If you’re preoccupied with your pores — their size, the gunk that collects in them — you’re not alone. Most would agree that minimizing pore size and removing blackheads is one of the precursors to flawless skin. And it seems that pore fascination in America took on a whole new dimension when Dr. Pimple Popper came on the scene. Her skill at excavating congested pores both horrifies and mesmerizes millions of hypnotized fans.
Then there’s that obsession with size: The bigger the pores, the more we tend to seek out lotions, gels, treatments, and tools to tighten them up for a poreless look. But as much as many of us are preoccupied with these tiny openings, few people actually have a deep understanding of them. To find out, we asked dermatologists to weigh in on why we have them, how they change over time, and what we can do about them to get that elusive glass skin look. Read on for the answers to all your big pore questions below.
So, what exactly are pores?
“Pores are essentially tiny depressions combining hair follicles and oil glands that open onto the skin surface. They’re all over your body except for your palms, soles, [and lips],” says Chris Adigun, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Chapel Hill, NC. Healthy pores regulate sebum production and secrete oil to keep skin moisturized.
You don’t notice healthy pores, but you do notice unhealthy ones. Pores become more visible when the sebaceous glands are enlarged, especially in thinner-skinned areas like your nose and chin. When dead skin cells get trapped inside the hair follicle, it causes a clog. On the surface, it can appear as a black spot (blackhead) or a large crater. That clog can eventually swell and become a pimple, leading to an acne breakout that blocks the pore.
Can the size of a pore ever change?
Clogs aside, pore size can vary with skin type and genetics. “Pores look larger in oily skin and almost non-existent in dry skin,” explains Cheryl Burgess, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Washington, D.C. “As we age, pores enlarge slightly in everyone, but look wider in oily types.” The reason they appear as if they’re growing is because of the natural collagen loss that comes with aging. Older skin usually lacks collagen, so the skin around the pore sags, making the tiny hole more noticeable.
While sometimes it’s just plain old luck to be blessed with smaller pores, the bottom line is that if you don’t protect your skin from UV rays, they’ll still appear large. “Sun damage can affect pore size, triggering a lot of other factors in your skin, like rosacea and collagen loss, that will make pores more visible,” says Dr. Adigun.
How can I treat my enlarged pores?
The short answer is that there’s nothing you do can to physically change your genetic pore size. But there are products that can temporarily minimize their appearance, says Dr. Burgess. First off, it’s a given that regular exfoliation is the key to keeping clogs (and thus enlarged pores) at bay. Look for products with alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids, which will slough away dead skin and grime and keep pores clear. One we’re fond of is Tata HarperTM Resurfacing BHA Glow Mask ($65). When used regularly, the brush-on peel mask clears away old skin cells and absorb excess oil, eventually reducing buildup.
For a fast fix, Dr. Burgess suggests applying an astringent like witch hazel (we like Thayers® Alcohol-Free Rose Petal Witch Hazel Toner, $8) before makeup to strip oil in the area, giving you a clear canvas to apply primer and foundation. Then, your makeup acts like putty to fill in and cover for a poreless look. Alternatively, if you’re intrigued by actually seeing the gunk pulled out of your skin, try the the iconic Biore Charcoal Pore Strips ($14). Once mixed with water, these strips cement onto the pores and physically remove gunk and grime. You can also try the Dermaflash Dermapore Ultrasonic Pore Extractor ($99), which uses sonic waves to push congestion out of your skin.
For large openings that don’t seem to shrink even when decongested, try layering a pore-minimizing lotion or serum on your skin before your daily moisturizer. Most have active, mattifying ingredients, like clay or willowbark, that have a tightening effect that you can feel working. One to try: IT Cosmetics® Bye Bye Pores® Leave-On Solution ($34). It features kaolin clay that performs like a magic trick, seemingly making large pores disappear by absorbing excess oil.
If you’re still bothered by size, make an appointment with your dermatologist. “When my patients come to me complaining about pores, I recommend a prescription tretinoin cream therapy treatment that will improve the skin cycle leading to less clogs,” reveals Dr. Adigun. “If they want something more immediate, I suggest microneedling treatments, which give amazing glass skin results.” These treatments still won’t eliminate large pores forever, but regular sessions will lessen the look over time. But whatever you do to get your pore size under control, there’s one thing for sure: America’s pore obsession is here to stay.
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