Do You Have Congested Skin? How to Find Out, and Do Something About It
Congested skin can be a big problem for a lot of people. While congested skin is not the same thing as acne, it is a leading cause of breakouts and other similar skin conditions. If you want to be proactive about your skincare, you can follow these tips to check if you have congested skin before it leads to a breakout and then uses proven treatments to get rid of it.
How To Tell If You Have Congested Skin
Congested skin is caused by your pores getting clogged by a buildup of mostly dead skin and dirt. When your body replenishes your skin with new skin cells, the layer of dead skin and dirt forms on top and mixes with excess oil that your skin produces. The oil collects the dead skin and sinks into your pores, clogging them up and making them congested. The dead skin cells or dirt might expand, making your pores larger and more likely to develop into a pimple or get infected.
There are a few ways to monitor the condition of your skin to determine if it is getting congested or not. Sometimes, when your skin is really congested, it is fairly obvious to notice, but other times it is more subtle and harder to notice unless you examine it closely.
What Congested Skin Looks Like
The first way to check for congested skin is by looking closely at it. You can use a magnifying mirror if you want to get a closer look for more subtle signs of congested skin, but you should be able to see signs of it with a normal mirror as well. When examining your skin look for the following:
- Your skin looks thick and inflamed
- Your pores are enlarged and your skin looks like it has pinholes
- You can see small black dots in your skin, which are blackheads
- You can see raised white bumps, which are whiteheads
The small black dots are when the dead skin cells and dirt get into your pores and expand, which can cause the worst congestion for your skin. It might also look either excessively oily around your nose, forehead, and cheeks, or very dull and dry — either can be a problem related to congested skin, depending on the person’s skin type.
If you want to get into a habit of checking your skin for congestion, you can do it as often as you like. However, your skin cells are renewed every three to four weeks and that’s when you are more likely to get dead skin cells clogging your pores, so at the very least you should check once or twice a month.
What Congested Skin Feels Like
If your eyesight is not the best, you can also feel signs of congested skin. Touching your face with dirty hands and fingers is not advisable, as you can spread dead skin cells and dirt or press them deeper into your pores. So make sure you either wash your hands before doing this or use a clean tissue. If your skin is congested, you should be able to feel the following on your skin:
- Bumps on the surface of your skin, which could be a few different things
- Oily skin, since it tends to have larger pores that are more likely to catch dead skin and other debris
- Dry or rough patches of skin that is low on hydration due to clogged pores and a solid layer of dead skin
- Itchy skin caused by irritants and toxins also getting congested in your pores
The bumps on your skin are the biggest giveaway and could be from a closed comedone, a blackhead, or a white head. A closed comedone is a little bump that is not red, inflamed, black, or white like a normal pimple or blackhead. They do not feel painful or uncomfortable to touch. They’re caused when dead skin cells and oil gets clogged in your hair follicles.
To test for oily skin, you can try dabbing your face with a tissue, specifically your nose, both cheeks, and your forehead. They are each distinct areas of your face’s skin that can have different levels of oil or dryness, so you will want to test each part. You can tell if one of those areas is too oily if the tissue comes away with a wet mark where it touched your face.
How To Treat Congested Skin
If you find the signs that your skin is congested, there is thankfully several ways to treat it before it turns into an acne breakout. The most effective treatments will clear your pores of any debris to get rid of the congestion, but in a gentle way that does not do damage to your healthy skin.
Treatment #1: Exfoliation
The easiest way of clearing your skin congestion is with basic exfoliation. You do not need or want to do it every day, as you will only start stripping the healthy layer of surface skin cells in the process. You should avoid microbead, sulfate, preservatives, petroleum, most acids, and alcohol-based products for that reason. Absolutely do NOT try and pick at your pores or self-exfoliate or extract them with your fingers or other tools, as you will only make things much, much worse. There are a few ways to properly exfoliate your skin:
- Cleansing brushes are also good for dry skin, just apply some water and gently scrub your skin with it
- Peels are excellent at drawing debris out of your pores and making them smaller to prevent further congestion
- Masks that specialize in exfoliation and clearing pores work similar to peels and can be very relaxing
- Facial scrubs are a product you apply using just your fingertips with some light pressure
When you’re done exfoliating, apply some good moisturizer to seal in the hydration and protect your skin from getting clogged up again. Stick to two or three times per week, and using products and methods that are not too harsh on your skin. If you have very dry skin, you should try exfoliating less frequently — maybe once or twice a week instead. The problem with exfoliating dry skin is it can irritate and dry it out even more.
Treatment #2: Steam Clean
A more gentle way to clean your pores is by steaming your face and cleaning the pores with bits of cotton. It involves hovering your face over a steaming bowl of water for no longer than 10 minutes, which is not a sensation that everyone likes. Using basic exfoliation methods listed above might be your preference, but if your skin is highly sensitive then this might be better for you. This works best if you lightly wash your face first.
Start by heating water until it is starting to steam — not boil, that would be too hot — and pour it into a good sized bowl. Make sure the steam is not too hot or it will burn your skin. Place a towel over your head and hover your face no closer than 20 inches above the bowl. The steam will safely and gently open your pores and prepare them to extract the dead skin and dirt and other debris that is causing your congestion.
After no longer than 10 minutes, rinse your face with cool water to wash away the exposed debris and pat your face dry with a towel. Using a cooler temperature for your water helps shrink your pores again so they don’t just re-fill with more debris. When you are done, apply moisturizer to seal in the hydration and further protect the pores from getting congested again.
Treatment #3: Improved Nutrition
This is more of a preventative measure than a treatment for skin that is already congested, but you can really improve the health of your skin by changing bad dietary habits. The worst foods to eat are high in sugar, preservatives, and high in the glycemic index that causes the sugar levels in your blood to rise. They affect your hormones in a way that causes a chain reaction, the end of which results in your skin producing too much sebum and oil. The excess oil causes your pores to get larger, and the sebum causes them to get blocked — a perfect recipe for congested skin.
Here are some types of food and drink you should start cutting out of your dietary habits:
- Milk and milk products that come from cows
- White bread, white rice, processed cereal and other high-glycemic and preservative-laden foods
- Chocolate, candy, cake, cookies, sodas, and other sugary food and drink that also has lots of preservatives
- Chips, french fries, burgers, tacos, and other greasy, oily food from fast food restaurants
Replace any of the above with high protein and low-glycemic foods. Basically, a lot of meat, fruit and veggies, and whole grain carbs. More specifically, focus on fish, chicken and other non-red meats such as beef and pork. For fruit, citrus fruits and berries have the best vitamins and nutrients to help your skin’s health, and for vegetables try having more beans and anything that’s dark green.
About the Author:
Christina C. is the lead esthetician at Silver Mirror Facial Bar on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, NYC. She has over 18 years of experience in the beauty and spa industries, both as an educator for top skincare and makeup brands, as well as a highly sought-after esthetician providing high-end facials. Silver Mirror Facial Bar has been a natural step in Christina’s journey as it encompasses results-driven facials and treatments in a dynamic and ski