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Sensitive Skin Friendly Pore Busters

best skincare for sensitive skin

Who doesn’t want to have clear, poreless skin? I definitely have that as a goal! Unfortunately, since I have Rosacea, my skin is a bit more sensitive than it used to be. And somehow, enlarging pores (or at least larger appearing) pores is also part of aging. So, just when I want to go completely crazy with skin care products to pull all of that stuff out of my pores and make them look smaller… I can’t. Because my skin will get red and irritated.

Instead of going crazy with peels and pore strips, I’ve finally figured out a routine that works for my skin! I got a facial about 3 weeks ago, and the esthetician complimented me on my pores. That has never happened! Instead, there’s always discussion about how much extracting to do.

Read on to see how I’ve been clearing out my pores, evening my skin tone and smoothing it all out. This routine is also great for anti-aging, works for every skin type, and I have product recommendations for different price points!

Step 1: Cleansers

When looking for a cleanser to help clear out your pores, look for hydroxy acids. You can learn more about how hydroxy acids help your skin, though warning that the post is a bit long! There is one beta hydroxy acid, Salicylic Acid, and it can penetrate down into the clogged pore and help to clear it out. Alpha hydroxy acids, such as glycolic, and lactic acid can help smooth out the skin’s surface around the pores (making the pores look less obvious), and help clear debris from the surface of the pore. I like to use a combination of both alpha and beta hydroxy acids every day, they also help to increase cell turnover, make my skin tone more even and my skin feels smoother.

I’m currently using the combination of Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Cleanser and Detox Daily Cleanser, read more about why I’m using two cleansers here.

My hydroxy acid cleanser favorites:
Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Cleanser is at Kate Somerville, Sephora or Nordstrom
Kate Somerville Detox Daily Cleanser is at Kate Somerville, Sephora or Nordstrom

Neutrogena Pore Refining Daily Cleanser at Target, Amazon or ULTA, for Alpha Hydroxy Acids
Neutrogena Pore Refining Exfoliating Daily Cleanser at Target, Amazon or ULTA for both Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids

Step 2: Clarisonic

Yes, the Clarisonic is a very important part of keeping my pores clean! There’s actually a study from 2006 which found that a sonic cleansing brush would actually vibrate pore clogging comedones (aka- those hard little cores of grossness in your pores) out! Yes, a sonic cleansing brush will vibrate junk out of your pores. Get one.

My Clarisonic is not an every night thing for me. Because of my sensitive skin, I use it about 3-4 nights a week, depending on how my skin looks. If my skin is feeling a bit sensitive or has some redness, then I skip the Clarisonic that night. I also use the sensitive skin brush, and I make sure I listen to the beeping of the Smart Profile feature, which tells me when to move to a new area. I admit I used to ignore it, but listening to the Smart Profile beeping really does make a difference! I currently use the sensitive skin brush heads, but I recommend the delicate brush heads if you’re just starting out with the Clarisonic and have truly sensitive skin.

My favorites:
Clarisonic Mia (cheaper, no Smart Profile) at Nordstrom or Sephora
Clarisonic Smart Profile at Sephora
Clarisonic Delicate Brush Head from Nordstrom or Sephora

Step 3: Retinoids

Everyone should use a retinoid! These vitamin A derivatives do a lot of things to your skin and are the gold standard topical ingredient for anti-aging. You can learn more about how retinoids work. Retinoids will increase cell turnover, improve your skin’s tone, and make the cells less likely to clog up in your pores.

When choosing a retinoid, keep in mind that there is a trade off to make between effectiveness and how irritating the product is to your skin. Over the counter products will be less effective, but are much less likely to irritate your skin. Every retinoid will cause some degree of irritation, but this is mostly right after starting to use the product (and it can last up to 4-6 weeks even), but if you push through this period you’ll notice much less irritation. I also recommend listening to your skin and backing off to using your retinoid every 2-3 nights. Don’t forget to stop usage about 5-7 days before waxing!

