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Are pore strips bad for your skin? Dermatologists weigh in

Spoiler: You may want to consider an alternative for clearing pores on your nose.
Dermatologists weigh in on whether pore strips are actually good for your skin.
Dermatologists weigh in on whether pore strips are actually good for your skin.Becca Delman / NBC

Pulling a pore strip off your nose and seeing all the gunk that’s come out of your pores is oddly satisfying. It makes you feel like you’ve really cleaned that area of your skin, which is precisely why they’ve become a staple in many people’s skin care regimen. 

If you aren’t familiar with pore strips, they are paper mache-like strips with adhesive.. For most, you dampen your nose and apply the strip to it. The strip hardens and the adhesive pulls out oil and sebum clogging pores. But are these beauty go-tos effective at removing blackheads and, more importantly, are they good for your skin? We turned to dermatologists to find out. 

How do pore strips work? 

Pore strips are small pieces of plastic or cotton with adhesive on one side. That adhesive sticks to skin and when you pull the strip off, the adhesive is intended to pull gunk out of your pores. But do they work? “They can help to remove the contents of open pores such as sebum (skin oil), oxidized keratin and skin cells, and other environmental particles setting up shop in the pores on your nose,” says Dr. Mona Gohara, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor at Yale.

Gohara emphasizes that pore strips are not a permanent solution, saying that they may remove some oil but pores will inevitably fill up again. For this reason, she says she usually recommends them for a quick fix — like if you have a special event. It’s also worth noting that they may not work for everyone and there’s a large opportunity for human error. To adhere correctly, the adhesive must lay flat on the nose and dry. If they don’t lay flat due to your nose shape or how you place them, they will not work. 

Can pore strips be bad for your skin?

The short answer: Pore strips can irritate skin — and often do more harm than good, says Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose, a board-certified dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York. This is because the adhesive doesn’t just stick to the dirt in your pores, it sticks to the skin around your pores. When you pull the strip off, it can irritate the skin. Pore strips are also often made with additives like astringents, says Gohara. These additives are often drying and can further strip the skin and cause irritation.

Murphy-Rose says that if you have sensitive skin or have eczema, you should stay away from these strips. Someone with oilier skin may be okay using them occasionally, adds Gohara. However, no one should use them frequently, as it increases the chance of damage and sensitivity. 

How else can you clear your pores?

Rather than just focusing on removing the oil and dirt from pores, our experts suggest solutions that help get rid of that buildup and also help to prevent it in the future. Here, we found types of products that can help do just that: 

  • Cleansers: Using a face wash with ingredients that help clear oil can keep oil from building up and clogging your pores. Looking for a cleanser that contains alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)  or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)  can be particularly effective, says Gohara. A common AHA is glycolic acid and a common BHA is salicylic acid. Both of these ingredients help to slough away dead skin cells, removing dirt stuck in pores and helping to keep them from clogging again.  “The molecular size of salicylic acid enables it to travel into pores to deeply clean and dissolve sebum and its exfoliating action treats and prevents further clogging of pores,” adds Murphy-Rose.
  • Retinols: A vitamin A derivative, retinol falls under the ingredient class of retinoids known to unclog pores. One way they do this is by increasing cell turnover, getting rid of dead skin cells, and replacing them with new ones, says Dr. Cyndi Torosky, a board-certified dermatologist at Pariser Dermatology in Virginia Beach.  As dead skin cells fall away, whatever is clogging your pores can be washed away. Retinols can be found in various types of products, but serums tend to be the most effective. Torosky suggests using a retinol serum at night after cleansing and before moisturizing. Night-time use is advised because they can make skin sensitive to the sun. 
  • Mechanical exfoliants: Gohara also suggests using a mechanical exfoliant (sometimes called a physical exfoliant) to unclog pores. This type of exfoliant is usually found in the form of face scrubs. They are composed of tiny particles that, when rubbed gently on the skin, can dislodge sebum stuck in pores. Along with scrubs, you can use a textured washcloth with a cleanser to physically exfoliate scrubs. 

Meet our experts

At NBC Select, we work with experts with specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Dr. Mona Gohara is a board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor at Yale.
  • Dr. Cyndi Torosky is a board-certified dermatologist at Pariser Dermatology in Virginia Beach
  • Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose is a board-certified dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York and a clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College

Why trust NBC Select?

Bethany Heitman is a contributor at NBC Select and a journalist who regularly covers beauty, home and lifestyle. She interviewed two dermatologists for this story.

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