Despite what beauty marketing might have you believe, you can't actually shrink the size of your pores. That said, you can make them appear smaller by keeping them clear of blackhead-causing dead skin and oil through regular exfoliation. Exfoliating is a tricky business, however, and not just any exfoliator will do: you're going to need one of the best exfoliators for clogged pores specifically. But first, it's important to arm yourself with some key exfoliating facts.
There are two ways to exfoliate your skin: chemically or manually. Most people probably associate exfoliating with manual (or physical) exfoliation, which typically requires some sort of physical action, like rubbing, scrubbing, brushing, or even dermaplaning, to buff away dead skin. Face scrubs, for example, fall under the physical exfoliant umbrella. But because many physical exfoliants include abrasive ingredients (like grains, beads, or ground nut shells), they can be a bit harsh on skin — especially if you're already dealing with redness and irritation. That's where chemical exfoliants come in.
Chemical exfoliants use — you guessed it — chemical ingredients to shed dead skin and encourage cellular turnover. And out of all the different types of chemical exfoliants out there, BHAs are the best when it comes to penetrating deep into your pores to clear out dead skin and oil, which is why they're so great for oily and acne-prone skin types (which typically go hand-in-hand with clogged pores). One of the most commonly used BHAs in skin care is salicylic acid, so if unclogging your pores is your main priority, look for a product that contains this key ingredient.
Now that you're well-versed on exfoliating 101, scroll on to discover five of the best exfoliators for squeaky clean pores.
1. The Overall Best Liquid Exfoliant For Clogged Pores
If you've never used a liquid exfoliant before, think of them as an amped-up version of toner: they're used after cleansing, before applying serum or moisturizer. This one, from cult-favorite K-beauty brand CosRx, uses a combination of BHAs and tannins to powerfully cleanse, tighten, and unclog all your congested, oil-filled pores. The exfoliator also helps smooth out the texture of your skin, and it can even help with inflammation, thanks to the willow bark and allantoin in the formula. One reviewer declared it a "miracle worker," while another called it "emerged magic in a bottle."
"My god this stuff is AMAZING, I’m literally SHOOK with the results! I’ve been using this since day and night since Monday when the product was delivered and I’ve seen an incredible transformation. I can’t stop looking in the mirror because my makeup looks so smooth and my pores are barely noticeable," commented one reviewer.
2. Best Liquid Exfoliant For Clogged Pores & Sensitive Skin
Another great leave-on exfoliant, the Paula's Choice CLEAR Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution contains a strong dose of salicylic acid — 2%, to be specific — as well as licorice extract and hyaluronic acid, which makes for a unique chemical exfoliant that's safe for use on sensitive skin types. The licorice and HA, which boast soothing and hydrating benefits, help counteract any potential drying effects of the salicylic acid while it works its pore-unclogging, blemish-busting magic. More skin-soothing and moisturizing ingredients, like allantoin, panthenol, and glycerin, work to soothe redness and keep sensitive skin feeling comfortable and balanced.
3. Best Exfoliating Peel Pads For Clogged Pores & Acne
Another way to exfoliate your skin is by using exfoliating pads, which offer a convenient, fuss-free alternative to liquid exfoliants and toning lotions. These particular pads are made with 2% salicylic acid and 10% glycolic acid to keep skin healthy, clear, and breakout-free. While salicylic acid penetrates deep into pores to remove dead skin and sebum, glycolic acid works to exfoliate the skin's surface. The formula also contains witch hazel, a natural astringent, to further refine skin, which helps with uneven texture and tone. If you're dealing with perennially clogged pores alongside acne, definitely consider incorporating these exfoliating pads into your routine.
4. Best Exfoliating Cleanser For Clogged Pores & Acne
Another solution to dealing with clogged pores and acne? A medicated face wash, like the Obagi CLENZIderm M.D. Daily Care Foaming Cleanser. In this formula, 2% salicylic acid fights off breakouts by deep-cleaning pores and balancing oil production, while menthol offers soothing and anti-inflammatory benefits.
"Hands down the best cleanser for clogged pores!" one Amazon reviewer raved, while another wrote, "I've had cystic chin acne for 10+ years. I've been on antibiotics and every topical cream that is available. This cleanser is the ONLY product that has worked for me."
5. Best Daily Exfoliating Cleanser For Clogged Pores
Ideal for oily and acne-prone skin types, but gentle enough for anyone to use, this daily cleanser from French pharmacy brand Vichy uses .5% salicylic acid to eliminate excess oil and decongest pores. The formula also contains an AHA and LHA, resulting in a trio of three exfoliating acids that work together to keep skin clear and soft. Because there isn't any soap or alcohol in this cleanser, it won't leave your face feeling tight and stripped.
"This face wash has made my pores less visible, almost entirely wiped out all of my acne, given my skin a smooth/soft appearance and feel, reduced the oiliness of my skin, and faded some of my acne scars. What more could you want from a product?" commented one reviewer.
6. Best Exfoliating Cleanser For Clogged Pores Under $10
Not only does this Neutrogena purifying cleanser ring up at under $10, but it also doubles as a clay mask. .5% salicylic acid works as the main exfoliator here, while kaolin clay and bentonite clay deliver an all-over detox. Use it as a daily face wash, or leave it on for longer up to three times a week as a treatment mask.
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