7 Bad Habits That Lead to Clogged Pores

Updated: Jun. 15, 2021

Get clear skin and prevent unwanted clogged pores by avoiding these bad habits, from smoking to wearing makeup when you exercise.

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woman looking in mirror

Why your pores keep clogging

During your teenage years, you know hormones are mostly to blame for your acne breakouts. So, why do you still seem to get clogged pores as an adult? While hormones can still play a role in adult acne, there could also be some bad habits that can make your skin more vulnerable to clogged pores.

To help you achieve clear skin and unclog pores, we spoke with board-certified dermatologist Samer Jaber, MD, at Washington Square Dermatology in New York City to identify some innocent daily habits that could be leading to clogged pores.

close up of cigarette in man's mouth
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If you’re looking for a reason to quit smoking, perhaps its effects on your skin can motivate you. According to a small 2017 study in the International Journal of Research in Dermatologymen who smoke were twice as likely to have acne than those who didn’t. The researchers concluded smoking may be a cause of acne, but it’s not clear how. What doctors do know is that smoking severely damages skin by weakening its elasticity and strength, this can lead to premature aging.

bed sheets

Sleeping on dirty sheets

Conventional wisdom dictates washing your sheets weekly, but if you have clogged pores, you might want to do it more often to protect clear skin. Pillowcases and bedsheets can easily harbor a buildup of oil, dirt, and dead skin, which transfers back to your skin at night, leading to clogged pores and causing blemishes. “You want your sheets to be clean and not clogging your pores,” says Dr. Jaber, who is also an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Washing bedsheets can make a difference, especially if you are a sweater.” Consider switching out your pillowcase at least every three days.

woman popping pimple
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Touching your face all day

“Touching your face regularly can trigger acne through the spread of the P. acnes bacteria,” Dr. Jaber says. On an average day, we touch countless germ-ridden objects and materials: cash, sink handles, public transportation surfaces, handrails, doorknobs, and the list goes on. By touching your face throughout the day, you are transferring the many bacteria, viruses, oils, allergens, and impurities from your hands to your skin, which can clog your pores. The best way to combat this bad habit is to regularly sanitize your hands, and ask friends to point out when you touch your face so you can start to kick the habit.

woman tanning


When it comes to protecting yourself from the sun without blocking pores, certain face sunscreens seem to provide a win-win scenario. The sunscreens with the potentially best coverage against dangerous UV rays are also often the ones that are least comedogenic (pore-blocking). Soaking up the rays in any capacity can be bad for your pores. “Sun tanning and resultant sun damage can worsen pores, as the sun can damage the surrounding skin tissues, making the pores appear larger,” Dr. Jaber says. Add to that the fact that many sunscreens out there are comedogenic. Take steps to reduce your sun exposure and make sure to choose the right sunscreen. Research your ingredients. The best sunscreens are lightweight and have zinc and titanium dioxide as active ingredients. (Editor’s pick: Colorescience Daily UV Protector SPF 30 Whipped Mineral Sunscreen, which blocks harmful UVA and UVB rays as well as environmental aggressors using zinc and titanium dioxide. It also has a universal tint that doubles as foundation.)

woman talking on cellphone
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Talking on the phone

If you regularly have a phone screen glued to your face, you may notice localized breakouts on your cheeks, along the sides of your face. Phones are exceptionally filthy, collecting makeup, dirt, oil, and bacteria from any surface they come into contact with (think of the tables and chairs they’re set on, plus the germs they mingle with in purses and pockets). In a small 2016 study of medical students in Saudi Arabia, published in the Journal of Microscopy and Ultrastructure, researchers found that 96 percent of the 105 cell phones tested were contaminated with some type of bacteria. To avoid clogged your pores every time you talk on the phone, switch to a hands-free device, or wipe down the screen before each use or at least daily. (Try these surprising acne home remedies.)

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Wearing makeup during a workout

“Sweating is your body’s natural method of cooling your skin, and wearing makeup can trap sweat and bacteria, blocking your pores. This can result in skin congestion, which can cause blackheads, skin irritation, and increased breakouts,” says Dr. Jaber. “Over time, if you repeatedly wear heavy gym makeup, you may notice that you develop worsening acne and uneven skin tone on your face.” No matter how gorgeous you want to look during your spin or yoga class, it’s not worth clogging your pores.  (Editor’s pick: Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes can help you take off your makeup quickly as you’re walking from the dressing room to the fitness studio.)

man looking at his beard in the mirror
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Picking at blemishes

This can be a vicious cycle: You compulsively pick at your blemishes in an effort to remove them, which in turn causes even more blemishes. By picking at every little bump and zit, you are contributing to skin inflammation and irritation, which greatly affects pore size in the long run. Further, the squeezing and stretching of skin makes the transfer of impurities from your hands highly likely, which can lead to clogged pores. Though it’s easier said than done, it’s important that you find a way to resist the temptation to pick your acne, and instead use a spot treatment to rid of any blemishes. (Editor’s pick: MD Complete Skin Clearing Acne Breakout Treatment, which comes with zit-zapping benzoyl peroxide and soothing natural botanicals.)