What Are Clogged Pores and How to Unclog Them Naturally?

(Last Updated On: September 18, 2018)

When the pores in your skin accumulate dead skin cells, dirt, and oil, they become blocked, and problems like blackheads, spots and acne are the results. Clogged pores are easy to prevent and relatively easy to rectify if you take the right steps. If clogged pores are troubling you, keep reading to find out what you need to do to clean out the debris and restore your skin to glowing health.

What Causes Clogged Pores?

Your sebaceous glands deep within your skin continuously produce an oil called sebum. Sebum is composed of triglycerides, wax, squalene and free fatty acids. This oil travels from the sebaceous glands to your skin’s surface via hair follicles, which are also known as pores. That’s right, your pores are actually hair follicles.

Sebum is the natural oil that keeps your skin and hair moisturized. When your sebaceous glands are working as they should, they produce just the right amount of that oil to keep your skin and hair healthy. Sometimes they produce too much oil. Puberty is an excellent example of this when the sebaceous glands enlarge due to the presence of all the extra hormones and pump out more oil. Oily skin and pimples are often the results.

Sometimes the sebaceous glands don’t produce enough sebum, and this is the case with dry skin. Sebum production decreases with age, which is why dry skin is more typically seen in older people.

Skin cells are continually dying inside your pores, and when everything is working correctly, the sebum brings those dead skin cells to the surface. The sebum and skin cells mix with the sweat present on your skin to form a protective layer that protects your skin from moisture loss and bacteria.

When things aren’t working correctly, your skin pores get blocked, and the oil, dead skin cells and other waste products and toxins can’t get out. This enlarges your pores and causes inflammation. This plug of oil and skin cells oxidizes as it comes into contact with oxygen which gives it a dark appearance. Say hello to your blackheads, the telltale sign of clogged pores.

Spots form when inflammation-causing bacteria increase around the clogged pore, fed by the plug of sebum and skin cells. Enlarged pores also change their shape slightly, and if you looked at them under a microscope, you would see a formation similar to a volcano’s caldera.

Why Does Sebum Get Trapped In Pores?

There are a number of reasons – usually several working at the same time – that lead to trapped sebum. These include:

  • Dehydrated skin
  • Poor cleansing and over cleansing
  • Overproduction of oil
  • A buildup of dead skin cells
  • Hormone out of balance
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dirty environments
  • Stress
  • Pollution
  • Genetics
  • Makeup
  • Introducing too much bacteria to your skin – usually by touching your face too often.
  • Allergic reactions
  • Too much sugar in your diet
  • Not enough nutrients in your diet
  • Illness

Hydration Is Important To Keep The System Functioning

When your skin doesn’t have enough moisture, sebum can’t move as efficiently, and its movements become slower and slower until it doesn’t have the force to move the dead skin cells out of the hair follicle and everything clogs up. Adequate hydration helps to eliminate one major cause of blocked pores.

This hydration needs to happen from the inside via your food and drink and from the outside via your skin care treatments.

Follow the recommendation to drink 8 glasses of pure water each day and try to avoid drinks that contribute to dehydration. Alcohol and caffeine are notorious for adding to dehydration and fruit juices like cranberry also dehydrates to a lesser extent. You can still drink these beverages but don’t rely on them for the majority of your hydration.

Coconut water is an excellent drink to help you keep your hydration levels healthy. It contains a balance of minerals and electrolytes which allow it to hydrate you more effectively than water alone. It’s used as an oral rehydration solution in some countries because it’s such an effective hydration.

Add high water content foods to your diet. Think salad vegetables, green leafy vegetables, and watery fruits, like cantaloupe, watermelon, and peaches.

Remember to take the weather into account. During hot weather, you’ll sweat more, so you need to drink more to replace the lost fluid.

Your skin also loses moisture to the air when you’re in a dry environment. Indoor heated and air-conditioned rooms will dry your skin and interfere with your sebum’s natural flow. You can counteract this dry air – at least in your home – with a humidifier. It’s particularly important to run a humidifier overnight because skin loses moisture as we sleep, and we’re not awake to take in any extra fluids for 6-8 hours. It’s also a good idea to keep a glass of water on your nightstand, then if you wake up for any reason, you can take a drink.

