Among the assortment of hellish surprises 2020 has thrown my way, the eruption of clogged pores and blackheads on my nose was the one that truly caught me by surprise. As prepared as I was for mask-induced cheek and chin breakouts, I somehow forgot that the same mask also tightly traps sweat, sebum, and oil across your nose. And when that happens, blackheads are inevitable.
Don’t get me wrong: Enlarged pores are a small price to pay when you’re trying to be responsible in the middle of a pandemic. At the same time, I was convinced there had to be a way to follow public health guidelines while also banishing any visible traces of clogged pores.
My previous solution of choice was an obvious no-go. While I stand by my praise for Skinmiso’s Pore Beauty Nose Mask, I can’t get around the fact that it involves two round of masking, gentle extractions, and a blurring primer to top it. I love the results, but this year has put us all through a lot. Do I have enough strength left in my soul to devote half an hour to dealing with blackheads? That would be a strong no—I get tired just thinking about it. There’s also the classic option of ripping pore strips off my face, but as cathartic as that sounds, I’ve never been a fan of the short-lived results and consequent redness.
In times of beauty uncertainty, I did what I always do: Go digging for options. That’s how I unearthed an unassuming bottle of Medicube Zero Pore Serum, which I can now confidently say is the best thing to happen to me in the last couple of months. (What can I say? It’s been a rough year.)
Medicube is a derm-driven K-beauty line that makes shopping for your skin concerns easy. There’s the Cica line for sensitive or weakened barriers and Glow line for pumping your face full of collagen. Given the state of my nose, I immediately honed in on the Zero line, formulated for pore size reduction and sebum-moisture balance. To reiterate, you cannot actually “close” or get rid of your pores, which are a natural part of your skin’s function. What you can do is make them look smaller and get rid of blackheads, which occur when pores become clogged with oxidized gunk.
Medicube suggests a two-step approach for elimination. First, exfoliate your face with Zero Pore Pads, which contain a mild mixture of AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and sebum-dissolving salicylic acid. Then comes the secret sauce—a serum that combines tightening astringent ingredients with moisturizing elements that prevent skin from overproducing oils. While Medicube calls Zero Pore Serum a “quick fix” approach, it won’t give the instant gratification of a pore strip. By “quick,” the brand actually means you should wait about two weeks to see full improvement, which checks out according to my own results.
After cleansing and dousing my skin in essence, I pat a miniscule dollop of Zero Pore on the tip of my nose. The milky formula contains a blend of lemongrass, camellia, and cinnamomum cassia bark extracts (a clinically proven ingredient for pore-tightening in Korea). Together, they control sebum production and provide a soothing, tightening effect that keeps pores from getting overfilled without causing dryness.
The instructions say to use it anytime after cleansing and toning, but I tend to save application for my morning routine. While it doesn’t feel like any primers I own, I’ve noticed the serum has a slight blurring effect that makes pores look immediately less visible. This is obviously more useful during the day than it is while I’m asleep, so I’m rationing out my little bottle accordingly.
I’ve kept up consistent application even after the two-week mark, and my formerly inflamed blackheads are now just a distant memory. My pores are still visible up-close—because I’m human—but have faded into total obscurity from a normal viewing distance. Best of all, I devote no more than 30 seconds of my day to dealing with them. And in 2020, I’d call that a win.
Sarah Y. Wu is a beauty writer in Berlin. Follow her on Instagram @say.wu.