They’ve been a staple in our beauty cabinets for years. In fact, they’re basically the O.G. spa night necessity. Pore strips were as essential to your middle school sleepover as sheet masks are to your present day Netflix night with the roomie. And although these handy strips are on the frontline in the war against blackheads, pore strips have more recently garnered a reputation for potentially causing longterm damage.
So, is it true? Must we forgo the blissful satisfaction of peeling off a pore strip full of pesky blackheads?
We chatted with two derms to get the scoop on what’s really going on—both good and bad—with your pore strips, once and for all.
First, How Do They Work Exactly?
We all know the basic rules of using pore strips: peel off backing, place on desired damp area of skin (e.g. nose or forehead), take some cute selfies, wait ten minutes, peel off and "ooh and ahh" at the grossness on the sticky side. But how do they really work?
Well, think of each strip like a magnet. “When the strip is applied to the damp skin surface, the adhesive is activated and like a magnet ‘grabs’ the blackhead so when the pore [strip] is peeled off, it ‘lifts’ the blackhead,” explains Dr. Francesca Fusco at Wexler Dermatology in New York City.
What about all the rumors?
Broken Capillaries: False
Although it’s been a long standing rumor that using pore strips can give you broken capillaries, this really isn’t the case, explain our experts. “The crease on the nose is a common area for capillaries to form anyway, so doing something that irritates them further isn’t a good idea,” explains Dr. Tanzi. So likely, it’s not your nose strip that’s causing your capillaries to break, but rather, it’s your strip that’s irritating your skin and enhancing the redness of the tiny blood vessels around the nose. Depending on your sensitivity level, this irritation can lead to more pronounced and prolonged redness.
Increased Pore Size: False
If you’ve done a little internet hunting, you might have noticed pore strips getting a bad rap for actually causing pore size to increase. However, according to Dr. Tanzi, there simply isn’t any proof that pore strips can make your pores larger. “Pore size gets worse with age and sun exposure or conditions like rosacea, which run in families,” she explains, “the size of pores is based on genetics, too.”
So if you’re noticing your pores looking a bit larger than normal, it’s likely not your strip that’s to blame but rather genetics or other skin conditions. In fact, Dr. Tanzi explains that pores will get larger over time regardless of whether they are treated or not, so knowing your skin’s tendencies is key to understanding how to best treat and refine your pores.
Irritation is definitely a risk of pore strips, especially if you have sensitive skin. Another culprit of irritation? Improper removal. Although we all know how to properly apply a strip, Dr. Fusco cautions users of the importance of peeling off a strip properly. “When peeling it off, it should be done gently and not ripped off,” explains Dr. Fusco, so that you don't irritate your skin.
If you’re discouraged with the yield of blackheads you see on the strip, Dr. Fusco says do not use another pore strip immediately. Using strips too frequently can cause the skin to appear pink or red and feel tender. If your skin feels dry or raw at all after use, lay off. Dr. Fusco suggests limiting your pore strip use to twice a week to avoid any of the above side effects.
So, How Can We Use Pore Strips Correctly?
Expect a Short-Term Fix
Although they might seem like the end all be all for pore care, strips are really only the kicking off point. As satisfying as it is to see the brown gooey spots (a.k.a. oil, dirt, sebum, and the like that have built up and clogged and expanded your pores), here’s where pore strip problem number one happens: the results are only temporary.
Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center, explains that although pore strips can and do pull the “plug” out of a blackhead, they often fill right back up, making them not the best tool for long-term results.
Only Use on Your Forehead and Nose
As with any skin care product, following directions is so important for skin safety and to ensure the product is effective. And pore strip misuse is easier to do than you’d think. “Pore strips should only be used on the areas indicated,” Dr. Fusco says. “This is mainly the T-zone—mid-forehead, nose and chin.” As mentioned above, be sure to peel the strip off slowly to avoid irritation.
Use Strips at Night to Avoid Sunburns
Skin is also more likely to burn after using a pore strip. Dr. Fusco tells patients to avoid using strips in the morning when they’ll be outdoors in sunny places because the tender skin is at a higher risk for burning. As always, apply at least SPF 30 before leaving the front door—just to be safe.
Be Picky About Products
What you use before and after your pore strip can affect your outcome and experience. In fact, Dr. Fusco discourages people who are using strong topical retinoids for the treatment of acne and patients who are taking systemic vitamin A, such as isotretinoin, from using pore strips because their skin is very sensitive and fragile due to their medication. Using a pore strip while on these meds might actually remove too much skin and cause further irritation.
She also cautions patients about what products they apply to the skin immediately after using a pore strip. “Because the skin is in a sensitive state, acids such as home peels, topical vitamin A, and certain strong or drying acne meds should be avoided immediately after using a pore strip,” she says.
Are Pore Strips the Only Way to Fix Blackheads?
Nope. Rather than pore strips, both experts agree retinoids are your best bet for truly tackling blackheads. “Retinoids work by unclogging pores and allow the debris in the pore to come up to the surface to be washed away,” explains Dr. Tanzi. “Prescription retinoids are the strongest and, therefore, the best for difficult blackheads,” she adds.
If you’re hitting up your derms office, retinoids like Tretinoin can be prescribed and treatments like DermaSweep or Isolaze can be performed to cleanse clogged blackheads. But, of course, talk to your dermatologist to see what’s best for you.
Can’t make it to the derm? That’s OK! There are plenty of topical products you can even shop over the counter too. Dr. Fusco recommends products like OTC Differin Gel, SkinMedica Retinol Complex, SkinCeutical Retinol, and FAB Skin Rescue Red Clay Mask to use in conjunction with your favorite pore strip to kiss blackheads goodbye. (Note: Don’t use one right after the other! Use your retinol or topical treatment as directed and use your pore strip as a weekly supplement, and never immediately after each other.)
Both the experts we chatted with agree that pore strips aren’t inherently bad for you. In fact, they can be effective in removing sludge from blackheads. But remember, this is just a surface treatment and ultimately, if you want long-term unplugging benefits you’re going to need to focus on some serious skin care.
Ultimately, your individual pore needs might be different, so it’s best to consult your derm to see what your plan of attack should be!