Exfoliate to Remove Dirt, Excess Sebum And Old Skin Cells


Exfoliation is a crucial part of your skincare routine. By removing dead skin cells that would otherwise accumulate, you clear away impediments to your pores self-cleansing actions, and you remove a source of food for bacteria. Your skin will look better too once the dull topmost cells are removed.

You don’t need to use expensive ingredients or products. The best things to put on your skin are things that you can eat. That way you’ll always know that your skin care products are safe. And one of the best exfoliators for your skin is plain old oatmeal.

Oats are a humectant, and as well as cleaning away oil and debris from your skin, can draw moisture from the air and transfer it to your skin.

When you use an oatmeal scrub, your skin will be clean, hydrated and soft and you won’t be using anything that causes your skin to overreact and produce more oil.

Making an oatmeal scrub can be as simple as taking a tablespoonful of oatmeal and mixing it with a little warm water to make a paste.

Before applying the oatmeal wet your face with some warm water.  

Then all you need to do is gently rub it over your skin and massage with your fingers for a few minutes. Rinse off and pat your skin dry.

Use your exfoliator at night several times a week to remove all of the day’s accumulation of oil, dirt and dead skin cells.

Cleanse With Oils

It sounds counterintuitive to put more oil onto the oil clogged skin, but oils will cleanse more deeply than anything else. Some oils can even penetrate the hardened sebum plug to loosen the blockage and can also regulate oil production. Cream cleansers can’t do that, nor can soaps.

In addition to a poor diet, the products that we put on our skin are the most significant cause of the skin problems that we experience. There are thousands of different skincare products, but it seems like many of these products cause problem after problem.

Once a product has stripped the skin of its natural oils and moisture and caused irritation and inflammation, our skin has to race to try and rectify the problem. But before it’s had a chance to set things right, we’ve often put something else on it and then something else. And then come bedtime and more products. Over and over, day after day. It probably sucks to be skin.

Our skin is our largest organ, and we do a pretty bad job of treating it with respect. The best thing you can do help your skin out if you’ve got clogged pores or any skin condition is to give your skin a break from any product where you need the help of a search engine to figure out what its ingredients are.

Keep things natural and keep them simple. When it comes to your skin less is more.

Oils contain the same fatty acids as your skin, this makes them ideally suited for one another. Oils can cleanse, and they can moisturize. Different oils work best for different skin types and various problems.

Substantially, when you massage oil into your skin, it dissolves the oil that has hardened and clogged your pores, and then it can be easily wiped away.

To clean clogged pores specifically, you’ll need 2 oils. The first oil is castor oil, and it can cleanse your skin deeply, dissolve the hardened sebum and soothe inflammation. It’s inexpensive, and your local drugstore should carry it. It isn’t one of the ‘modern’ oils that everyone loves to rhapsodize over. Castor oil is the oil that used to be a common laxative treatment. It isn’t glamorous, but it works great on your skin.

Castor oil shouldn’t be used on its own though, as overuse can actually leave skin too dry. It needs to be blended with another oil before you put it on your skin.

  • For dry skin use a blend of 10% castor oil to 90% sunflower oil
  • For oily skin use a blend of 30% castor oil to 70% sunflower oil
  • For normal skin use 20% castor oil to 80% sunflower oil

Start with these percentages and adjust them as necessary to get the right balance for your skin. If you have very dry skin, you won’t want to go much higher than 10% castor oil. It might not seem like there is a lot of castor oil in these blends, but since it’s such a potent cleanser, a little castor oil goes a very long way.

You could use other blending oils, like olive oil, coconut, almond, etc., but sunflower oil works fine for this purpose, it’s inexpensive, and it’s thin and light. Sunflower oil thins the thicker castor oil and helps to draw it down into your pores.

Like exfoliating, deep cleansing is best done at night to remove the buildup of grime rather than leave it sitting on the surface of your skin overnight. Night-time is when your skin does most of its renewal, and clean skin won’t hinder that process and slow down the removal of wastes, toxins, and dead cells.

This oil will loosen whatever you have on your skin. So, it will remove your makeup – including eye makeup and stubborn mascara – and sunscreen as well as oil and dirt. You don’t need to wash your face before applying this oil.

