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All About Pores, Acne, Blackheads, and Oily Skin

April 02, 2018


For almost as long as recorded human history, people have been obsessed with perfect skin as a symbol of beauty, and trying to prevent the effects of obvious pores, acne, and oily skin.

To achieve flawless complexions in the past, Victorian women for example often used beauty products containing lead. While they may have achieved a perfectly poreless finish, they risked their lives as a result! Thankfully, modern science has provided us with all the information we need to clear our pores, treat acne, and prevent oily skin in safe and healthy ways.

Caring for Oily Skin and Creating Balance

Oil is a natural part of skin. It's what helps protect us from the elements and helps keep skin hydrated and youthful.

The skin naturally produces sebum within the sebaceous glands. Sebum is the natural oil that moisturizes and conditions the skin and protects it from environmental damage.

But, congested and clogged skin often relates to an overabundance of sebum, and can result in bacterial overgrowth and acne. Without enough sebum though,  the skin isn’t sufficiently moisturized, which can cause a vicious cycle of bacterial inflammation and dryness. The key is caring for your specific skin type and finding balance with proper cleansing, hydration, and protection.


Skincare habits can directly alter skin’s sebum production. When skin is frequently dehydrated through the use of cleansers that remove all of the natural oil from the skin, excess oil will be produced in response. This is your skin’s attempt to rehydrate itself! When properly moisturized, the skin often balances its own oil production, preventing an overabundance of sebum.

You might be wondering, how can I cleanse my face without stripping my skin of its natural oil? Look for gentle cleansing options that remove dirt and debris from the skin surface without causing any feeling of “tightness,” a telltale sign of dehydration. Sulfate-free cleansers are ideal, and for gentle cleansing in the morning when less thorough cleansing is required, a micellar water can be an excellent choice.


A proper pH balance is one often overlooked, but critical, element of intelligent skincare. The term “pH” stands for “potential hydrogen”, and is a method of describing the acid to alkaline ratio of a substance. Skin requires a certain level of acidity in order to kill bad bacteria that may be present, but if skin is too acidic, it can start to become inflamed. Likewise, if skin’s balance is too alkaline, dry skin may start to appear, and skin may also be more prone to skin infections.

The skin’s moisture barrier, also called the “acid mantle”, protects skin from pathogens, germs, irritants, and environmental factors while simultaneously keeping moisture locked in. Since skin’s natural ideal pH is around 5.5, gentle cleansers should be pH balanced to help skin maintain that ratio. Traditional soap has a pH of 9.5-10, which is much too high for daily use on skin!


For those with overly oily skin, adding more moisture to the skin might seem counterintuitive, but it’s absolutely necessary! As previously mentioned, the skin’s acid mantle, otherwise known as the moisture barrier, protects the skin from outside elements while also maintaining moisture levels within the deeper layers. While it may seem like a good idea to use cleansers or creams to remove all oil from the surface of the skin, doing so can actually cause dehydration and decrease skin’s natural immunity - making the skin more prone to inflammation, infections, and acne.

For this reason, moisturizing daily is an absolute necessity. However, make sure to look for non-comedogenic moisturizers - products that won’t clog pores. Mineral oil is one ingredient to avoid, as it sits on the top of the skin and within pores without fully absorbing, causing skin congestion. Hyaluronic acid, on the other hand, is an excellent moisturizing ingredient, as it deeply nourishes skin without clogging pores whatsoever!


Overexposure to sun is one of the leading causes of skin dehydration. Remember, skin that is dehydrated by environmental factors (like overcleansing or sun exposure) will often produce excess oil to compensate. Therefore, protection from the sun is an absolute necessity. Additionally, while we can get vitamin D from small doses of sun exposure, too much exposure to UV radiation can result in skin cancer and hyper-pigmentation.

Daily application of sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is highly recommended to protect skin from UV damage. If skin gets too dry as a result of sun damage, the skin will overcompensate by producing too much oil.


Excess oil production often results in skin congestion and clogged pores, otherwise known as blackheads. Blackheads (also called comedones) are clogged pores with openings to the environment, which allow oxygen to turn the collections of sebum and dead skin cells dark through oxygenation.

There are many products on the market that claim to remove blackheads, but many can actually make the problem worse. For example, blackhead strips, which are typically applied to the nose with a light adhesive, and then pulled away, can result in broken capillaries in the skin and enlarged pores over time. It’s much better to use products that gently dissolve and/or pull the waste out of pores in ways that aren’t traumatic to the skin.

Bentonite clay, for example, is a fantastic ingredient for gently and effectively clearing out clogged pores and neutralizing blackheads. Derived from aged volcanic ash, bentonite clay’s unique properties allow it to absorb toxins and impurities, pulling them out of pores like a magnet. Studies have shown that masks containing bentonite clay can dramatically improve inflammation and acne blemishes. Best of all, there’s no risk of causing broken capillaries or causing skin trauma.


As previously mentioned, excess oil production can result in clogged pores and bacterial overgrowth, the prime conditions for active acne lesions. However, aside from overactive sebaceous glands, other factors can also contribute to acne:

  • Hormones can also result in unexpected and sudden changes in the condition of skin. Adolescent hormones often cause sebum overproduction, and in women, acne is often linked to hormones that spike during the menstrual cycle.
  • Environmental factors can play a major role in skin’s health; oils and non-comedogenic substances that are not intended to be on the skin can also cause breakouts.


