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I’ll be honest: I’m not a fan of most pimple-popping videos (too squeamish, get nauseated, blegh). But the one kind of acne video I’ll watch every freakin’ time it appears on my TikTok or IG? Those viral videos of people using pore vacuums to suck out the junk from their pores. So gross, yet so good. And I’m not the only one who has been ~enticed~ by the ick: Ever since pore cleaners went viral, I now get weekly texts and DMs from friends and strangers, asking me if pore vacuums really get rid of blackheads and clogged pores—or if they’re just a marketing scam.
FWIW, I was hella skeptical at first—in the skincare world, if it sounds too good to be true, it pretty much always is. But I also felt the need to buy one and test it out for myself before completely saying “NOPE.” So I went with one of the top-rated pore vacuums on Amazon for the low price of $19 (which is now discontinued, sry, but trust me—it’s the same as all the other cheap options), talked to a dermatologist, and hoped for the best. Which…well, just keep reading.
Meet the expert:
- Arash Akhavan, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of The Dermatology and Laser Group in New York, NY. Dr. Akhavan is also an expert in non-invasive laser and cosmetic treatments.
What does a pore vacuum do?
So the general idea of a pore vacuum is exactly what it sounds like: It “vacuums” your pores, suctioning out all your blackheads, ooey-gooey grossness, secrets, soul, etc. You just turn on the device, stick the circular tip on your skin, then slowly slide it over your pores, watching the junk get abducted from your pores like a dreamy nightmare. At least, that’s what pore vacuums are supposed to do in theory.
You’ve also got other types of pore cleaners, like pore scrapers (little vibrating spatulas that are supposed to help “loosen” grime from your pores while you gently scrape your nose), or microdermabrasion vacuums that exfoliate and vacuum at the same time. But pore vacuums are, by far, the most popular tool you’ve been seeing on the interwebs recently—especially the vacuums with cameras attached.
Testing the pore vacuum on blackheads
Here’s the thing: My skin is incredibly sensitive—like, so sensitive that I’ve gotten broken blood vessels from sneezing before—which meant there was no way in actual hell that I was sticking a suctioning device to my face, especially after seeing how strongly it sucked up the skin from the back of my hand (see video evidence below).
Instead, I decided to test it out on my v nice and sweet boyfriend, whose blackhead-speckled nose has been the bane of my existence for six years and will eventually lead to our inevitable breakup in 2045. No, he was not very excited, and yes, we mostly just argued in the bathroom at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night.
Even with professional facials (so, ahem, not this plastic vacuum), your skin needs to be soft and malleable before attempting to extract anything, so I figured it couldn’t hurt copying the effect at home. “The loosening of debris in your pores with some steam or a shower is a good first step before extractions,” says Arash Akhavan, MD, dermatologist and founder of The Dermatology and Laser Group in NYC.
Seeing as my boyfriend refused to hop in the shower or even willingly participate, I settled for holding a warm washcloth over his nose for five minutes to help soften the top layer of his skin (not, mind you, to “open” his pores, which is fully a myth. “You can’t ‘open’ or ‘close’ your pores,” says Dr. Akhavan. “That’s not how they work.” Sry).
Although every device is a little different, my (now-discontinued) vacuum has five levels of suctioning intensity, ranging from a butterfly kiss (level one) to a high-school hickey suck (level five). The instructions warn against keeping the suction in one place for more than three seconds,so starting on level two, I gently moved the vacuum along the sides and creases of le boyfriend’s nose, waiting for all the junk to be catapulted from his pores.
Aaaaand nothing happened. So I cranked it up to level three—which prompted some R-rated cursing from my patient—and watched as one tiny, itty-bitty sliver of white goo was sucked out and up from his pores. It was freaking magical. Truly, a rush. Inspired, I continued suctioning his nose, going back and forth over each spot and trying level four for one millisecond (it almost ended our relationship).
Despite spending a good five minutes suctioning the shit out of his nose, I managed to extract only three blackheads by the end. That’s it. In a sea of darkness, we barely made a dent. And it wasn’t for lack of intensity either—at one point, the tool was so tightly stuck to his skin (on level two! The baby level!) that when I tried to lift it from his nose, it traveled down to his mouth, sucking up his lip as I tried to pry it off.
We eventually admitted defeat—or more accurately, my boyfriend stood up and declared, “I’m out; I’m done,” before leaving the room. His nose was red, there was a bright-red line from his nose to his lip where we had lost control, and his pores looked exactly the same. Thankfully, the redness dissipated after 45 minutes, but my DEEP, HEART-WRENCHING disappointment of a failed experiment has yet to fade. Which brings me to the question/answer we’re all waiting for:
Do pore vacuums actually work?
Yes, pore vacuums really do “work” to some degree…but not on everyone and not as effectively as you’re hoping. Like, those super-satisfying videos you see all over TikTok and Instagram? That’s not the norm—sadly. At most, you’ll probably see only a few little squiggles of gunk come out of your pores, maybe even one big satisfying one, but that’s about it.
And even then, you’re not actually vacuuming out your pores—you’re just removing some gunk from the opening of your pores. “What you’re really doing with a pore vacuum is very superficially removing any dead skin, makeup, and oils from the surface of your pores, which you can also do by cleansing very well,” says Dr. Akhavan.
And even if you do manage to suck out a significant amount of gunk, those semi-empty pores will just fill back up within a few days—if not sooner. “Your pores don’t close up once you remove the debris from them,” says Dr. Akhavan. “They continue to stay open and fill back up, which means at best, you’re seeing a very temporary fix and some psychological satisfaction.”
Are pore vacuums bad for your skin?
Listen, they aren’t great for your skin. “The biggest side effect you’re likely to see from pore vacuums is bruising and broken capillaries,” says Dr. Akhavan. As someone who gets broken blood vessels so freakin’ easily, there’s no way I was about to test this on my ultra-sensitive baby face and risk getting permanent side effects (only a laser can remove broken capillaries).
Is it going to destroy your face if you have ~regular~ skin (i.e., no rosacea, keratosis pilaris, or major sensitivity)? Most likely no; you’ll probably be fine. But if you’re hoping to make it a regular part of your skincare routine, I’d be cautious. Suctioning your skin is inherently irritating and will never produce the same results as using actual tried-and-true pore clearers and blackhead treatments (like acids! Or retinoids! Or both! Yum yum yum!).
Either way, you do you, but just know that if you do try this on your significant other, it might result in a fight/unforgivable resentment. You have been warned.