To cleanse your face with oil, you’ll need

  • A washcloth
  • Oil
  • Hot water

Pour some of the oil into your hand, about a teaspoonful should be enough. You can always use a little more if you need to. Rub your hands together to warm the oil slightly and help it spread more easily.

Smooth the oil over your face and use firm smooth motions to massage it into your pores. Spend some time doing this and pay extra attention to problem areas. The more you can work the oil into your pores the better it can penetrate and dissolve the blackheads and gunk clogging up your pores. Five to ten minutes is a good amount of time. You don’t have to massage continuously, you can rest your fingers while the oil soaks in for a minute or two, and then massage some more.

When you’re ready, run a basin of hot water. Hot enough that you see steam coming off it. Usually, hot water should be avoided because it can strip moisture from your skin, but it’s necessary when you have blocked pores. And it’s essential to properly remove this oil and all of the dirt that it’s holding. If the oil isn’t completely removed, then it will add to your skin’s problems instead of resolving them.

Take your washcloth and soak it in the water, don’t squeeze it out. Hold it up to your face and wait until it cools, then use the cloth to wipe the oil away. Rinse the cloth, then soak it again in clean hot water. Hold to your face until it cools, then wipe again. You’ll need to do this a total of 4 or 5 times, to get your skin completely clean, with all of the oil removed.

Once you’ve finished, if your skin feels at all tight, you can take a drop of the oil, rub it between your palms and then wipe your hands over your skin. Massage the oil so that you don’t have a film on your skin, then pat dry.

That’s it, you’ve just given your skin a deep cleanse with oil and are well on your way to unclogging your pores. If you look in a magnifying mirror, you’ll already see that your skin is already clearer with less visible blackheads.

You can use this cleanse regularly. Your skin will let you know if you’re using it too often because it will begin to feel dry. Two or three times a week should be fine though, and that will unblock your pores and keep them clear.

Your skin might appear oily for a few days after you’ve unclogged your pores. This is good, it means that your pores are clear and your skin is getting on with cleaning house. Your skin has to make up for all of the waste removal it hasn’t been able to do while your pores were blocked. The extra oil will whisk away all of the build-ups that’s been sitting in your pores, and once it’s gone your skin’s oil production should settle back down.

Moisturize With Oil


Yep, time for more oil. This time you can choose from a more extensive selection of oils. These are particularly good.

Jojoba oil – this oil is very similar to your skin’s natural sebum. It’s not pure oil, it’s a liquid wax.

Jojoba easily penetrates your skin to nourish it. It’s an excellent oil for older skin as it’s an anti-inflammatory which soothes redness and irritation, as well as being very moisturizing and softening.

To moisturize with jojoba and all oils, you only need a small amount, so don’t pour a considerable dollop like you would with creams.

Coconut oil – coconut oil is rich in essential fatty acids, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. It doesn’t leave a greasy feel on your skin and delivers moisture deep into your skin. Some people say that coconut oil clogs their pores. I’ve never found this to be the case, nor has anyone else that I know. Try it and see how you get on.

Argan oil – Pure argan oil is expensive in comparison with other oils. Avoid the cheaper ones that have been ‘cut’ with other ingredients. This oil is expensive but worth it. Argan is nourishing, suitable for all skin types and it absorbs quickly without leaving any residue. It’s rich in vitamin E, carotenes, antioxidants and essential fatty acids, including linoleic acid and omega-6. Argan is used in many of the more expensive anti-aging treatments. But you can save money by just buying a small bottle of the pure oil. A little goes a long way, so just use a few drops at a time.

Camellia oil – This is another good oil for all skin types and is especially useful for older skin. It protects the skin from free radical damage and provides deep moisture, without leaving a greasy feel on the skin. Camelia oil leaves skin soft and smooth.

Follow these recommendations, and your skin will soon be feeling and looking better. And you’ll have used all-natural ingredients that cost next to nothing. Skin care shouldn’t be complicated, you just need to support your skin so that it can work the way that it wants to.





Updated: September 19, 2018 by Dr. Kimberly Langdon M.D. All medical facts and points stated on this page are correct as of this date. Please be aware that new content and additional references were added in this last update. All the content and media has been uploaded by Lily Greene our webmaster, who is also in charge of page design. 

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.