Blocked pores, dull skin, uneven skin, blackheads and whiteheads…all signs of congested skin and often affecting not just teenagers, but adults too. Also knows as open comedomes, blackheads are literally tiny plugs in the opening of a follicle or pore on the skin. The pore plug is a combination of oils, sebum and dead skin cells. Open to the skin’s surface, the plug becomes darkened as it is exposed to oxygen. Whiteheads are closed at the skin’s surface, blocked by cellular debris but not exposed to oxygen so remain light in colour.
Blackheads, whiteheads and blocked pores are usually caused by a combination of factors. Excess skin oil, sebum and toxins that are expelled through the skin are often an underlying issue. In addition dead skin cells, pollution, occlusive make up and dirt also play a role by filling up pores already opened by sebum and oil production. Each factor will contribute to congestion in a different but significant way:
Skin Oil & Sebum: excess oil and sebum production by the skin will contribute to clogging pores and encourage the growth of skin bacteria. When combined with external factors such as dirt, blackheads easily form.
Toxic Congestion: blood and lymph supply the skin with nutrition. However, if the toxins that are produced in our bodies everyday are not eliminated properly, they are eliminated via the skin and can contribute to congestion as well as other issues such as acne and skin irritation.
Dead Skin Cells: Each 3 or 4 weeks the skin replenishes the skin cells. This natural process creates a layer of dead skin cells over the surface of the skin. If not removed, the dead skin cells create dull looking skin. The other thing that may happen is that the dead cells will plug the pores on your face and create congestion and blackheads. When combined with excessive sebum production, this can lead to the formation of white-heads and black heads.
Skin Care & Make Up: The key culprits in skin congestion are products that contain petrochemical based oils as they have an occulusive effect, stopping the skin from breathing and blocking pores. Talc, which is common in make up and finishing powder, also has this effect. Waxes and butters may also be an issue with skin prone to congestion. Make up is usually worn on a daily basis so it is essential to choose a make up that suits your skin type and doesn’t contribute to further congestion.
Pollution & Dirt: Building up on the surface of skin over the day, pollution is a factor in the formation of blackheads and blocked pores. The more polluted the area in which you live, the more skin pollution you are likely to experience. Effective skin cleansing is vital to clean the skin of daily dirt and grime…and a splash of water at the end of the day just doesn’t cut it. Dirt that is found on our face and other parts of the body can be a breeding ground for bacteria and combined with oily skin can make things even worse. Where does the dirt come from? Dirty hands are a key culprit and those already conscious of their skin tend to pick and rub their skin more than others, just making the problem worse.
Treatment of of Blackheads
So, how to get rid of blackheads and congested skin? Well squeezing them out is not the answer. This technique will just lead to further skin irritation and possibly damage and scarring to the surrounding tissue. Rather than removing blackheads by squeezing, the best way to get rid of them is by attacking the source of the problem.
1. A good cleansing routine: Cleansing the skin of daily dirt, grime and pollution is essential. A good cleansing routine is a very effective way to remove blackheads, as it will help wash away excess oil and dead skin particles. Use a gentle cleanser as harsh and overly-drying cleansers will only make the problem worse by causing an increase in sebum production. If your skin feels squeaky clean, dry and tight after washing, you are doing more harm than good and need to use a more gentle cleanser. Avoid products with Sodium laurel sulphate as this ingredient tends to disrupt the acid mantle again causing increased sebum production.
2. Regular gentle exfoliation: one way to minimise congestion and clogged pores is to ensure the top layer skin remains clear by regularly removing the dead skin cells. There are a number of very effective products you can use to remove dead skin cells.
Regular use of facial exfoliants or scrubs will help clear dead skin cells that block pores. Removing the top layer of dead cells will also allow your moisturiser or serum work more effectively as it comes into contact with live skin cells rather than dead ones.
There are a couple of things to look for in a good exfoliant. The most obvious, although it is surprising how many people ignore this, is that a body scrub is too harsh to be used as a facial scrub. Look for a very fine, soft exfoliant as your facial skin is soft and delicate. A harsh scrub may actually scour the surface of your skin much like a scrubbing brush and this can actually damage skin cells. If your skin is excessively red or inflamed after use they are far too strong. Gentle exfoliants will slough off cells without a harsh scrubbing effect and are suitable to be used 2-3 times a week.
3. Fruit Enzyme Peels: enzyme peels are another way of clearing dead skin cells. They work as a result of their ability to break the bonds between dead skin cells that form at the surface of the skin. Skin normally has a dead layer of cells at its surface (the corneocyte layer), and fruit enzymes can speed up the normal process of skin cell regeneration and sloughing. This results in increased flexibility of the skin as well as decreased formation of large dry skin flakes at the surface of the skin.
Pumpkin, pineapple and pawpaw provide natural, gentle enzyme proteases that loosen the glue between dead skin cells, slough away impurities, dead skin cells and unplug the pores while delivering nutrition to the skin. This leaves the skin cleansed and silky smooth and reduces the likelihood of blackheads. Fruit enzyme ‘peels’ only need to be used once or twice a week for good effect.
4. Light Moisturisers: moisturisers that use waxes, butters and petrochemical oils will be more likely to contribute to congestion in skin that is prone to blackheads. Please note that waxes and butters are perfectly suitable and definitely beneficial for those with dry or dehydrated skin but for those with congested skin, choose lotions rather than rich creams. If you have combination skin and suffer from congestion as well as dry skin, use oil based serums or hyaluronic acid to increase moisture content in the skin without contributing to further blockage.
5. Salicylic acid and glycolic acid in high concentrations are common recommendations for skin congestion and while they might be effective in the short term they can cause significant problems and can be counter-productive to softening and dissolving blackheads as they can dehydrate dry, normal and combination skin. In addition, those with a history of use of high concentration glycolic acid can suffer redness and irritation at a later date when exposed to even mildly acidic ingredients such as ascorbic acid. If you choose to use such products, firstly use them in consultation with a skin specialist, use low concentrations, use them short term only and watch for signs of skin dehydration.
6. Make Up: Mineral make up is an ideal alternative for those with congested skin. Rather than sinking into or filling pores, the particles of pigment sit on the surface of the skin allowing the skin to breathe properly. This helps minimise congestion and eventually, allows the pores to shrink.
7. Dietary & Lifestyle tips: Plenty of water will help flush toxins out of your system and regular and regular exercise will keep your lymphatic system flowing. Together both these factors will help reduce the level of toxins being eliminated via the skin.
Research conducted at RMIT University, Melbourne, has shown that a low glycemic index (GI), moderate protein diet improved symptoms of acne including the number of facial lesions. The diet consisted of 25% of energy from protein and 45% of energy from low GI carbohydrates such as fruit and vegetables, grains and pulses. While this research was conducted on patients with acne, there are strong correlations between high GI diets and skin congestion as well. Generally a high GI diet is associated with a greater degree of systemic body toxicity and inflammation and those prone to skin conditions are likely to eliminate toxins through the skin more readily.
A diet high in vegetables, fruit, good fats, lean protein, nuts & seeds is ideal for the skin as it contains lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support skin health.
Following the steps above will not only help you minimise congestion but will also encourage clear, vibrant skin in general.