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If you’ve spent hours with your nose pressed up against the mirror, examining every blackhead, blemish, or unsightly spot on your face, don’t worry—you’re not alone. We all do it. And we’re all looking for a miracle solution when it comes to getting clear skin.
It seems like every day there’s a new type of facial treatment to try. One such treatment is a pore vacuum, which is exactly what the name suggests. These handheld devices can be used at home and work by sucking up all the things that lead to clogged pores like dirt, oil, and dead skin cells.
While there isn’t much (if any) scientific literature on pore vacuums, we’ll look at what these devices are and how they size up to other types of facial treatments.
What is a pore vacuum?
A pore vacuum is a type of handheld device used to remove impurities and junk from the skin on your face. More specifically, pore vacuums remove blackheads, which form when small pores on your face get clogged with gunk like dirt and dead skin tissue.
Blackheads are very common, although some people are more susceptible to them than others.
How exactly do these dark little dots form? Our faces are covered with pores, which are tiny holes. Each pore is home to a hair follicle. The skin on our face naturally releases an oily substance called sebum that helps keep your hair follicles healthy and moisturized. But some things can cause a build-up of sebum, which can then mix with all kinds of pore-clogging culprits (dirt, dead skin cells, and stuff in the air), forming a blocked pore. When that blocked pore is exposed to the air, it turns black, forming a blackhead (also called an open comedone) (Maia Campos, 2019).
What does a pore vacuum do?
Unlike traditional cleansers and chemical exfoliators that work by dissolving extra sebum on your face, pore vacuums physically extract unwanted grime by suctioning off impurities. These devices promise to remove dirt and dead cells, resulting in cleaner skin, reduced blemishes, and fine lines.
These devices have also gained popularity because they’re relatively easy to use, are generally less expensive than other types of facial treatments, and of course, there’s something inherently satisfying about vacuuming junk out of your face.
How do I use a pore vacuum?
Pore vacuums are handheld devices with a nozzle head and a gentle vacuum function. How the device works is pretty simple: just glide the nozzle portion over your face (without lingering on any one place for too long) to suction off any grime from the surface of your skin. Each device is different, so read the enclosed instructions carefully.
How to get clear skin: 13 tips, products, and tools
Does the treatment hurt? Is it safe for my skin?
Using a pore vacuum shouldn’t hurt, but it does come with a risk of bruising or irritating the skin if you use the wrong setting or leave it on one spot for too long.
Pore vacuums are safe for most skin types. The device has multiple power settings, but you should start it at the lowest setting and gradually increase if comfortable. In addition to bruising, misusing any kind of suction device can lead to small broken blood vessels under the surface of the skin—like a hickey on your face.
Talk to your healthcare provider or skincare specialist If you have sensitive skin, active acne, or a skin condition like rosacea (small, inflamed bumps that cause redness on the face). Avoid overusing these devices, and never use them on broken skin.
The big question: do pore vacuums really work?
Many people find pore vacuums helpful in keeping their skin clear. There are no published studies or scientific data, however, to back up any of these claims.
Just as wearing a clay mask or using a chemical exfoliator fleetingly leaves your skin feeling clean and rejuvenated, pore vacuums aren’t a fix-all solution for skin problems. It’s an effective skin cleansing method, but its effects are temporary and by no means a quick fix for long-term skin problems like acne. However, a pore vacuum may be beneficial if you have stubborn pores that often clog or for people prone to picking at their face.
How quickly will I see results?
If you’ve ever used a makeup wipe or something similar, the results are immediate. What makeup was there is gone after a vigorous wipe. The concept is sort of the same with a pore vacuum—except with suction. Because you’re stripping the skin of things that leave it looking dull or grey, you should see results immediately. Just remember that, while this treatment is satisfying at the moment, its benefits are only temporary, and things like dirt, oil, and dead skin cells will build up in your pores again over time.
Other ways to unclog pores and eliminate blackheads
Pore vacuums aren’t for everyone. They may not eliminate stubborn blackheads, and not everyone can tolerate using this kind of device. Luckily, if this type of treatment isn’t for you, other options can help unclog your pores and clear out blackheads, including:
- Topical retinoids: These are gels and creams chemically derived from vitamin A (retinol). Studies have shown that topical retinoids, like tretinoin (see Important Safety Information), can help treat acne by reducing the number of blackheads and whiteheads on the skin. Use caution as these can cause side effects, such as dryness or irritation (Zaenglein, 2016).
- Chemical exfoliators: You may also want to consider introducing certain ingredients, like salicylic acid and glycolic acid, into your skincare routine. Ingredients like these can cleanse or exfoliate your face, as well as help decrease blackheads, oiliness, and pimples (Weigmann, 2020).
- Avoid popping pimples or picking at skin: Our hands come into contact with numerous surfaces throughout the day, and the last thing you want to do is introduce more bacteria to your face. For this reason, it’s recommended you avoid touching your face at all times, except when cleansing or moisturizing. Picking at your skin may lead to more problems, so even though it might be satisfying to pop that one pimple, try your best to avoid it.
Investing in a good cleanser and moisturizer with SPF is also crucial for keeping your skin looking its best. And you don’t need to go for the fancy stuff.
How to build a skincare routine: basics, steps, products
A gentle cleanser is a good place to start for your skincare routine, ideally one that is fragrance-free and designed not to block your pores. Some brands carry products tailored for certain skin types, work effectively to cleanse your skin, and won’t break the bank.
When buying exfoliators, the key is to avoid products that may irritate your skin (tip: stay away from harsh ingredients like alcohol and microbeads). Most importantly, make sure to apply a moisturizer with SPF before you walk out the door in the morning to protect your skin from sun damage (Chien, 2021).
Finally, consult with a dermatologist or esthetician if you seek more permanent solutions for deeply rooted skin problems. They can tell you more about minimally invasive clinical procedures, such as chemical peels, microdermabrasion, or microneedling (Castillo, 2018; Shah, 2021; Alster, 2018).
- Alster, T. S., & Graham, P. M. (2018). Microneedling: A Review and Practical Guide. Dermatologic Surgery, 44(3), 397–404. doi: 10.1097/DSS.0000000000001248. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28796657/
- Castillo, D. E., & Keri, J. E. (2018). Chemical peels in the treatment of acne: patient selection and perspectives. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, 11, 365–372. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S137788. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30038512/
- Chien, A., & Kang, S. (2021). Photoaging. In UpToDate. Elmats, C.A. and Corona, R. (Eds.). Retrieved Sept. 27, 2021 from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/photoaging
- Maia Campos, P., Melo, M. O., & Mercurio, D. G. (2019). Use of advanced imaging techniques for the characterization of oily skin. Frontiers in Physiology, 10, 254. doi:10.3389/fphys.2019.00254. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30971936/
- Shah, M., & Crane, J. S. (2021). Microdermabrasion. [Updated Jul 18, 2021]. In StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Sept. 30, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK535383/
- Wiegmann, D., & Haddad, L. (2020). Two is better than one: the combined effects of glycolic acid and salicylic acid on acne-related disorders. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 19(9), 2349–2351. doi: 10.1111/jocd.13387. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32250551/
- Zaenglein, A. L., Pathy, A. L., Schlosser, B. J., Alikhan, A., Baldwin, H. E., Berson, D. S., et al. (2016). Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 74(5), 945–73.e33. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2015.12.037. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26897386/
Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.