Good habits can make a big difference in the skin’s ability to heal itself - after all, if you consistently introduce new bacteria to your face day after day, your skin is going to have to work much harder than it needs to to defend itself! Here are a few tips to keep bacteria away from your face:

  • Wash your pillowcases weekly. Product build-up and oils from your hair often end up on your pillow - and subsequently on your face!
  • Wipe your phone daily. Phones carry tons of bacteria, we touch our devices with our hands, we put them on a variety of surfaces, and then - we press them to our faces.
  • Avoid touching your face. This includes picking! While it may be extremely tempting, it’s much better to allow your chemical exfoliants and pore-cleansing ingredients to gently dissolve the contents of your pores, rather than trying to squeeze them out and causing trauma and inflammation in the process.
  • Wash your makeup brushes weekly. For that matter, wash everything that comes in contact with your face - including your hands before you apply moisturizer or makeup. Thoroughly soak, wash brushes with soap and allow them to air dry. You can sterilize your makeup sponges by placing them in a bowl of water and putting them in the microwave for two minutes. Note: do NOT put them in dry!


  • Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) are a great place to start for treating oily, congested skin—the most common one being salicylic acid. All BHAs work as chemical exfoliants, increase cell turnover and healing rates, and kill bad bacteria. They also have the ability to travel deeply into pores, preventing acne at its source. Studies have shown that salicylic acid use greatly reduces the number and severity of acne blemishes, particularly in solutions that are 0.5% to 2% concentration.
  • Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) also operate as exfoliants, and the most common alpha hydroxy acids are glycolic acid and lactic acid. Both work to speed cell turnover (thus allowing skin to heal itself faster), and AHAs have the added benefit of being moisturizing for drier and/or combination skin types. Lactic acid is the gentlest AHA, which makes it ideal for sensitive skin. By loosening the bonds between dead skin cells, AHAs reveal the brightest, healthiest layer of skin.
  • Bentonite clay, as previously mentioned, is a fantastic natural ingredient to utilize when treating overly oily and acne-prone skin. It operates as a pore-cleansing magnet, pulling out debris and bacteria from deep within the skin, and it’s even safe for sensitive skin!
  • Other ingredients like salicylic acid, lavender, and tea tree oil can help target bacteria and help speed up blemish clearing.


Developing a consistent skincare routine is an essential element of effectively treating acne. Most products/ingredients will take at least two to three months to show maximum results.

  • To cleanse, use a gentle cleanser each morning. Cleansers with low percentages of salicylic acid (around 0.5% to 1% concentration) are good, but keep in mind that your skin shouldn’t feel “tight” afterward—that’s a sign of dehydration, and will make oiliness worse in the long run as your skin rushes to overcompensate with oil production. Non-comedogenic cleansers that are pH balanced (a pH of around 5.5) are optimal, as they remove surface debris without disturbing skin’s underlying acid mantle.
  • To tone, use toners with gentle, anti-inflammatory ingredients. Natural ingredients like green tea, witch hazel, aloe vera, and chamomile can help reduce redness and inflammation. When applied directly before moisturizers, toners can help skincare ingredients sink more deeply into the skin! They also help remove any residue missed during the cleansing step.
  • To moisturize during the day, choose a non-comedogenic moisturizer—preferably one with complementary ingredients like amino acids, vitamin C, or vitamin E. Antioxidants are powerful for anti-aging, and ingredients like cacao butter, sea kelp, and green tea can give you a boost of skincare benefits without irritation. Moisturizing is an absolutely critical step, as chemical exfoliants can dehydrate skin through the process of removing dead skin cells. And it is the moisture barrier that enables your skin to fight the acne-causing bacteria and inflammation!
  • To exfoliate before bed, use a chemical exfoliant (AHA/BHA) like glycolic or lactic acid (to start, use products with less than 10% acid concentration, as anything higher may cause irritation). Avoid mechanical exfoliation (harsh scrubs, rough washcloths, microbeads) as they can cut the skin on a microscopic level, damage the skin’s moisture barrier, and increase inflammation. In the beginning, you’ll want to use your exfoliant only twice per week and slowly build up your frequency of use if needed. You’ll want to wait until your exfoliant cream or toner is fully dry before moving on to the next step. It shouldn’t be long before you notice your skin is smoother, brighter, and even firmer!
  • To moisturize at night, use a deeply moisturizing cream (after cleansing and removing makeup, of course!)—preferably one with anti-inflammatory ingredients like chamomile or oat extract to help combat redness.

Keep in mind that consistency is key! Make sure you use your products for at least two to three months before expecting dramatic results, as it can take time for the skin to “turn over.”


While there are many factors that can contribute to acne-prone skin, there are also a multitude of treatment options available! Whether you’re concerned about large pores, blackheads, oiliness, or breakouts, finding balance for your skin can be as simple as adopting a consistent skincare routine utilizing high-quality products and ingredients. As a quick recap, make sure you:

  • Cleanse with gentle, pH balanced products.
  • Tone with an anti-inflammatory toner.
  • Moisturize daily with non-comedogenic products and look for anti-inflammatory ingredients.
  • Use facial treatments with bentonite clay or chemical exfoliants to gently clean out pores.
  • Keep your pillowcases, phone, hands - and anything else that touches your face - CLEAN!

When you find the right combination of products that work for you, congested pores, acne, and overly oily skin will be a thing of the past!