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If You’re Dealing With Congested Skin, These Are the Products to Clear It Up

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Best Products For Congested Skin

Dealing with a severe case of clogged pores or breakouts? Don’t throw away the towel just yet. Because I’ve mapped out the perfect routine and picked out the best skincare products for congested skin. But let me tell you this: if your attempts to treat congestion have failed thus far, there is a great chance you mistook your bumps with something else and used the wrong products to get rid of them. Because congested skin is such a vague term, it brings about a confusion of the highest order! Congested with what exactly? Where? How? So we’ll clear that one up before moving onto your skin.

What Is Congested Skin?

The scientific term for congested skin or congestion is comedogenesis (1). Congested skin refers to skin with clogged pores. And it usually looks like bumpy skin with blackheads (open comedones) and whiteheads (closed comedones).

When excess sebum and dead skin cells get trapped inside the pores and the pores have an opening, you get blackheads. When there is no opening, you get whiteheads.

These usually appear on the cheeks, chin, and forehead: the T-zone. Even though both of them count as types of acne, whiteheads and blackheads are not related to inflammation or bacteria.

This means that anti-bacterial or anti-inflammatory products may not always work for treating congested skin. This might explain why some of those products did not work out for you. However, whiteheads and blackheads can lead to inflammatory acne.

What Causes Congestion?

There is no one answer to what causes congestion just as there is no single solution to congested skin. However, people with oily skin, whose skin produces excess oil, are more prone to congestion.

And anything that triggers sebaceous glands to excessively produce oil has the potential to give you congested skin. These can be hormones, skin dehydration, and pollution. But it can be more related to what you’re doing with your skincare routine on a day-to-day basis.

For example, using products not suitable for your skin type, using comedogenic products, not removing your makeup, over-exfoliating, or not exfoliating enough can lead to excess oil production, which leads to congestion.

What Are the Best Ingredients to Clear Congested Skin?

There is a variety of skincare ingredients that can help with bumpy congested skin. However, not all of them work for all kinds of congestion. These ingredients differ in the way they work on the skin and the exact type of acne they target.

Below are some of the best ingredients to look for in your products to treat congested skin.

1. Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is the best skincare ingredient to get rid of congested skin. It’s an exfoliant that dissolves dead skin cells. Here’s where it gets more interesting. The major advantage of salicylic over other hydroxy acids is the fact that it’s oil-soluble.

This enables salicylic acid to penetrate the pores, where the problem lies. Salicylic acid is comedolytic (2), meaning that it prevents the formation of comedones. This is why salicylic acid works so well for unclogging pores and getting rid of blackheads and whiteheads.

2. Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide (3) is the mainstream treatment for oily and acne-prone skin. It’s anti-bacterial and works especially well for inflammatory acne that looks like red bumps.

But benzoyl peroxide is not the ideal ingredient for treating congested skin. Because whiteheads and blackheads occur as a result of excess sebum and dead skin cells accumulating inside the pores.

They’re nothing like pustules or cystic acne. Unless you have that kind of acne, don’t even bother with benzoyl peroxide to treat congested skin. Because it’s meeessy!

3. Retinol

Retinol is the secret to perfect skin. But boy does it require commitment and caution. Retinol works by speeding up skin turnover. Regarding congestion from blackheads and whiteheads, retinol basically pushes them out.

It works incredibly well for acne and scars as well. But your skin needs to get used to it. And during that time, you may experience purging. So, retinol is great in the long run.

But if you’re looking for faster results with minimum side effects, maybe skip retinol for now. Because it may make things worse before it makes them better.

RELATED: How To Properly Use Retinol

4. Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is majorly anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. So it’s great for inflammatory acne and is a gentle ingredient for people with rosacea too. But it has another benefit to it.

Azelaic acid prevents the overproduction and accumulation of dead skin cells. Remember that whiteheads and blackheads occur partly because of those dead skin cells. By controlling the overproduction, azelaic acid prevents congestion.

5. Niacinamide

While niacinamide does not directly eliminate clogged pores, it indirectly affects them. Niacinamide, aka vitamin B3, reduces excess oil production on the skin. As a result, it can prevent the formation of blocked pores.