I have a whole post with great tips for getting the most out of your retinoid, with less irritation. Personally, I use over the counter retinoids only, I know my skin could never handle a prescription strength product. I cycle through the three choices I mention below, they’ve all given me great results! The RoC and Kate Somerville I can use every night, but the Neutrogena is better every other night. I also layer my retinoid between a serum and moisturizer, this cuts down on the irritation and dryness.

My favorites:
Kate Somerville RetAsphere (at Kate Somerville, Sephora or Nordstrom)
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum (at Amazon or ULTA)
RoC Sensitive Night Cream (at Amazon or ULTA)

Step 4: Intermittent Exfoliation

In addition to the steps I’ve already listed, about 3 times a week I’ll add in some more intensive chemical exfoliation. On days that I do this, I skip the retinoid step. Doing both is a recipe for disaster for my skin. I’ve also found that I have to skip my nose for this step. My nose can handle everything else just great, but the more exciting steps will turn me into Rudolph. If I have any irritation in the folds around my nose, then I will skip those as well.

I have two options for the deeper exfoliation: an at night chemical peel wipe, or in the shower I’ll use Kate Somerville’s ExfoliKate, a 1-2 minute exfoliating peel/mask/wash green miracle goo. Again, this is just a few times a week if my skin is looking/feeling good, and I base my choice upon the time of day and what I feel like doing.

If I decide to use the peel wipe, this is the first step after washing my face. I give the peel a few minutes to dry, and then I follow it up with an extra hydrating moisturizer. No retinoid that night, and I skip my nose!

If I’m in the shower, which is where I keep my ExfoliKate, then I just use a small pea sized amount and rub it all over my face. I wait roughly a minute, then put my face under the water and gently rub it off. ExfoliKate is expensive, but one 1.7 ounce tube will last me over a year! They also make a “gentle” version, but I have never tried this out.

My Picks:
Bliss That’s Incredi-Peel Resurfacing Pads (at Macy’s or ULTA)
RoC Daily Resurfacing Disks (at ULTA or Amazon)
Kate Somerville ExfoliKate (at Kate Somerville, Sephora or Nordstrom)

Rescue Treatment: Clay Mask

If all of the above steps have failed me, then it’s time for the rescue treatment, a clay mask! 10 minutes with a clay mask can suck almost anything out of a clogged pore, I swear! I use the mask after a shower, so the steam can help loosen things in my pores. I don’t combine the clay mask with an intensive exfoliator, my skin can not handle that combination! I simply apply the mask as soon as I’m out of the shower, and leave it on for about ten minutes. You can to wash it off with warm water when the mask is just starting to dry. Once the mask has dried and started to crack is too late. The drying will simply irritate your skin, you haven’t removed anything else from your pores, plus it just hurts! So, set a timer on your phone and start washing it off after ten minutes, when it is just starting to dry.

My Favorites:
• Kiehl’s Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask (at Kiehl’s, or Nordstrom)
• Bliss Multi-“Face”-eted (from Bluemercury, ULTA, or Macy’s)
• Note, if you don’t have sensitive skin, my old favorite is the Queen Helene Mint Julep Mask, but this is too much for my skin now.

A Note on Pore Strips

I should comment on pore strips, since you’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned them at all yet. I’m a former pore strip addict, “back in the day” one of my most popular posts was actually all about how you can pore strip your entire face with gelatin! (That post still gets a lot of visitors and commenters actually.)

I no longer use pore strips. Especially that gelatin face mask. My face is just too sensitive and can’t handle it. A pore strip is incredibly satisfying to pull off (who would’t want to see all of that stuff you just removed from your pores?), but my face will be red, in the shape of the pore strip, for a few days. So, use at your own risk!

Product Sent for Review, Affiliate Links
While I purchased many of the products mentioned here, a few were sent to me by PR for consideration.

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About Me

I’m a doctor, a mommy and a bit of a beauty addict. If you let me, I can take 2 hours to get ready in the morning. Really. I'm on a quest for faster beauty that works!

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