They're so satisfying to rip off, but are they doing your skin more harm than good?

By Shannon Bauer
May 25, 2020
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Like going ham on a sheet of bubble wrap or enjoying an ASMR video before bed, there are few things in life quite as satisfying as peeling a pore strip off your nose. And unlike most skin-care treatments that can take weeks or months to see results, the gunk removed by a pore strip is immediately visible—gross, but incredibly satisfying.

However, nose strips have also gotten a bad rep for being harsh on skin, and some people seem to think that they do more harm than good. Here, dermatologists explain how pore strips work and if they are actually safe to use. (Related: Everything You Need to Know About Getting Rid of Blackheads)

How Are Pore Strips Supposed to Work?

Pore strips are meant to extract blackheads. In case you need a crash course in blackheads, to put it simply, a blackhead is a clogged pore. "It's clogged by skin oils, debris (dead skin cells), and dirt. The clog can be black itself or it could be shadowing from a clog deep within the pore making the surface look dark," says Robert Anolik, M.D., a dermatologist at Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York.

To release a clogged pore, a strip or cloth with adhesive sticks to the sebum, dead skin, and dirt trapped in the pores of your nose and suctions it off the surface of the skin, points out Sapna Palep, M.D., dermatologist at Spring Street Dermatology in New York City. The adhesive acts like a magnet, so when you peel the cloth off, it takes all the gunk embedded in your pores with it. The result: A stalactite-looking mountain left on the strip. (Related: What Are Sebaceous Filaments and How Can You Get Rid of Them?)

Are They Successful In Removing Blackheads?

Do pore strips really work? In short, yes—but there is a caveat. While they can remove surface gunk, they don't remove the deeper components of blackheads within the pore, meaning you might still see some dark spots along your nose post-yank, says Dr. Anolik. They also can't prevent your skin from forming new blackheads. You may use a pore strip on Monday morning and already feel like you need another one on Wednesday to tackle a new crop of dark dots.

The problem with pore strips is that the adhesive removes the hydrating oils from your skin along with those that are pore-clogging. Your skin then produces more oil to overcompensate for being stripped, which can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of even more blackheads. Use a pore strip too often and you'll end up creating the problem you were trying to correct. (Related: The 10 Best Blackhead Removers, According to a Skin Expert)

How Often Should You Use Pore Strips?

Both dermatologists note that pore strips can safely be applied once or twice per week. Just be cautious if you have sensitive skin, and steer clear completely if you have active skin conditions such as acne, eczema, or a sunburn, as they could worsen those issues. (Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is a Miracle Ingredient for Your Skin)

When using them, make sure you wash your face with a gentle, hydrating cleanser before to avoid overly stripping your skin of good-for-you oils; you'll then want to follow with a moisturizer that contains ceramides and hyaluronic acid or glycerin to rebuild the moisture barrier. Two products that get Dr. Palep's stamp of approval: La Roche-Posay Toleraine Double Repair Moisturizer (Buy It, $20, dermstore.com), which contains ceramides, hydrating glycerin, niacinamide, and the brand's prebiotic thermal water to soothe and attract water to the skin, and EltaMD Barrier Renewal Complex (Buy It, $52, dermstore.com), which includes ceramides and essential lipids to replenish moisture, improve tone and texture, and brighten skin.

The Best Pore Strips for Touch Ups

Blackheads are a form of acne, and without proper treatment, they can become a bigger problem than they need to be, says Dr. Anolik. Remember: pore strips are not a permanent fix, nor are they the first step in the blackhead-removing process. If you're looking for a more long term solution, you're better off addressing blackheads with your skin-care routine. Dr. Anolik recommends enlisting the help of products with salicylic acid to prevent pores from clogging in the first place. Dr. Palep also likes glycolic acid cleansers to help treat blackheads and retinol or retinoids for long term control.

Once you've established an acne-fighting skin-care regimen, you can then utilize pore strips for touch-ups and maintenance of clean-looking pores. For instance, if you have a work presentation or party in the near future, feel free to slap on a pore strip as a quick fix to clear your skin. (Related: How to Safely Use a Comedone Extractor on Blackheads and Whiteheads)

Here, the best pore strips to zap those annoying dark specks dotting your nose, cheeks, chin, and forehead.

Bioré The Original Deep Cleansing Pore Strips

BIORE

The OG pore-unclogging master (and possibly the most popular), Bioré strips have stood the test of time because they really do work. The brand claims its strips are twice as effective in just one use as other options out there, and they work to get rid of build-up, dirt, oil, makeup, and blackheads instantly. To use, just wet your nose and apply the strip, using your fingers to gently press down and smooth it over your skin. After letting it sit for 10 minutes, peel it off to reveal cleaner-looking skin.

Miss Spa Extract Pore Strips

TARGET

While blackheads are most common on the nose, they can also creep up in other places. Miss Spa sells a kit that includes butterfly nose strips and triangle-shaped strips that can address just about any area of your face that is causing you concern, including your cheeks, chin, forehead, and jawline. Just know that when applying strips to your forehead or between your eyes, skin gets more sensitive as you get closer to your eyelids, points out Dr. Anolik. (Related: Can At-Home Blue Light Devices Really Clear Acne?)

Boscia Pore Purifying Black Charcoal Strip

DERMSTORE

Dr. Palep is a fan of the ingredient charcoal to remove excess oil to help clear pores, and this strip draws on its powers to get rid of blackheads, stat. Along with charcoal, the strip also contains witch hazel and peony root extract to remove blemish-causing bacteria, tighten pores, and help prevent the appearance of blackheads and whiteheads. (Related: Activated Charcoal Beauty Products That Work (Black) Magic)

Peace Out Pore Treatment Strips

SEPHORA

With over 500 five-star reviews on Sephora, you can wave buh-bye to blackheads with these hydrocolloid-packed strips. They not only absorb sebum, oil, and dead skin trapped in your pores, but vitamin A helps to minimize the appearance of large pores. Keep in mind that these are not exactly a quick fix, as the directions advise you to wear them for at least six hours or overnight for them to really work their magic.

Clean & Clear Blackhead Eraser Scrubby Gel Strips

TARGET

You might not get an epic pore strip reveal, but these gel applications are a better choice for those with sensitive skin. The two-in-one nose strip dissolves in water and becomes a facial scrub that exfoliates oil and dirt clogging pores without stripping your skin of precious oils. The oil-free and non-comedogenic formula (read: won't further clog pores) boasts salicylic acid, which is also helpful for targeting blackheads and acne.

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