Congested skin

Congested skin is simple to treat if you know what you’re looking for. Here’s how to spot the common skin concern

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Characterised by dullness and small bumps under the skin, congested skin is a common complaint. Two dermatologists break down what you should know and how to address it. 

Congestion isn’t a concern limited only to your morning commute – it’s also a common skincare complaint. Defined by dull skin with whiteheads or blackheads, it’s easy to miss or attribute to breaking out. 

And, while your lengthy skincare routine might be the one moment of the day you finally take a breath out (see: living and working through two years of pandemic uncertainty), it could also be contributing to how clogged your pores are and congested your skin is. 

Now, before you chuck out your entire bathroom shelf, let’s get up to speed on what congested skin is and how to treat it properly at home. Chances are it’s far simpler than you think. 

What is congested skin?

“Congested skin is a simple way of describing skin that feels bumpy and rough. It’s the build-up of dead skin cells, impurities, sweat, and sebum on the skin pores,” explains Ksenia Sobchak, a clinical cosmetologist and dermatologist.

“As this debris increases, it might be unable to leave the skin and get trapped causing blackheads or uneven skin texture with a dull appearance.”

How can you tell if you have congested skin?

“When skin is congested it has multiple open pores and appears rough in texture; it can also appear to have blackheads, whiteheads and small bumps,” explains celebrity aesthetician Mimi Luzon

“Acne is a skin condition causing painful spots and oily skin. They both differ and congested skin can eventually lead to acne and breakouts.”

This TikTok explaining how to identify congested skin has been viewed over 1.3 million times: 

How your skincare routine could be contributing to congested skin

“Patients seeing me in the clinic are often overloading their skin with products and this can exacerbate their skin complaints,” says Acnecide consultant dermatologist Dr Catherine Borysiewicz. 

“A typical example would be a patient suffering from an acne breakout, who uses a harsh cleanser followed by an alcohol-based toner that further strips their natural oils. They then apply a thick moisturiser because their skin is so dried out, but are also inadvertently clogging their skin even more and making things worse.”

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Which products help treat congested skin?

Sobchak has some simple advice for dealing with congested skin. Rather than overcomplicating your routine, look for efficacious ingredients that help clear, cleanse and exfoliate clogged skin. 


“Look for liquid exfoliating products that contain salicylic acid and lactic acid ingredients,” advises Sobchak. 

Salicylic acid (a beta-hydroxy acid) and lactic acid (an alpha-hydroxy acid) are liquid exfoliators used to clear pores and treat hyperpigmentation for brighter and more even skin. 

congested skin


“Look for serums that contain retinol or alpha-hydroxy acids to help boost skin elasticity and allow the pores to breathe,” advises Sobchak. 

A word of caution: if you’re just starting out with retinol or you have very sensitive skin, start by applying it only once or twice a week. You may be able to work up to using it daily but overuse can lead to dryness and flaking. 

Congested skin


“Look for moisturisers with hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic ingredients. They help restore the moisture barrier on the skin,” says Sobchak. 

Products that are too heavy or contain too much oil can lead to clogged pores – this is known as “being comedogenic”. Looking for non-comedogenic products can help to avoid this and minimise your skin’s congestion. 

Moisturiser for congested skin

When to seek professional advice

“When these at-home methods are not working or making your skin worse then it may be time to seek help from a dermatologist or doctor who can prescribe medication for your skin,” says Luzon. 

Main image: Getty

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