Is there anything more oddly satisfying than looking at a strip of pores after removing all that gunk from your nose? While it can be a little gross, there's something so fascinating about looking at everything that lived and clogged your pores just moments before. On the other hand, you're probably here because you've heard that pore strips might not be so good for your skin, so we've put together more information to help you decide whether (and how) to use them.
Pore strips have become quite controversial in the skin care world. "They contain a strong adhesive that pulls dead skin cells out of the blackhead, which is an open clogged pore," explains the board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skincare. Loretta Ciraldo, M.D.. Although it may seem simple, when used incorrectly, pore strips can actually cause damage. Yet the situation is complicated, so keep reading for our experts' complete thoughts on whether pore strips are really bad for your skin.
Meet the expert
- Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, is a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist with over 40 years of experience. She is also the founder of her eponymous skincare brand, Dr. Loretta.
- Jaimie DeRosa, MD, is a dual board-certified facial plastic surgeon and founder and senior facial plastic surgeon of DeRosa Plastic Surgery Center and Medical Spa in Boston and Palm Beach. She is an Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Harvard Medical School.
What are pore strips?
"Pore strips are devices that can be applied to the skin to remove blackheads and dead skin cell debris that can clog pores," explains Jaimie DeRosa, a dual board-certified facial plastic surgeon. "They typically consist of a fabric-like waterproof layer with one side coated with a polymer that is supposed to bind only to the sebum in the pores and a non-sticky adhesive that allows the strip to attach to the skin (usually on the nose)."
To activate them, you need to wet the skin before applying the pore strip so that the resin and adhesive can work. After waiting about 10 to 15 minutes, you then gently remove the strip (and hopefully some blackheads). "Technically, the water provides a positive charge that helps the polymer bind to the negative charge in the pores," explains DeRosa.
Benefits of pore strips for the skin
The benefits are clear for this one: pore strips remove gunk from your pores. "The original pore strips only worked on a strong adhesive that removes the buildup of dead skin cells and debris in blackheads," explains Ciraldo. "Since blackheads are clogged pores that are open to the air, any debris in them oxidizes and looks like little dots of black dirt. It's visually impressive to see a long strand of debris come out of the pores when the strip is removed.
While this sounds like an easy way to exfoliate, Ciraldo notes that the original strips do not improve the appearance of the skin between each pore. "The new generation of pore strips also incorporates charcoal for its oil-absorbing benefits, so there is a more matte surface to be expected if you use the charcoal strips," she says. "The charcoal strips are black like charcoal and the only adhesive strips are white like glue."
Are pore strips bad for your skin?
Pore strips have a bad reputation because if used incorrectly, they can damage the skin and even increase oil production in the area, which could potentially worsen blackheads over time. "That's because if you use pore strips too often, you can strip the skin of necessary oils and essentially "tell" your skin to increase its oil production, which leads to increased shine and oil that can block pores," DeRosa explains. .
Some skin types are best avoided altogether. "If you have a combination of blackheads and whiteheads and a few scattered red pimples, these are probably far too aggressive for you," says Ciraldo. "Whiteheads, which are covered by a layer of skin that creates a barrier to the penetration of actives into the strips, will most likely be inflamed by the pore strips, unresolved. Red, inflamed acne lesions will be more irritated.
You should also avoid pore strips if you use a lot of exfoliants or harsh skincare actives in your regimen, as the adhesive will make your skin more sensitive and you may even experience mild crusting when you remove the strip, warns Ciraldo. Also, don't use them if you're about to get steamed during a facial, as your skin is very sensitive for a day or two after the strips.
"The ideal candidate for them is someone with normal, non-sensitive skin who has a lot of blackheads, which means the pores are open and dead cells and debris can easily be expelled," Ciraldo says. "They are also good for people who want a 'one and done' approach to getting rid of blackheads."
Overall, if your skin is up to it, pore strips can be a useful way to get rid of blackheads if you use them correctly. Just make sure you don't use them more than once a week. Like any type of exfoliator, overdoing it is bad news.
How to use the pore strips
"The best way to safely use pore strips is to clean the skin first, then apply it while the skin is still wet so the adhesive adheres properly and the water can activate the polymers that remove blackheads and debris," DeRosa says. "When you remove the strip, stabilize the underlying skin so that it is not pulled with the strip, reducing the risk of skin damage."
Ciraldo says to always apply pore strips in front of a well-lit mirror and never use them on skin that is peeling, red or irritated. When using pore strips for the first time, leave them on for less time than you'd like to make sure they're not too harsh on your skin. Also, avoid using retinoids or acids (AHA/BHA) on the area for at least two days before applying the pore strips, otherwise you run the risk of peeling off healthy skin.
As for a good set of pore strips to try, Ciraldo recommends Patchology Junction box (20 $), which includes three nasal strips, as well as salicylic and hydrocolloid patches to help prevent re-acne and rehydrate the skin. The Classic Bioré Deep pore cleansing strips (9 $) are DeRosa's must-haves. "These are some of my favorite pore strips - I remember using them as a teenager," she says. "Why I love them is that they have a patented technology that has the pore strip glued to the blackhead and not to the skin, which reduces damage to the skin when you remove them."
Alternatives to pore strips
It's important to remember that pore strips are not the only option when it comes to exfoliation. "Pore strips only work for blackheads, and neither adhesive strips nor charcoal strips alone do anything to prevent you from getting new blackheads," Ciraldo explains. "For maximum treatment and prevention, it is advisable to incorporate acne prevention products with salicylic/BHA and glycolic/AHA into your daily skin care regimen."
To help prevent future breakouts, Ciraldo recommends Dr. Loretta Micro-Exfoliating Cleaner (35 $), which contains 2% of salicylic acid to penetrate pores and prevent clogging as well as help extrude any existing build-up. "This is registered with the FDA as an over-the-counter topical acne medication, so it's pretty effective and proven for acne lesions of all types, not just blackheads," she says. Another of her go-to's is Dr. Loretta Micro-peel peptide pads (60 $), which contains 10 % of glycolic acid to exfoliate the entire surface of the skin, help with all types of acne lesions and fade brown spots left by breakouts.
DeRosa is a fan of both chemical and physical exfoliants. For the first category, she recommends Paula's Choice Liquid Scrub 2% BHA (34 $), a gentle leave-on product that contains salicylic acid, so it's ideal for those with both breakouts and sensitive skin. It helps to unclog and shrink pores, reduce the appearance of wrinkles and even out skin tone. One of DeRosa's favorite mechanical exfoliators is from ZO Skin Health Exfoliating Scrub (68 $), a scrub suitable for most skin types with ultra-fine, non-irritating magnesium oxide crystals that help remove dead skin cells and debris and leave no residue. Added to the scrub is a vitamin C which, in combination with the exfoliator, gives a bright and radiant skin.
The last takeaway
While pore strips can be harmful to your skin if you overuse them, have breakouts they're not made for, or use them in combination with sensitivity-inducing products like exfoliants, they can still be useful for extracting blackheads if you use them carefully. "I think there's a place for pore strips if you want a quick fix to remove blackheads," says DeRosa. "If you use one, make sure you wash your hands and wash the area you're treating. If possible, add gentle steam to help open pores before applying the strip. What is important to understand is that the pore strips will not be prevent blackheads, so you need to use other skin care products to help control their production.