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Pore strips are a drugstore beauty staple — but are they actually effective?

We asked two dermatologists.
Woman applying nose strips while looking at mirror. Concept of face skin care. Young european girl wearing towel. Interior of bathroom in modern apartment
YakobchukOlena / Getty Images

There's nothing more satisfying than taking off a pore strip and seeing all the gunk that it magically sucked from your pores in the span of a few minutes. It's part of the reason why they're such a staple in so many people's beauty routines, and have been for such a long time.

But even though they provide such a gratifying end result, we still can't help but question if they really work, and if they're safe for our skin. That's why we tapped two dermatologists, Dr. Julia Tzu, founder of Wall Street Dermatology in New York City and Dr. Mary L. Stevenson, associate professor at the NYU Langone Medical Center, to get the facts.

What are pore strips and how do they work?

Pore strips are designed to help remove blackheads. The strips feature an adhesive, which, when wet, adheres to your skin, Tzu said. The glue essentially bonds to the top layer of your skin, so that when you take it off, the debris in your pores comes with it.

If you've ever taken a close look at a pore strip after you've taken it off, you've probably noticed a ton of little black masses all over its surface (it's why they're so satisfying). Basically, what you're seeing is the oily build-up of dead skin cells and bacteria that makes a blackhead, explained Stevenson.

Do pore strips actually work?

Essentially, yes. "They work and you can visibly see that they do work in terms of taking the clogged pores out," Tzu said. "But they work to a limited extent." They likely won't remove all of the blackheads that you're seeing (especially if you're not applying the strip correctly). And Stevenson said that they also won't do anything long-term or prevent them from happening in the first place.

Are there any risks to using pore strips?

There can be potential risks with basically any skin care product, but Stevenson said that with pore strips it tends to be relatively low. Some people may experience irritation or inflammation from the adhesive, though.

While some people might be concerned that they will make pores look bigger with regular use, Stevenson said that the strips will not change the size of your pores and there's no evidence to show that they'll have that effect.

How to apply pore strips

Tzu, who has been using pore strips since she was a teenager, said that there's a secret to applying them correctly — and the average consumer probably isn't doing it the right way. "You have to douse your skin in warm water before you apply the pore strip to dilate your pores," Tzu said. "You don't want your pores to be contracted when you're trying to get stuff out of them." After applying it to your face, you want to put a thin layer of water on the sticky side of the strip. Apply the strip on the area and let it totally dry. Then, to remove, use one hand to gently pull your skin and create some tension around the strip, and use the other to slowly pull it up at the end, working at an angle. Stop when you get to the middle and restart on the other side until it's completely removed.

After using, Stevenson said that you may want to gently cleanse your skin to get rid of any remaining adhesive.

If you want to give pore strips a try, here are three options to consider.

Pore strips to use

Bioré Original Deep Cleansing Pore Strips

While Tzu said that her favorite pore strips have been discontinued, she now uses Bioré's strips. According to the brand, the strips are made with a c-bond technology that's designed to bind to blackheads and impurities — and not to your skin. They can be used once a week to help remove dirt and oil.

Starface Lift Off Pore Strips

Starface is best known for its cute Hydro-Star pimple protectors, but the brand also has other fun products, like these "gentle-yet-effective" pore strips. They have an average 4.3-star rating on the Starface site and one reviewer called them a "lifesaver" for pores. The strips contain aloe vera extract, which the brand says helps calm skin and reduce the appearance of inflammation.

Down To the Pore Strips

Reviewers say these pore strips are "easy to use," "effective" and "help minimize pores." The pack comes with nose, chin and forehead strips, so you can target pesky blackheads all along your T-zone. The strips feature charcoal and with hazel, which the brand says help further clear oil and impurities.

Other ways to remove blackheads

Outside of using pore strips, if your skin doesn't look as clear as you'd like it to, it's always a good idea to go see your dermatologist to talk about the best form of treatment. To help clear blackheads, they can perform chemical peels, microdermabrasion or extractions. Otherwise, when it comes to preventing blackheads from happening in the first place, Stevenson said that it can be helpful to use things like benzoyl peroxide, retinol or adapalene gel (which is in the family of retinoids, but tends to be less irritating).

PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash

This bestselling face wash contains 10 percent benzoyl peroxide and, according to the brand, it works to kill acne-causing bacteria and unclog pores to help clear acne and prevent new breakouts from forming. It's also said to feature moisturizing ingredients to help counteract dryness.

CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum

CeraVe's Resurfacing Retinol Serum has more than 18,300 five-star ratings from shoppers who say that it helps improve skin texture, fade acne scars and reduce blackheads. Along with retinol, the formula features three essential ceramides, which are said to help restore and maintain the skin barrier.

Differin Gel

Currently the No. 1 bestselling facial serum on Amazon, this dermatologist-approved gel is said to contain the first prescription-strength retinoid available over-the-counter. The formula promises to help prevent acne and improve your skin's tone and texture by targeting clogged pores and inflammation.

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