But it doesn’t make it any less useful. Niacinamide can be an alternative for you if your skin can’t tolerate retinol or salicylic acid. With niacinamide, you can minimize oil production. And eventually, your skin will have enough time to get rid of clogged pores.

6. Clay

As a mineral, clay helps congested skin by absorbing excess oil from the pores and drawing out impurities. As it dries on the skin, it clings onto the dirt and debris inside the pores and pulls them out.

Clay is a practical ingredient for people with clogged pores. Use it in a face mask form to manage oily skin and the associated issues.

Other ingredients can also indirectly help congested skin that’s prone to pimples. Sulfur can fade acne, but make sure you don’t dry your skin out. Green tea, a potent antioxidant, can minimize redness, and reduce excess sebum secretion too (4).

Some essential oils can reduce congestion because of their anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory makeup. These can be tea tree oil, lavender oil, and eucalyptus oil. But your #1 weapon for congested skin is salicylic acid.

The Best Products for Congested Skin

Here’s your roadmap. To clear up congested skin, you’re going to normalize sebum production, get rid of existing clogged pores, prevent the formation of future blackheads/whiteheads, and do all of these without being too aggressive. And I’ve got the best skincare to help you with that!

From cleansers to serums, below are the best products to clear congested skin.

1. The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Acne + Pore Cleanser

The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Acne + Pore Cleanser - Best Drugstore Products For Congested Skin

Adding an acne face wash into your routine is a great way to clear congested skin. It requires minimal investment, hardly has any risk of irritation, and you don’t need to alter your skincare routine. This is a daily cleanser made with 2% salicylic acid.

The gel cleanser also contains zinc PCA to reduce excess sebum and allantoin to reduce inflammation, which might lead to acne. The cleanser foams and deep cleans the skin. The fragrance-free formula exfoliates to get rid of blackheads on congested skin.

2. Peace Out Salicylic Acid Treatment Serum

Peace Out Salicylic Acid Treatment Serum - Best Products For Congested Skin

This treatment targets clogged pores by exfoliating the skin. 2% salicylic acid dissolves the oil and dirt inside the pores while niacinamide minimizes oil production and prevents future blackheads.

Plus, the serum contains antioxidant vitamin C to promote a more even skin tone. It’s an effective treatment for congested skin to buff away pore-clogging dirt, oil, and pollutants.

3. Origins Clear Improvement Pore Clearing Moisturizer

Origins Clear Improvement Pore Clearing Moisturizer

This moisturizer not only prevents clogging but also treats it. It’s an oil-free, daily moisturizer that contains 1% salicylic acid. It hydrates with hyaluronic acid and absorbs excess oil with charcoal powder. You don’t have to go out of your way to treat congestion.

Best Products for congested skin

Just switching your moisturizer with something like this one will make all the difference for your complexion. You can also use this one as a night cream and keep what you have for AM. The salicylic acid moisturizer has a gel-like texture and leaves the skin looking radiant and feeling plump.

4. The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion - Best Affordable Products For Congested Skin

This is, hands down, one of the best products to clear congested skin. And it’s all thanks to its minimal and effective formula made with retinol. Don’t be fooled by the fact that is granactive retinol. It’s still retinol, meaning that it still can be irritating.

But once you’ve successfully incorporated it into your routine, you’ll see that the top layer of your skin renews and blackheads and whiteheads are flushed out. It’s the absolute best for unclogging pores. The serum is oil-free and fragrance-free but can smell funny. And hey, it’s madly anti-aging!

5. Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster

Paula's Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster

You can either amplify your creams by mixing them with this or use the booster alone. Either way, the treatment eliminates congestion with the combination of azelaic acid and salicylic acid.

The lightweight, oil-free lotion gently exfoliates, clears up the skin, soothes inflammation, and prevents blemishes. It’s suitable for sensitive skin types too.

6. Fenty Skin Fat Water Pore-Refining Toner Serum

Fenty Skin Fat Water Pore-Refining Toner Serum - Best Products For Congested Skin

This is an oil-free niacinamide toner. So it’s not going to exfoliate or uproot blackheads. But it does two things excellently. It reduces excess sebum and minimizes the look of pores instantly! The toner doubles as a serum. But because it’s super lightweight, you can layer other serums on top comfortably. No pilling!

