How do they happen?
Your pores are constantly omitting sebum, the oils on your face. Optimally, the pores stay open and the oil spreads across the skin, serving as a natural moisturizer for your face. Often times the pores get clogged with dirt and grime from the day, makeup, and dead skin cells that attach to the sebum and make a sticky consistency that stays in your pore instead of leaving. This often is more frequent in oily skin types, and people who do not exfoliate their skin.
What are my options?
There are many ways to clean your clogged pores, and I'll discuss your options:
Biore Strips: This is the most commonly used way to get rid of blackheads. It's easy and for the most part painless- it feels kind of like ripping off a band-aid. I think it's slightly better. It's like a paper-mache type strip that you apply to your face and let dry, and claims to take the blackheads and whiteheads with it. My personal opinion is that this option is the most inferior way to clear your clogged pores, as it never does it as thoroughly as the other options do. One pro is that it is the only option that doesn't leave your skin red for the rest of the day (unless you have sensitive skin, and then it might). If you want the quickest, easiest option, this is it. If you want something really get everything out, this isn't for you. Cost: Under $10 (per box)
Blackhead Remover: Also known sometimes as a "blackhead extractor", "skin clearing lancet". It's a little metal tool with double-ended loops that you press on your skin and the comedones pop out. The ouch factor is the most of all your options, however it is the cheapest and extremely effective. I've never had a problem getting out a blackhead or whitehead with this tool. It doesn't hurt, but it is definitely uncomfortable, and I find that it is worth the discomfort for the clear skin. It's a one time buy since it is stainless steel and easy to clean. Cost: About $10
Ultrasonic Spatula: Works as effectively or more than the blackhead removing tool. It is more expensive, however it is also a one time buy. The pros to getting one of these instead are that it is completely painless, and also has other features for skincare, including exfoliation, skin toning, and ultrasonic massage for penetration of facial products and collagen production. Cost: $40-200, depending on the brand.
Professional Facials: Getting extractions done professionally is another very thorough way to clean your pores. This is the most expensive option, as you will have to come back regularly to keep your pores clear and the cost of this will add up very quickly. Even if you can afford it, I find that it is still nice to have tools around to use myself in between trips. Pain factor varies from clinician to clinician. Cost: $30-200+ per session.
I have personally tried each of the listed options and prefer the blackhead extractor and the ultrasonic spatula. They are the most convenient and thorough cleaners of my skin for the least cost. Regular skin exfoliation and clean skin are keys to keeping your skin clear even without extracting your pores. Before extracting, it is helpful to steam your face, put a towel of warm water over it for a few minutes, or take a shower so the steam can penetrate and open the pores to loosen the gunk inside. This makes extraction easier and therefore less painful.
The key to preventing comedones, or clogged pores, is regular extractions and prescription retinoids- which are the only effective way to minimize pores for good. Products that claim to tighten pores do work, however only for a short period of time. (More on that another time). :)