Guys. It’s been a long, long year. And it’s been a long five years since I first published my three-step pore clearing method over on my blog. Over those five years, that post has received over 1.2 million pageviews; the number of views increases every year, and it continues to be shared far and wide.
I still get questions about my pore method all the time, and since skincare (and my own preferences and experiences) has advanced since 2015, I’ve decided now’s the time to officially update the method. Read on to find even better ways to clear your pores and reduce their appearance—without tearing up your skin or breaking your wallet!
Three Steps to Clearer Pores: The Basics
You could totally click the link above to read my original post, and I wouldn’t be mad if you did, but if you don’t feel like it or if you’re aware of it and just want a refresher, here’s the TL;DR.
- Start with a bare face. You don’t have to cleanse first, but this won’t work as well if you have sunscreen or makeup on. I like to do this on a weekend morning, since I have time for this extension to my routine then.
- Apply an effectively formulated (high enough concentration, low enough pH) BHA chemical exfoliant to the areas with pores you’d like to deep-clean. Wait around 30 minutes.
- Without rinsing, apply a clay mask over the BHA. Wait for as long as the clay mask instructions specify.
- Rinse off the clay mask and apply a layer of emulsifying cleansing oil such as the Hada Labo Gokujyun Cleansing Oil. Wait about 20 minutes.
- Massage gently with a light touch for 1-2 minutes. If you have larger clogs, you may feel them coming out onto your fingertips; these are the “grits” people often talk about when they discuss this method. Even if you don’t feel any grits, however, you should find your pores look smaller and cleaner when you’re done.
- Wet hands and massage gently again to emulsify the cleansing oil. Rinse thoroughly and follow with your usual gentle foaming cleanser, then continue with your regular skincare routine.
Based on the number of views and all the times it’s been shared since I first published it, my pore clearing method seems to have helped a lot of people. But I’ve been looking back on my method and seeing several adaptations and customizations I could make that might render it even more effective for even more people. So here we go: more pore clearing tips, organized by skin type!
For Oily Skin: Deep-Clean Your Pores
Oily skin can be both blessing and curse. It’s a blessing because oily skin takes longer to show the signs of skin aging: much of the initial crepey texture and first fine lines a person sees on their face are exacerbated by dryness, something that oily skin doesn’t suffer. Oily skin also tends to come with larger pores, however. Those pores can become even more visible thanks to all that excess sebum oily skin produces.
Luckily, oily skin tends to tolerate stronger pore-clarifying treatments than normal and dry skin, so here are some ways to supercharge this method.
- Intensify the BHA step by soaking a cotton pad with your BHA of choice and laying it on the areas you’re treating as a DIY patch mask. The physical occlusion of the cotton pad will help more of the BHA to penetrate, increasing its ability to cut through and loosen up gunk in your pores.
- Use a stronger clay mask. Though it’s been a while since I’ve used it, I remember Neogen’s Canadian Clay Pore Cleanser mask working quite well on my pores while being more spreadable and easy to work with than the classic Innisfree Super Volcanic Pore Clearing Clay Mask that I started out with. As an added bonus, the Neogen mask comes with a cleansing brush—feel free to use it instead of massaging at the end of the oil soak step, just be gentle!
Neogen Canadian Clay Pore Cleanser Kit with Brush
- Replace the oil step with a pore strip—only for the hardiest of complexions! I generally don’t support pore strips, because in my experience, even the ones that succeed at removing gunk from pores only do at the cost of a layer of skin. I am aware, however, that other people find them useful, so I’m including this option here. If your skin is very hardy, tolerates exfoliation extremely well, and isn’t sensitive at all, consider trying something like My Scheming’s 3-Step Blackhead Removal Mask Pack. Use the Deep Pore Sebum Softener before the BHA step in my routine, the pore strip in place of the clay mask, and the essence after the oil step.
My Scheming 3-Step Blackhead Removal Mask Pack
For Normal Skin: Shorten the Process or Amp Up the Glow
My skin is fairly normal, so my original pore cleansing routine caters to that: I’m not particularly sensitive to BHAs or clay masks. On the other hand, because my skin is fairly normal and as insensitive as that one uncle everyone has who likes to make the rest of the family uncomfortable at Thanksgiving dinner, it means I can play around with the routine to further optimize results.
Depending on how much time I feel like spending or what kind of results I’d like to see, my sessions can go a couple of different ways:
- Combine the BHA and clay mask steps to save time by using a clay mask already infused with an effective concentration of BHA. The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque infuses a clay mask with a potent hit of BHA; I find it slightly burny but efficient. If “burny” isn’t quite what you’re looking for but you do want a way to combine the acid and the clay, Missha’s Amazon Red Clay Pore Mask contains an undisclosed but greater than zero percentage of lactic and salicylic acids to give pores a deeper clean than clay alone.
- Replenish hydration and finish with a glow by following up the pore cleansing routine with a hydrating, calming sheet mask or wash-off mask. BHAs and clay masks are drying—BHAs because they cut through oil, clay masks because their entire purpose is to soak up moisture—but the deep cleansing and exfoliation involved in my pore clearing method leave skin primed to drink in any nourishment you give it afterwards. I love the Annie’s Way Hyaluronic Acid + Seaweed Hydrating Sheet Mask for this purpose. If wash-off packs are more up your alley, Annie’s Way Honey Deep Moisturizing Jelly Mask works beautifully!
Annie's Way Hyaluronic Acid + Seaweed Hydrating Sheet Mask
Annie's Way Honey Deep Moisturizing Jelly Mask
For Dry or Sensitive Skin: Gentler Alternatives for Cleaner Pores
Dry and/or sensitive skin has the toughest time with my pore clearing routine, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be adjusted to fit. The wider variety of clay masks these days makes it more accessible even for those whose skin can’t really handle a standard clay mask, and sticking to a milder BHA helps cut down on potential dryness and irritation during that step. I do have a couple more tips to keep in mind as well if you’d like to try the process without angering your skin.If your skin is more dry or sensitive, consider:
Betaine salicylate instead of salicylic acid as your BHA. Gentler than salicylic acid and therefore less likely to dry or irritate skin, betaine salicylate appears in COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, which also happens to be my choice for daily pore maintenance.
CosRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid
- A creamy, moisturizing clay mask instead of the traditional type, which dry to a hard crust on the skin. I’ve tried many of these next-gen clay masks; one of my favorites for gentler clarifying is L’Herboflore Green Tea Oxibalance Clay Mask. It spreads easily, rinses off without dragging on skin, and manages the rare feat of drawing sebum out of pores without parching my skin when it’s feeling fussy.
L'Herboflore Green Tea Oxibalance Clay Mask
- Patch test every product separately before you use them, particularly if your skin is sensitive. It’s better to find out in advance that a product you’d planned to use causes a reaction than to find out when you’ve slathered it over a large portion of your face.
- Only do the pore cleaning method to the parts of your face with visible pores—generally, the T-zone. This will help further minimize the chance of dryness or irritation.
- Sheet mask and moisturize generously afterwards to bring your skin back into balance.
We may not be able to quickly clear away the debris of a difficult year, but we can at least practice some self care and clear our pores out while we wait for the world to get back to normal. I hope you’ve gotten through 2020 more or less intact. Let’s hope for a better 2021!