It’s incredibly convenient for hydrating oily and acne-prone skin. Because dehydration causes excess oil, which leads to congestion. It also packs anti-inflammatory witch hazel and botanicals rich in vitamin C. It has a refreshing scent and leaves the skin super soft and smooth.

7. Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay Mask

Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay Mask

This is a rescue mask for congested skin. It’s a natural bentonite clay mask in powder form you can mix with water or apple cider vinegar. The mask dries down and pulls dirt and grime from the pores.

With unclogged pores, the skin looks smoother. The cult-favorite mask is as affordable as it gets. So keeping one of these on your shelf is a practical way to calm down oily skin when you need instant results.

8. Moon Juice Acid Potion AHA + BHA Resurfacing Exfoliator

Moon Juice Acid Potion AHA + BHA Resurfacing Exfoliator - Best Products For Congested Skin

This AHA and BHA combo is a great exfoliator for congested skin. In addition to salicylic acid, it contains alpha-hydroxy acids. Lactic acid and glycolic acid remove the dead skin cells from the skin and prevent them from clogging your pores.

That’s how they help with blackheads and whiteheads. The liquid exfoliator refines the skin texture and brightens the skin too. It also has niacinamide for the added pore-minimizing benefits.

9. Glamglow Supertoner Exfoliating Acid Solution Toner

Glamglow Supertoner Exfoliating Acid Solution Toner

This is a multi-acid exfoliating toner for congested skin. Besides salicylic acid, it has glycolic and lactic acids to boost radiance and eliminate dullness. What makes it great for oily skin is the fact that it has charcoal, which is anti-bacterial and helps with acne.

And it has witch hazel to work as an astringent and refine the look of pores. Using salicylic acid daily in the form of a face toner can help you deal with congested skin without having to resort to harsh, irritating scrubs.

10. Biore Deep Cleansing Pore Strips Combo Pack

Biore Deep Cleansing Pore Strips Combo Pack

Let’s be honest, while we all love a good facial treatment or a potent scrub to clear up congested skin, we also need quick fixes. And there’s nothing more satisfying than removing blackheads and opening up the pores with a pore strip.

The strip sticks to your skin and draws out blackheads like a magnet without hurting or irritating the skin. Adding one of these into your routine can give you a headstart for clarifying the skin.

Tips For Managing Congested Skin

  • Pick one active ingredient and focus on that one. Don’t use too many actives especially if you have sensitive skin.
  • Be patient when cleansing your skin. Work the cleanser into the skin for about 60 seconds before rinsing. This is to ensure a thorough cleanse and prevent any trace of makeup from clogging pores.
  • Try double cleansing in the evening to remove stubborn products like sunscreen.
  • Add a cleansing brush into your routine. It’s going to be immensely helpful in purifying congested skin.
  • Invest in a one-time professional facial to get a headstart.
  • HydraFacial is the best facial for congested skin. Try it at least once.
  • Exfoliating pads are like pre-made toners. You can use them once a week to keep tabs on pores and stop congestion at its track.
  • Do a face steam once a week to warm up the skin. Apply a clay mask afterward. Steam makes the mask work better to open up pores and unclog them.

This concludes our crash course on clogged pores and a round-up of the best products for congested skin. Congested skin, skin that’s dealing with a little too many blackheads or blemishes is something we all deal with at some point.

It can be overwhelming too. But all it takes to clear out congestion is a good skincare routine followed consistently with the right products.

Read Next: The Best Salicylic Acid Pads


  1. Piérard-Franchimont C., Piérard G.E. (1999) Comedogenesis. In: Elsner P., Maibach H.I., Merk H.F. (eds) Cosmetics. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-59869-2_23
  2. Draelos, Z. D. (2011). Chapter 60: Over-the-counter acne treatments: Salicylic acid [E-book]. In Cosmetic Dermatology: Products and Procedures (pp. 490–491). Wiley-Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444317657
  3. Fox, L., Csongradi, C., Aucamp, M., du Plessis, J., & Gerber, M. (2016). Treatment Modalities for Acne. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland)21(8), 1063. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules21081063
  4. Endly, D. C., & Miller, R. A. (2017). Oily Skin: A review of Treatment OptionsThe Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology10(8), 49–55.
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