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Do pore strips actually work? Here’s what the research says

Pore strips are fun to use, but can they really help get rid of blackheads?

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 21, 2023
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
Woman With Pore Strip
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 21, 2023
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

What do pore strips do?
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Pore strips can be fun to use and ultra-satisfying to peel off. When you see all those little black dots after removing a pore strip, it’s easy to assume the product did its job. But are pore strips really an effective skincare treatment? And should you incorporate them into your skincare routine?

Here we’ll dive into the causes of clogged pores, how pore strips work, and whether these products are actually effective when it comes to getting rid of blackheads.

What do pore strips do?

If you’re using pore strips, you’re likely trying to get rid of blackheads on your nose. Let’s take a look at what may cause clogged pores in the first place.

What causes clogged pores?

When your pores are clogged, it’s easy for acne to develop as a result. The specific type of acne you can get, however, depends on what exactly is clogging your pores.¹

Whiteheads and blackheads are comedonal acne that occurs when dead skin cells and excess oil build up in your pores and clog them.² The difference between the two is that whiteheads block the pores’ openings, resulting in raised white bumps, while blackheads enlarge the pores’ openings. The dark color of blackheads actually comes from the pigment³ in the dead skin cells reacting with the oxygen in the air and not from dirt.⁴

Whiteheads and blackheads are considered mild, non-inflammatory acne.⁵ Clearing away the buildup of oil and dead skin cells not only reduces the appearance of acne but helps prevent bacteria from continuing to grow, decreasing the risk of developing more severe acne.⁶

Certain ingredients in skincare products can clog your pores and are referred to as comedogenic. If you’re not sure how to avoid comedogenic ingredients, we’d recommend starting out by reviewing our list of pore-clogging ingredients. You can also reach out to a licensed dermatology provider, like those at Curology, to learn if your skincare products contain these ingredients.

How do pore strips work?

Pore strips primarily aim to remove blackheads. Typically, pore strips include an adhesive that sticks to and rips off the top layer of your skin cells, thereby exfoliating the outer layer of your skin. Blackheads are often more visible than whiteheads, and removing a pore strip can feel more satisfying when the black “gunk” in your skin appears to be cleared away.

So…do pore strips actually work for acne?

In theory, pore strips will extract anything on the surface of the skin where they are applied, including hair, dirt, and oil. So can these products effectively treat mild acne? According to one study, one brand of pore strips removed small acne lesions without causing inflammation or tenderness on the nose.⁷

Pore strips can typically only be applied to a small area of your face (usually your nose), so they’re generally not an effective tool for eliminating blackheads all over your skin. While they may help in the short term, blackheads can easily return after using a pore strip, so they’re not a long-term solution.

What should you do to treat clogged pores?

If pore strips aren’t necessarily the answer, what should you do to help treat your blackheads long-term? Seeking professional help from a licensed dermatology provider, like those at Curology, can point you in the right direction—but for now, here are a few tips to get you started.⁸

  • Use products that are non-comedogenic, meaning they typically won’t clog your pores. Also, look for cleansers, serums, and moisturizers that are labeled oil-free.

  • Gently wash your face twice a day with warm water (not hot!) to reduce oily skin and help unclog pores. To get started, try Curology’s Acne Cleanser, which shuts down persistent pimples while being gentle enough for daily use.

  • Wear sunscreen* every day. Pores may become more noticeable if your skin begins to lose its firmness due to damage from UV rays. A broad-spectrum SPF 30 product like Curology’s Sunscreen should be able to help.

If you’re shopping for skincare products, look at their labels for ingredients that can help reduce oil production and clear away dead skin cells, including the following:

Hydrocolloid matrix

Research shows that the hydrocolloid matrix can help with mild-to-moderate acne—which is the category that blackheads fall under. One study found that it can also help with skin oiliness, redness, and dark pigmentation.⁹ If you’re interested in trying out this ingredient, Curology’s Emergency Spot Patch and Emergency Spot Patch Clusters provide fast-acting healing support for blemishes by absorbing fluid and excess oil.

Tretinoin

This powerful skincare ingredient has been shown to significantly help improve the appearance of pores.¹⁰ It’s often used to treat mild-to-moderate acne, as it can help stimulate new cell growth, unclog pores, and regulate the flow of excess oil.¹¹ Tretinoin requires a prescription, however—so if you’d like to try it, reach out to a licensed dermatology provider, like those at Curology to learn if this ingredient is right for you.

