Congested Skin: What Causes It and How to Treat It

A beautiful girl applying a treatment for congested skin

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Just because popping an ugly pimple and picking away at dry skin can be incredibly satisfying doesn’t mean you should do it. More often than not, you’ll only cause more harm to your already annoying skin problems.

You’re in good company if you’ve long struggled with congested skin. The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) says that 50 million Americans have acne, making it the top skin condition in the U.S.

However, a clear complexion is only possible if you get to the root cause of your congested skin. Naturally, that means learning about what causes the condition and improving your beauty and lifestyle habits to achieve the results you’ve always dreamt of.

What Is Congested Skin?

A girl touching her face, examining her congested skin

You’re probably already familiar with congested skin. Perhaps you’ve suffered from breakouts since high school or combat painful cystic acne during each menstrual cycle.

Congested skin is essentially clogged pores — the buildup of sweat, oils, dead skin cells and dirt. If it sounds gross, that’s because it kind of is. Nevertheless, this buildup is a natural part of our bodily processes.

Clogged pores occur when the sebaceous glands produce excess sebum, a natural oil that lubricates the skin. However, when the sebum mixes with bacteria, it can enlarge your pores, induce pimples and blackheads and cause inflammation.

While we often notice the effects on our faces, congested skin can occur on any part of the body, including the arms, back, chest and pubic area.

Hormone fluctuations during puberty are usually the starting point for most people’s troubles with clogged pores. However, problems can start for anyone, regardless of age and gender. Additionally, having a family history of congested skin can increase your chances of developing the condition.

Common Causes of Congested Skin

Applying makeup is part of many people’s daily routines. However, cosmetics are one of the leading culprits of skin congestion. Although hiding blemishes with foundation and powder may make us feel refreshed and our best selves, makeup seeps into the pores and further clogs our skin. The same can be said for a poor skincare routine that excludes washing, exfoliating and moisturizing daily and nightly.

Hormonal changes and imbalances can also trigger excess sebum and clogged pores. Approximately 50% of women in their 20s experience hormonal acne — about 25% of women in their 40s do, too. Hormonal acne occurs most often during a menstrual cycle or may be attributed to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and metabolic conditions.

Another cause of skin congestion includes exposure to air pollution and everyday household cleaners. Studies have shown that tropospheric ozone stimulates oxidative damage and inflammatory responses in the skin. Likewise, cleaning solutions can irritate your skin — for instance, some detergents may contain allergens and chemicals that exacerbate eczema.

Of course, it would be remiss not to mention the effects of stress on clogged pores. When feeling anxious or distressed, the body produces excess cortisol — the stress hormone. Studies suggest that cortisol can activate the sebaceous glands, causing more sebum production and breakouts.

A poor diet can also negatively impact your skin. Chocolate and oily, sugary foods can clog your pores and trigger acne.

A Holistic Approach to Clogged Pores

A girl trying out different natural treatments for congested skin

Fortunately, you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on serums and creams to achieve clear, beautiful skin. Taking a holistic approach to treating congested skin is much more effective anyway, often requiring some lifestyle changes and the adoption of a daily skincare routine. Here are six natural treatments for congested skin you can do at home.

1. Check Your Products

Some will find the recommendation to eliminate makeup a laughing matter. Nevertheless, it’s essential to be mindful of your skincare products, cosmetics and applicators. Ensure your makeup excludes harmful ingredients like parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and aluminum.

You’ll also want to check for an expiration date. For example, you should replace your foundation every six months, liquid concealers after one year and powder concealers after two years.

Additionally, wash your applicators regularly, such as makeup brushes and sponges. It wouldn’t hurt to replace them after some time, especially if they leave little hairs behind.

2. Change Your Diet

Your diet plays a significant role in whether you have congested skin. Some foods — like chocolate, French fries, white bread, red meat and saturated fats — cause irritation and inflammation that may affect your glands’ oil production.

You’ll see improvements in your skin when you begin eating an anti-inflammatory diet. Anti-inflammatory diets contain high amounts of polyphenols and antioxidants that protect your skin and reduce inflammation.

An anti-inflammatory diet consists of the following foods:

  • Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and acai
  • Dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale and collards
  • Tomatoes
  • Nuts, such as walnuts and almonds
  • Olive oil

Changing your eating habits requires self-discipline and commitment, but you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with much healthier, clearer skin.

3. Moisturize With Natural Oils

Keeping your skin moisturized is necessary for a clear complexion. However, what you apply matters. Use natural ingredients like jojoba or coconut oil to moisturize your skin instead of over-the-counter products.

Applying jojoba oil sends a message to the follicles that there’s no need to produce additional sebum, avoiding excess oils and promoting cleaner pores. Daily applications of jojoba oil can offer relief for dry, sensitive skin.

On the other hand, coconut oil contains anti-microbial compounds with natural healing capabilities — meaning applying a dab of coconut oil can soothe and heal irritated acne-prone skin.

4. Wash Your Face Before Bed

Remove dead skin cells and dirt with a homemade natural exfoliant. A natural exfoliant uses common ingredients from your pantry, providing gentle friction to your skin to remove impurities.

Ingredients you might consider combining for a homemade exfoliant include the following:

  • Oatmeal
  • Coffee grounds
  • Finely-ground almonds
  • Sugar
  • Sea salt
  • Baking soda
  • Honey
  • Green tea
  • Essential oils

Massage your homemade exfoliant into your skin two or three times a week.

5. Keep a Clean Home

There’s only so much you can do to prevent the adverse effects of ozone. However, poor air quality isn’t the most significant cause of pollution-induced congested skin.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), people spend 90% of their time inside, where air quality and concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are usually worse than outside. Maintaining a clean home is essential for healthy and unclogged pores. However, you’ll want to avoid cleaners with toxic chemicals and irritants.

You can make homemade cleaners with natural ingredients as easily as homemade exfoliants and moisturizers. For example, equal parts baking soda and white distilled vinegar make for a squeaky clean bathroom.

Likewise, one cup of water, one-quarter cup of white distilled vinegar and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a spray bottle will remove dust from your furniture in a breeze.

6. Reduce Stress

Keeping your cortisol levels lower can prevent congested skin. Consider ways to practice self-care and relax during the day or high-stress periods. For instance, you might try the following activities:

Studies have also shown that a 20 to 30-minute walk in nature can effectively reduce cortisol. Eliminate your congested skin by taking a stroll at a nearby park or walking on the beach. You’ll enhance your skin and the rest of your physical and emotional health.

Reduce Congested Skin the Natural Way

Clogged pores are enough to ruin anyone’s day. Treating congested skin with natural, homemade remedies and lifestyle changes can reduce breakouts and allow you to achieve the clear complexion you want.

Written by Cora Gold

Cora is the Editor-in-Chief of women’s lifestyle magazine, Revivalist, where she writes about style, beauty and wellness.

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