Run your *clean* fingertips over your face, and what do you feel? The chances are if you are feeling little bumps, then you are experiencing congestion. Congested skin, defined as rough texture, multiple open pores and comedones, and a general dull complexion, happens to the best of us at one point or another in our skin journey. It’s the prevalence of those unruly, albeit annoying little bumps that never come to a head, but also blackheads and even dehydration. But what exactly are the causes of congested skin, and how can we treat it? Below, we outline our 6 tips for combatting and preventing congested skin with the help of industry experts.
FIRSTLY, WHAT CAUSES SKIN CONGESTION?
According to dermatologist Dr. Jamuna Pai, who was interviewed on Vogue.com, “congested skin is characterized by its appearance which is rough in texture and has multiple open pores and comedones. The latter is caused due to dead skin cell buildup and related debris, further compounded by the lack of easy lymphatic drainage,” he says. Congested skin can also be triggered by several environmental factors like pollution, your not-so-perfect skincare routine, and of course, intrinsic causations like genetics, and hormonal imbalances. To make things easier on you, we’ve outlined leading factors of a congested complexion:
1. EXCESS OIL AND SEBUM
Oily skin occurs when the sebaceous glands produce too much sebum. Sebum, which is defined as an oily, waxy substance, is meant to hydrate and protect the skin, however, it can overproduce when there is an internal issue such as hormonal imbalance. One example is throughout puberty or as an adult, there can also be an excessive amount of male hormones in both men and women, which over-stimulates the production of sebum (known as seborrhea), leading to pimples, whiteheads, blackheads, cysts, pustules, papules— and you guessed it, congestion.
2. DEAD SKIN CELLS
Almost every hour, your body sheds roughly 40,000 skin cells. This process starts when the skin cell— known as a keratinocyte—travels from the epidermis to the dermis, until it reaches the top and final layer of the skin, and falls off. Often, though, this dead skin is trapped (usually due to a dehydrated surface or lack of lymphatic circulation) and remains for far too long. The result is clogged pores and congestion but also the lack-lustre skin that we know all too well.
3. THE ENVIRONMENT
According to recent studies, highly polluted areas around the world have reported a higher prevalence of acne and congested skin. Dust, pollen and ash are smaller than a skin pore, meaning it attaches to sweat and oil on the skin with ease and can lead to irritation, acne, and clogged pores. Dry, or cold climates that lack humidity, are also notably known to lead to dehydrated skin where dead skin cells thrive.
Sweating at the gym or in pilates class, while touching equipment like weights or a shared stationary bike, means there is an opportunity for harmful bacteria to live on the skin. Mixed with sweat, this becomes a breeding ground for clogged pores and acne.
5. YOUR MAKEUP CHOICES
Your makeup could be clogging your skin if it includes ingredients like silicone, mica, silica, talc, paraffin wax, and mineral oils.
6. YOUR SKINCARE ROUTINE
Lack of proper skin care for your individualized complexion could also cause congested skin, especially if you are forgetting to cleanse daily and if you are skipping exfoliation.
OK, COOL—HOW DO I TREAT CONGESTED SKIN?
So, now that we’ve nailed what exactly can cause congested skin—what about treating it? Below, we outline our preferred skincare practices when attempting to combat and prevent congested skin.
1. WASH YOUR FACE + EXFOLIATE
Why wash your face? It helps the skin to shed dead skin cells twice daily and should always be the first step in your skincare routine; it also helps to take ‘the day off’ including any harmful bacteria and viruses, or pollutants and dirt which we mentioned before, all contribute to congested skin. According to celebrity dermatologist Dr. Jamuna Pai, there are a few ingredients in mind when looking for your next cleanser when combating and preventing congestion:
“Look to clay-based cleansers, mildly granulated scrubs, and topical creams containing AHA (alpha-hydroxy acids) and salicylic acid,” she shares in an article with Vogue. Here at FirstBase, we also recommend plant-based ingredients like lavender (an antiseptic that purifies the skin), papain (stimulates exfoliation to clear those clogged follicles), tea tree oil (an antibacterial), and non-drying cleansers with active ingredients such as salicylic acid, or lotus flower extract.
