Clogged pores? Here’s how to unclog pores on your nose and face in six steps

27th November 2023 | Author: Victoria Woollaston-Webber

Clogged pores can make your skin look bumpy and even cause blemishes or acne. Here’s how to unclog pores and get your skin looking even and clear 


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What causes clogged pores? 

How to unclog pores

The truth about how to get rid of pores permanently

Clogged and enlarged pores are such a common skincare problem that 10,000 searches are made every month by people looking for information on how to get rid of them.

In an analysis, carried out by skincare brand Kiehl’s, “large pores” was found to be more of a concern for people across the UK than fine lines, wrinkles, and pigmentation.

Yet getting rid of them is much easier said than done.

Firstly, because pores are an essential part of your face. They’re the follicles from which the hairs across your face and body grow. Secondly, their size is determined by your genetics.

While it’s true oily skin, sweating in hot weather, and not washing your face properly can cause them to become enlarged, it’s not possible to shrink or get rid of pores permanently. The best you can do is minimise their “appearance’ by keeping them clear.


We explain more about why you can’t get rid of pores permanently in our guide: The hard truth about pores but there are things you can do to unclog clogged pores and prevent making their appearance worse.

Note: It should be noted that pores are completely natural. While we share in your desire to want smooth and clear skin, pores and texture are a way of life, and everyone – even influencers – has pores, bumps, uneven texture, and more. No matter how much they manage to disguise them with ring lights and filters.

FURTHER READING: The best The Ordinary products for all your skincare concerns – from large pores to redness, wrinkles and acne

Clogged pores

 What-are-pores-and-how-to-get-ridGetty Images/iStockphoto

What causes clogged pores?

Pores can become clogged for a number of reasons and when they do it causes a build-up of oil, dead skin cells, and other debris to get stuck in the hair follicles.

Once the pore is clogged, it can trap bacteria and this can lead to breakouts, blemishes (also known as comedones), and acne.

The main causes of clogged pores are:

  • Dead skin cell buildup: The top layer of your skin is constantly shedding dead skin cells. Many of these will naturally “slough” off. The rest need to be cleaned away by cleansing and exfoliating the skin. If these cells remain on the skin, they end up clogging the pores and getting mixed up with oil on the skin.
  • Too much oil/sebum: If you have naturally oily skin you’re more likely to get clogged pores. This is because the excess sebum produced by your overactive sebaceous glands mixes with dead skin cells to form a sort of sticky plug. This not only clogs the pore but can cause it to swell up, thus attracting more oil and dead skin cells.  the production of sebum increases, it can mix with dead skin cells and form a sticky plug, blocking the pore.
  • Genetics: As above, some people are genetically predisposed to having naturally oily skin or producing excess sebum, making them more prone to clogged pores. The size of your pores are also determined by your genetics, meaning that even if you keep them clear, they may appear more noticeable than other people who follow the same skincare routine.
  • Weather and environmental reasons: When you go outside – and even inside sometimes – your skin is exposed to all sorts of pollutants, such as dirt, dust, and airborne particles. These can land on the skin’s surface, get stuck to the oils in your face and cause clogged pores.
  • Hormones: Hormonal changes, during puberty, your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause, can cause havoc with your skin. This can cause excess oil to be produced, or it can accelerate your skin’s natural shedding cycle. This can make you more prone to clogged pores and acne breakouts.
  • Comedogenic makeup and skincare: Certain beauty products, particularly those that are heavy or oil-based, can clog the pores. These are known as comedogenic ingredients or products. If you want to keep your pores clear, you need to look for non-comedogenic (non-pore-clogging) products and ingredients.
  • Poor skincare hygiene: Not adopting the best skincare routine – which includes not cleansing your skin properly, or not exfoliating – can create a build-up of dirt, oil, and dead skin cells on the skin, increasing the likelihood of clogged pores.
  • Ageing: As we get older, our skin loses its elasticity. This can cause our skin to stretch and sag and this can make pores look enlarged, and increase the chances of them becoming clogged. Our skin also thickens as we age and this has been shown to cause skin cells to gather around our pores, making them look bigger.
  • Sun exposure: Similarly, exposing your skin to too much sun causes a drop in elastin, water, and collagen and thickens the skin.

FURTHER READING: Acne scars: How to get rid of acne scars or prevent pockmarks forming

How to unclog pores: A step-by-step guide

If you’re suffering from clogged pores, there are a number of things you can do to unclog them and reduce their appearance.

