Clogged pores result from an overproduction of a skin and hair oil called sebum from sebaceous glands at the bottom of hair follicles. When this happens, according to Medline Plus, skin pores can get clogged with debris such as dead skin cells and bacteria (found naturally occurring on the skin).
The cause of the overproduction of sebum, the starting point of clogged pores, is unknown. One major associated risk factor is shifts in hormone levels, and this puts teenagers, menstruating women, women on oral birth control, people on medications that affect hormones and people under stress at risk, according to Medline Plus. Pores can also become clogged in high humidity and because of greasy products used on the hair and skin.
Clogged pores can manifest in many different ways. Some of the most familiar blemishes are whiteheads and blackheads. Blackheads are pimples that are open at the top, showing the hair follicle, while whiteheads are closed at the top, according to the Mayo Clinic. Other types of blemishes from clogged pores include papules and pustules, which are irritated, infected bumps on the skin (a pustule is a papule with pus at the top) and the more severe symptoms like nodules and cysts. Nodules and cysts are hard, painful bumps under the skin, and the Mayo Clinic reports that cysts can lead to scarring. Acne with cysts is known as cystic acne.
A daily healthy skin-care regimen can help keep pores clear, though for many people it alone will not be enough to resolve symptoms. Use a non-drying soap one or two times a day to cleanse your skin; shampoo your hair regularly and keep it away from your face, suggests Medline Plus. Choose skin and hair products marked “non-comedogenic” (meaning “non-pimple-forming”). Don’t pop or pick at blemishes. Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments containing active ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, resorcinol, salicylic acid and lactic acid can also help improve symptoms, accoridng to Medline Plus and the Mayo Clinic.
Because acne is a medical condition, some people may require prescription therapies to help manage their clogged pores. The Mayo Clinic reports that your doctor (or a dermatologist) may recommend stronger versions of OTC treatments, such as topical medications derived from vitamin A, topical antibiotics (or medications combining more than one active ingredient) and oral birth control for some women suffering from acne. In more severe cases, a dermatologist might recommend oral antibiotics, the powerful anti-acne drug isotretinoin (used mostly for cystic acne) or cosmetic procedures like chemical peel or microdermabrasion, which clear away affected layers of skin using small crystals. All treatments for acne have some risk of side effects, and you should discuss them with your doctor before starting a treatment.