When it comes to exfoliation, we like to think of it as starting with a clean slate. We recommend chemical exfoliators (used weekly) like glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acid, as they are shown to unclog and eat away at the harmful, excess oil in your pores, and slew away with dead skin cells. These chemicals will also clear the acne-causing bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes, meaning clogged pores won’t have a chance at becoming infected pore (acne).
2. TONE IT UP
Contrary to popular belief, you can’t change your pore size. Instead, your pores appear larger when they are increasingly clogged. This is when a toner comes in, as it is one step in your skincare routine that provides the skin with pH-balancing properties to tighten and visibly reduce the size of your congested-looking skin. We recommend opting for a freshener (a mild toner that will add some dewiness to the skin), or a tonic (containing a small amount of alcohol for oil-prone skin). Avoid alcohol toners at all costs (as this will only strip the skin). A toner is also a great way to take off the extra residue left behind after cleansing and to add a bit of glow to lackluster skin. For more exfoliation, we recommend opting for a toner with AHA and BHAs.
3. MOISTURIZE, PLEASE
The key to moisturizing when you have clogged pores is to opt for a product with one label and one label only: non-comedogenic. According to dermatologist Dr. Ife Rodney, as interviewed in WHOWHATWEAR, non-comedogenic is less likely to cause acne:
“Comedogenic products—usually heavy or greasy—can also clog your pores. It's important to note that noncomedogenic products won't necessarily treat your breakouts. They just won't contribute to the problem." We also recommend opting for moisturizers containing hyaluronic acid and niacinamide.
4. USE A RETINOL IF YOU CAN
Depending on your location, retinol can be prescribed or purchased through an online retailer. Retinol, derived from Vitamin A, is fantastic for fighting congestion and increasing cell turnover, says James Vivian from James Vivian Dermal Therapies.
“Vitamin A can also reduce sebaceous gland secretions (aka oil production), which further assists in the reduction of blemishes,” he says in Beauty Crew. Retinol not only reduces sebum and oil and stops congestion before it gets a chance to happen, but it also can clear acne, regulate cell turnover, stimulate collagen and decrease the appearance of collagen. Count us in.
5. DON’T SQUEEZE (WE BEG OF YOU)
There are two main reasons for not squeezing those little bumps out: one, it can cause scarring, and two, it can cause a skin infection. Another aspect of this is the mental effects: more times than not, the desire to squeeze all of our bumps trapped beneath the skin layer only results in more anxiety as our face becomes increasingly red and inflamed. Instead, according to dermatologists, opt for a check-in with your doctor to see if prescription or manual extractions can be done in the safety of their clinic.
6. GO MAKE-UP FREE
We recognize that going make-up-free is a personal choice, but giving your skin a break from the harmful ingredients found in many cosmetic and makeup products is a great way to unclog your pores. Ingredients like silicone (a filler used to make your skin temporarily silky and smooth), mica, silica, and talc (light-reflecting particles, used in glitter products), and paraffin wax and mineral oil (petrochemicals) are all proven to cause clogged pores and contribute to acne and inflammation. Unfortunately, some of the ingredients listed above are found in bronzers, highlighters, and foundations. We also always recommend non-comedogenic or non-acnegenic makeup, and water-based formulas (and please, FirstBasers, take off your makeup before bed!).
OUR APPROACH TO WELLNESS
Our approach to skincare is always holistic and we always recommend practicing self-love. Remember, no one is perfect, but we hope by incorporating a few of our skincare suggestions above, you can prevent and combat congested and clogged skin.
Questions, comments, or concerns? We’d love to hear from you. Simply reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Imogen Jefferies