The most effective ways to treat congested skin

For a flawless complexion every day of the year

Beauty Crew Beauty Writer / October 21 2022

Smooth and flawless skin. We all want it, but achieving a clear complexion is often far easier said than done when you suffer from congested skin. Whether it appears in the form of clogged pores, whiteheads, blackheads or a combination of all three, congestion can make the prospect of achieving the skin you’ve always wanted seem impossible.

Luckily, that’s not the case! In fact, if you take the time to get to know your skin and follow a few top 
skin care tips (and avoid certain products), you’ll be sporting a gorgeously congestion-free face before you know it.

What is congested skin?

As we mentioned above, congested skin types most commonly have clogged pores, whiteheads and blackheads. However, congested skin more broadly refers to skin conditions where there is an impaction within a skin pore (follicle), says Education Manager for the International Dermal Institute and Dermalogica, Emma Hobson. “The impaction is a combination of oil, dead skin cells, tiny hairs, dirt and debris at the surface, and sometimes bacteria,” she explains.

How to tell if you have congested skin

The easiest way to tell if you have congested skin is to run your hand across your face. If your skin texture feels bumpy and uneven to touch, chances are it’s congested. “You may also see blackheads, especially on the T-zone and cheeks, and possibly some whiteheads,” adds Hobson.

The causes of skin congestion

“There are several factors that cause congestion: poor or incorrect skin care, insufficient or a poor cleansing routine, using comedogenic ingredients within skin, hair and makeup products, and insufficient exfoliation,” explains Hobson, adding that congestion can also be caused by “over-active oil glands triggered by hormones, poor gut health and a poor diet."

The best ways to treat congested skin

Ensuring that you’re cleansing and exfoliating your skin properly (and with the right products) is by far the best way to tackle congested skin concerns.

It’s vital to have a thorough cleansing routine that includes
 double cleansing in the evening and avoiding soap-based formulas that strip the skin of moisture. “First, use a cleansing oil (these are terrific at deeply cleansing the skin), followed by a soap-free cleansing gel,” recommends Hobson. One of our fave congestion-clearing cleansers? Dr. LeWinn's Reversaderm Glycolic Cleanser ($34.95 at Dr. LeWinn's).

“You can also use cleansing tools to help dislodge any surface dirt and dead skin build-up. Take your time when cleansing – it’s not a step to be rushed.” FYI, we're big fans of the Lumiskin Kasi Thermal Care Silicone Cleansing Device ($149 at Lumiskin) for getting the job done properly.

If your congestion is specifically showing itself in the form of breakouts and blackheads, the Bioré Pore Unclogging Scrub ($8.99 at Chemist Warehouse) is also worth adding to the roster. A creamy exfoliating cleanser with micro-beads that help to slough off dead skin and unclog blocked pores, it's formulated to act as a congested complexion's best friend. Plus, it's a total steal.

Dr. LeWinn’s Reversaderm Glycolic Cleanser

LUMISKIN™ Kasi Thermal Care Silicone Cleansing Device

Bioré Pore Unclogging Scrub

After cleansing, Hobson recommends exfoliating your skin two to three times a week. “Exfoliation is so important. I’d recommend using products that contain hydroxy acids – salicylic acid in particular as it’s amazing at clearing under the skin congestion.” She also suggests reaching for treatment products like overnight clearing gels, which work to keep the skin's surface clear and prevent blackheads and future breakouts.

Three of our favourite spot treatments include Medik8 Blemish SOS Rapid Action Target Gel ($48 at Adore Beauty), Origins Super Spot Remover Blemish Treatment Gel ($27 at MECCAand Murad Blemish Control Rapid Relief Spot Treatment ($35 at Adore Beauty).

Medik8 Blemish SOS Rapid Action Target Gel

Origins Super Spot Remover Blemish Treatment Gel

Murad Blemish Control Rapid Relief Spot Treatment

Another tactic you could try? LANATÉ Cream ($26.49 at Chemist Warehouse), AKA a dermatologically-developed exfoliating cream that helps to stimulate skin renewal. Its AHA-powered formula will aid in removing the build-up of dead cells and congestion on the surface, working to reveal fresher, smoother skin.


In addition to cleansing, exfoliating and regularly reaching for a clearing gel, Hobson recommends incorporating hydrating toners, masks and boosters into your skin care routine: “Dehydration can lead to further issues that result in skin congestion, so it’s important to keep the skin well hydrated.”

Furthermore, James Vivian from James Vivian Dermal Therapies recommends reaching for products formulated with retinol. “Retinol, along with other topical forms of vitamin A, assist greatly in the fight against congestion by increasing cell turnover, thereby preventing the skin’s opportunity to congest,” he explains. “Vitamin A can also reduce sebaceous gland secretions (aka oil production), which further assists in the reduction of blemishes.”

While products formulated with vitamin A can work wonders on the skin, Vivian notes, “it should be used under the direction of a skin care professional, as despite its positive potential, vitamin A can easily become an irritant when used in too high of a concentration or when skin is not healthy enough to process the vitamin A”. Those with sensitive skin should always do a patch test before using products formulated with retinol.

Some of our favourite retinol products include Verso Night Cream ($128 at MECCA) and Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules Lines Erasing Night Serum ($79 at Myer).

Verso Night Cream

Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules Lines Erasing Night Serum

Another option? A cohesive kit that simplifies the steps. One we rate? The Dope Skin. Co 3-Step System ($98.90 at Dope Skin. Co). It features an AHA/BHA cleanser, a serum that heroes the same gently exfoliating/impressively brightening ingredients, and an antioxidant-rich moisturiser that tops up hydration without clogging up your freshly cleansed pores.


What to avoid when you have congested skin

Perhaps the most important thing to avoid when you suffer from congestion is using products known to clog the skin. Steer clear of comedogenic makeup and skin care products, and avoid ingredients like “mineral oil, lanolin, skin stripping S.D (specially denatured) alcohol and artificial colours”, recommends Hobson.

In regards to your diet, avoid processed foods where possible and limit your refined sugar intake. “Sugar can promote acne by elevating blood sugar levels, resulting in a cascade of hormonal effects, including increased androgens (acne-causing hormones), excess oil and increased cell production, all of which lead to clogged pores and breakouts,” explains Hobson.

Main image credit: @josephineskriver

Looking to build out an effective exfoliation routine? Here are the top exfoliants to try...

Kate started working for BEAUTYcrew in early 2016, first as a contributor, and was then named Beauty Writer in 2017. She loves picking the brains of the industry's top experts to get to the bottom of beauty's toughest questions. Bronze eyeshadow palettes are her weakness and she's forever on the hunt for the perfect nude nail polish to suit her fair skin. Her words can also be found in Men's Health magazine, and she now works in PR.