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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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!