Clogged Pores

Overview

What are clogged pores?

Clogged pores develop when dead skin cells, oil or dirt get trapped in your pores. Pores are tiny openings in your skin that release oil and sweat from your glands. Clogged pores can lead to acne.

Clogged pores are common on people’s faces. However, they can occur anywhere on your body, including your scalp, neck, back, shoulders and chest.

What’s the difference between clogged pores and enlarged pores?

Clogged pores and enlarged pores aren’t the same things, but they’re often related. Clogged pores can be the result of your glands producing too much oil. More oil on your skin increases the risk of clogged pores. But lots of other things can lead to enlarged pores, including age, skin products, hair follicles and sun damage. So enlarged pores don’t always lead to clogged pores.

Who gets clogged pores?

Similar to acne, clogged pores tend to be more common in adolescents and young adults. During puberty, hormones stimulate the glands that produce oil. But anyone of any age or gender can get clogged pores.

Having a family history of acne or clogged pores can also increase your risk of having the same skin concerns. Sometimes you inherit genes from your parents that make you more likely to have very oil or dry skin.

How common are clogged pores?

Clogged pores are very common. Acne affects about 50 million people each year, and clogged pores are the leading cause of acne.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes clogged pores?

A buildup of dead skin cells, oil or dirt can clog pores. Possible causes include:

  • Dry skin or skin that produces extra skin cells.
  • Face products, like cleansers, lotions or cosmetics.
  • Medications that change how much oil your glands produce.
  • Oily skin due to your age, hormones or genetics.

Some things that don’t directly cause clogged pores, but can make them worse, include:

  • Certain foods.
  • Clothing, backpacks, helmets or other garments or equipment that rub against your skin.
  • Humid conditions.
  • Picking at pimples.
  • Pollution.
  • Stress and anxiety.
  • Washing or scrubbing your skin too hard.

What are the symptoms of clogged pores?

Most people notice clogged pores only when they lead to one of the following skin concerns:

  • Whiteheads: A clog in the opening of a pore can cause a raised white or flesh-colored bump on the skin. Another name for a whitehead is a closed comedo (closed pore) or a zit.
  • Blackheads: A clog that widens the opening of the pore is a blackhead. Blackheads don’t look black because of dirt; it’s the chemical reaction of the pore’s content mixing with oxygen that makes them appear black. Another name for a blackhead is an open comedo (open pore). A very large blackhead is a dilated pore of Winer. It appears as an opening in your skin, filled with a blue or black substance.
  • Pimples and pustules: A lot of dirt and oil inside a pore can lead to redness, swelling and irritation. Whiteheads and blackheads are types of pimples. Pimples are also called papules. If they contain pus, they’re pustules.
  • Nodules and cysts: A very clogged pore can cause swelling, pain and irritation deep in the skin. If a nodule contains pus, it’s called a cyst. Cystic acne can lead to acne scars.

Diagnosis and Tests

How are clogged pores diagnosed?

There isn’t a test for clogged pores. Your healthcare provider examines your skin and reviews your medical history. They may also ask you about your:

  • Current medications.
  • Family medical history.
  • Skin care routine.

Management and Treatment

How are clogged pores treated?

Most people can manage mild to moderate clogged pores by:

  • Applying non-comedogenic face products: The term “non-comedogenic” means a product won’t clog pores. Look for cleansers, cosmetics and moisturizers that say “non-comedogenic” or “oil-free” on the label.
  • Cleansing and moisturizing your skin regularly: Gently wash your face twice each day with a non-comedogenic cleanser and warm (not hot) water. Use an oil-free moisturizer after cleansing to avoid dry skin.
  • Using products that contain retinol or salicylic acid: Retinol and salicylic acid help clear out dirt, oil and other debris clogging your pores. Some people find that these ingredients irritate their skin. Talk to your healthcare provider before using products that contain retinol or salicylic acid.

Prevention

How can I prevent clogged pores?

You can help prevent clogged pores by sticking to a skin care routine that’s right for your age, skin type and skin concerns. A dermatologist (medical doctor who specializes in skin conditions) can recommend the right products and treatments.

Other ways to prevent clogged pores include:

  • Avoid touching your skin with unwashed hands.
  • Don’t use oil on your face, such as coconut oil, olive oil or jojoba oil.
  • Exfoliate your skin with gentle scrubbing or periodic chemical peels.
  • Keep your skin clean and moisturized.
  • Never pick at or pop pimples.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have clogged pores?

Clogged pores aren’t usually cause for alarm. They usually clear up with the right skin treatments. If you’re concerned about pimples or other blemishes caused by clogged pores, talk to your healthcare provider.

Living With

When should I contact my doctor?

Contact your doctor if you have acne that is painful, inflamed, infected or filled with pus. You should also reach out to your provider if you notice any abnormal skin growths or lesions.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Clogged pores are a common skin condition caused by a buildup of dead skin cells, oil or dirt. Clogged pores can lead to acne, but they’re fairly easy to treat. Regular cleansing with non-comedogenic skin care products usually resolves clogged pores. Some people need special skin ointments that contain retinol or salicylic acid.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/19/2022.

References

  • American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) Association. What Can Treat Large Facial Pores? (https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-secrets/face/treat-large-pores) Accessed 4/19/2022.
  • American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) Association. Skin Conditions by the Numbers. (https://www.aad.org/media/stats-numbers) Accessed 4/19/2022.
  • American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) Association. Acne: Signs and Symptoms. (https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/really-acne/symptoms) Accessed 4/19/2022.
  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Conditions. Acne. (https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/acne) Accessed 4/19/2022.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy