I’ve been in a war against blackheads since I first discovered Bioré pore strips back in high school (seeing that black gunk is just so satisfying). According to celebrity facialist Cecilia Wong from Cecilia Wong Skincare in New York, those tiny dots are a sign you need to treat your skin ASAP. “A blackhead is a combination of oil and dirt mixed together,” she told SELF. “If you don’t take care of your pores, eventually the dirt and oil will accumulate. If someone has a lot of blackheads, you can feel it—the skin is rough, scratchy, and bumpy.”

More bad news: dirty pores can also mean reduced skin elasticity in the future. “A pore is like a rubberband—the more you stretch it out the less elasticity it has,” Wong says. “Once your pores are stretched out to a certain degree, they won’t close back up.” Here are the steps to take to keep your pores clear.

1. Clean out dirty pores with a strip.

Yes, Wong stands by the effectiveness of pore strips to get rid of blackheads quick. But keep in mind, these are for newer breakouts. “Pore strips only really work for blackheads that haven’t been in pores for a long period of time,” she says. Pore strips are like a band-aid, using adhesive to rip away dead skin cells and dirt. However, it’s only a temporary fix.

Try: Bioré Deep Cleansing Pore Strips, $8; Target.com

2. Exfoliate three times a week to dissolve dead skin.

Dead skin is one of the many things that can clog your pores. Wong recommends a vigilant exfoliation routine using a wash cloth (beginner), a mild enzyme (intermediate), or a glycolic peel (advanced). Plan to scrub three times a week or more if you have oily skin that is prone to blackheads. Just make sure to moisturize after every exfoliating session. “You have to moisturize because exfoliant tends to be very drying to skin,” Wong explains. “If your skin is really dry, your oil production overcompensates, creating more oil and more blackheads.”

Try: Tatcha Indigo Soothing Rice Enzyme Powder, $65; Sephora.com or Caudalie Glycolic Peel Mask, $39; Caudalie.com

3. Detox with a clay mask or overnight treatment.

A clay mask will pull out all the dirt from your skin. You can apply for 15 minutes and rinse, or you can use it as a spot treatment overnight. “When you’re sleeping, your pores are open,” Wong explains. “In the middle of the night, there are dirt and germs in the air. So you’ll wake up with oily skin and blackheads.” If your skin produces lots of oil, you can put the clay mask on your nose or T-zone to protect overnight. Choose a formula that has clay and plenty of moisturizing ingredients.

Try: Cecilia Wong Blemish Peel Mask, $68; Birchbox.com

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