Azelaic acid

Azelaic acid can help treat mild-to-moderate adult non-inflammatory acne. It can break down the outer layer of the skin, and it has anti-microbial as well as anti-inflammatory properties.¹²

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid can also help unclog pores¹³ and is commonly found in cleansers, serums, and gels. One study showed that products featuring salicylic acid significantly improved lesions caused by mild comedonal acne, which includes whiteheads and blackheads.¹⁴

Tretinoinazelaic acid, and salicylic acid may help treat mild acne through cleansers, serums, moisturizers, and other treatments that don’t have the harsh skin-pulling effect of pore strips.

Why does my blackhead keep refilling?

Blackheads are caused by excess oil production and a buildup of dead skin cells. If you’re solely relying on pore strips, you’re likely not treating the root cause of your blackheads. However, acne treatments may be able to help. To find one that may work for you, reach out to a licensed dermatology provider like those at Curology.

The key takeaways

  • Blackheads and whiteheads are types of mild, non-inflammatory acne caused by a buildup of dead skin cells and excess oil in your pores.

  • Pore strips typically stick to and rip off the top layer of your skin cells.

  • Pore strips generally only cover a small part of your skin and don’t treat the root cause of blackheads, so they’re not typically an effective long-term solution for acne.

  • To help treat your blackheads at home, use non-comedogenic, oil-free products featuring active ingredients that can combat mild acne. 

Find a long-term acne treatment

If you love using pore strips, you don’t necessarily have to stop. They may temporarily help clear away oil and dead skin cells. But since they have the potential to irritate your skin, which can make your pores appear larger and worsen your acne, you may want to use them sparingly. Plus, they’re generally not an effective, long-term solution for treating blackheads.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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If you’re not sure where to go from here, Curology’s licensed dermatology providers can help. When you sign up with Curology,** you’ll get all of your questions answered by a professional who can help you find a long-term solution for your acne.

FAQs

What do pore strips actually pull out?

Pore strips pull out excess oil and dead skin cells that are stuck in your pores. They physically exfoliate the top layer of your skin.

Are pore strips good for your pores?

Pore strips may temporarily get rid of dead cells or oil on the surface of your skin, but they also have the potential to irritate your skin with harsh sticking and pulling. They may end up causing inflammation, which can make your pores appear larger.¹⁵

Do pore strips increase pore size?

Your skincare routine can affect the appearance of your pores, as comedogenic products can clog and expand your pores.¹⁶ Pore strips are unlikely to be comedogenic and likely won’t increase your pore size—although they have the potential to irritate your sensitive skin, which may make pores more noticeable.

Can you pull out blackheads with tweezers?

Picking at or digging into your pores can irritate your skin, which may make your pores appear more visible.¹⁷ Plus, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get dead skin cells and excess oil out of your pores using tweezers.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. ACNE: WHO GETS AND CAUSES. (n.d.).

  2. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. Acne: Overview. InformedHealth.org. (2019, September 26).

  3. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. Acne: Overview. InformedHealth.org. Ibid.

  4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. ACNE: SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS. (n.d.).

  5. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. Acne: Overview. InformedHealth.org. Ibid.

  6. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. Acne: Overview. InformedHealth.org. Ibid.

  7. Pagnoni, A., et al. Extraction of follicular horny impactions of the face by polymers. Efficacy and safety of a cosmetic pore-cleansing strip (Bioré). Journal of Dermatological Treatment. (2009, July 12).

  8. American Academy of Dermatology Association. WHAT CAN TREAT LARGE FACIAL PORES? (n.d.).

  9. Chao, C.M., et al. A pilot study on efficacy treatment of acne vulgaris using a new method: results of a randomized double-blind trial with Acne Dressing. J Cosmet Sci. (March-April 2006).

  10. Flament, F., et al. Facial skin pores: a multiethnic study. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. (2013, February 16).

  11. Schmidt, N. and Gans, E.H. Tretinoin: A Review of Its Anti-inflammatory Properties in the Treatment of Acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (November 2011).

  12. Layton, A.M. and Dias da Rocha, M.A. Real-World Case Studies Showing the Effective Use of Azelaic Acid in the Treatment, and During the Maintenance Phase, of Adult Female Acne Patients. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. (2023, February 24).

  13. American Academy of Dermatology Association. WHAT CAN TREAT LARGE FACIAL PORES? Ibid.

  14. Bettoli, V., et al. Effectiveness of a combination of salicylic acid-based products for the treatment of mild comedonal-papular acne: a multicenter prospective observational study. G Ital Dermatol Venereol. (December 2020).

  15. American Academy of Dermatology Association. WHAT CAN TREAT LARGE FACIAL PORES? Ibid.

  16. American Academy of Dermatology Association. WHAT CAN TREAT LARGE FACIAL PORES? Ibid.

  17. American Academy of Dermatology Association. WHAT CAN TREAT LARGE FACIAL PORES? Ibid.

Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.

*PSA for your future skin: sunscreen alone cannot prevent all UV damage.

**Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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