rate of skin cell renewal slows, and dead skin cells build up leading to blocked pores. Some cosmetic products also contain ingredients that can clog pores.
Congested skin needs gentle cleansing twice a day with a mild cleanser. A products that contains glycolic acid or a beta-hydroxy acid like salicylic acid works well on clogged pores. These weak acids encourage sloughing of superficial skin cells that block pores. Use warm, not hot water along your hands or a soft washcloth to massage the cleanser around on your skin. You can also use an electronic cleansing brush which controls the pressure so that you don’t over do it. Vigorous scrubbing may stimulate more sebum production. It may also be helpful to use a cleanser with buffing beads several times a week to gently exfoliate dead surface skin cells.
You can also apply treatment products that contain alpha hydroxy or beta hydroxy acids. Many products contain both acids in combination. This works well for clearing out pores while also refining the skin’s surface.
Cosmetics can contribute to the problem of congested pores. Choose products that are oil-free and non-comedogenic. Wear a sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays, but make sure it contains no pore-clogging ingredients. Avoid picking at blackheads and white heads.
Other Treatments for Congested Skin
Dermatologists sometimes prescribe topical retinoids like Retin-A to treat pores that are blocked. It works well for this purpose, but many people find retinoids to be too irritating. They typically cause skin redness and sensitivity, especially when you first start using them. Products containing salicylic acid usually work well and cause less skin irritation.
Some dermatologists also recommend a series of chemicals peels using alpha-hydroxy or beta-hydroxy acids like salicylic acid to treat problem skin with clogged pores, blackheads and whiteheads. Salicylic acid peels work best because they’re better able to penetrate into the clogged follicle. This can be an effective treatment, although it will take several visits to see results.
The Bottom Line?
Congested skin is a common problem that can usually be managed with proper cleansing and products containing salicylic acid. It also helps to avoid using products that aren’t oil-free and non-comedogenic. In more severe cases that don’t respond, retinoids or a series of chemical peels are an option.