Step 1: Cleanse daily, ideally with an exfoliating cleanser

If you have clogged pores, you need to be keeping on top of your skincare routine. This means you need to be cleansing twice daily – morning and night. You also need to make sure that you cleanse for at least one minute to make sure you get rid of any build-up of dirt, pollution, excess oil, and makeup. This should be enough to manage minor clogged pores.

However, if you have enlarged pores and it’s a recurring problem, look for cleansers with exfoliating ingredients such as salicylic acid. It unclogs pores and helps get rid of the texture and bumps that clogged pores can cause.

mamabella recommends: CeraVe Salicylic Acid Cleanser (£14) ; Face Theory Clarifying Cleanser C2 (£13); Kiehl’s Rare Earth Pore Minimising Cleanser (£22.50)

Step 2: Toner

How to use Paula's Choice 2% BHA ExfoliantPaula's Choice

After cleansing, sweep a gentle toner across your skin and neck to remove any leftover cleanser, and any dead skin cells or oil that you missed while cleansing. You should opt for a hydrating toner that doesn’t strip the skin of natural oils, but keeps excess oil in check.

The best toner doesn’t just reduce the appearance of enlarged pores but it can balance the skin’s moisture levels and leave you with a healthy, smooth complexion. Toner isn’t always an essential step in a skincare routine but if you have oily skin, it’s advised.

mamabella recommends: Paula’s Choice BHA Exfoliant (£34); Fenty Skin Fat Water Toner Serum (£27); Simple Soothing Toner (£2.29)

You can read more about our recommendations in our Paula’s Choice BHA Exfoliant review, or our best toner list.

Step 3: Retinol

Boots No7 Retinol serum photosNo7

This step won’t be for everyone, but if you’re suffering from clogged pores, try adding a retinol product to your skincare routine. Retinol helps to increase cell turnover – which is why it’s so good for reducing the signs of ageing. This helps prevent pores from becoming clogged, which can make them appear smaller and reduce the chances of getting spots.

The downside is that retinol can cause problems for people with sensitive skin, or people who have never used it before. It can take some time for your skin to get used to retinol so we advise introducing it gradually, and starting off with a low dosage.

There are alternatives to retinol that work in a similar way, such as protinol and bakuchiol. You can read more in our retinol for beginners guide.

mamabella recommends:  The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% (£8); La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Serum (£45); BYBI Beauty Bakuchiol Booster (£13)

Step 4: Use a lightweight moisturiser

Lightweight moisturisers, that feel closer to the texture of lotions than thicker creams, are great for hydrating the skin while minimising the chances of clogged pores.

In the same way that cleansing the skin helps unclog pores, using a lightweight moisturiser helps to balance the skin and control oil and shine. The best moisturiser can also strengthen the skin barrier and increase hydration.

After all, even oily skin needs hydration. No matter what you may believe.

If you have oily skin, look for a lighter textured oil-free gel. If you have combination skin, you can get away with an oil-based moisturiser, which has the added benefit of hydrating your dry patches too.

mamabella recommends: Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Cream (£32); The Inkey List Bakuchiol (£12.99); Simple Daily Hydrating Light Moisturiser (£3.45)

Step 5: SPF

What is SPFiStock

Protecting your skin from sun damage should be a number one priority all day every day, but it’s especially important if you’re looking to unclog clogged pores.

It’s one of the simplest ways to keep your skin looking healthy and if you opt for a lightweight, hydrating SPF, it could double up as a moisturiser while also providing protection.

What’s more, in the summer months as you sweat more, the chances of your pores becoming clogged becomes even greater. Choosing the best sunscreen for your face, as well as following the rest of this clogged pores routine, minimises this risk.

mamabella recommends: Isntree Watery Sun Gel (£21); Thank You Farmer Sun Protect Water Sun Cream (£20); Kiehl’s Aqua Gel SPF50 PA++++ (£33)

Step 6: Face mask

The first five steps in this clogged pores routine should be enough to keep your skin clean and clear but if you want to go deeper and make sure you’ve got all of the build-up and debris, we also recommend adding a pore-cleansing mask to your routine at least once a week.

Look for face masks that contain clay, such as kaolin clay. Clay helps draw out oil and impurities from within the pores and you can apply the mask just in the areas where you need it most, or all over your face.

The key is to make sure you apply a thin layer to cleansed skin and make sure you remove it fully.

mamabella recommends: Sand & Sky Brilliant Skin Purifying Pink Clay Mask (£33.95); Kiehl’s Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask (£31.50); Revolution Skincare Pink Clay Detoxifying Face Mask (£8)

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