Pore shrinkage is a big myth. You can clean them out and dress them up, but you can’t shrink them
Step aside, sun spots and fine lines, for women have a new skin obsession. Today, more than ever, women are fixated on the size of their pores – an obsession that has led to skincare specialists coining the term “porexia” for those with a neurosis about their pores.
And if you think you’re the only one staring into the mirror, obsessing about the size of your pores, you’re not alone. In a study of over 2,000 adults carried out by L’Oreal Paris, 45% of women wished they could change their pore size, and 28% claimed to be more concerned with pore size than wrinkles.
Hardly surprising, when you think about the fact that the average adult has five million pores on their body, with approximately 20,000 on their face alone.
The idea that you can unclog your pores, sand them down, scrub them off, or shrink them into oblivion is a fallacy. That being said, if you’re realistic and don’t expect Photoshop-level miracles, there are some things you can do to refine the appearance of your pores.
But in order to understand how to treat your pores effectively, you first need to understand their anatomy.
THE DIRT ON PORES
DO PORES AGE YOU?
The fact is, the larger your facial pores, the less flawless, smooth, and (goddamnit!) youthful it looks.
The more visible your pores, the older you look. The best way I can explain it is in the context of baby’s bums. Honestly! The health of a baby’s skin isn’t simply the absence of damaging UV exposure, but also the absence of pores, which don’t develop until later.
So it’s this baby’s bottom-like appearance that we seek to emulate; difficult when you’re fighting the natural ageing action of pores. And for all their good intentions, you feel like you are permanently fighting a fundamental design flaw.
WHAT IS A PORE?
Your skin is covered in tiny hairs. Each hair follicle has a pore at the top of it; the hair follicle has a gland inside it which produces oil – referred to as the sebaceous gland – which releases oil on the skin’s surface.
Pores offer a natural function: getting rid of waste, and creating our barrier function and acid mantle, which protect against infection, dryness, and sensitivity.
WHAT CAUSES PORES
- Genetics: The number one cause of enlarged pores.
- Excess Sebum: When sebaceous glands go into overdrive producing a lot of oil. This article on oily skin discusses this in more depth.
- Pore Congestion: A build-up of makeup, oil, dirt, and skin cells can form blockages in the pore, causing them to stretch and appear larger.
- The Natural Ageing Process: Decreased elasticity around the pore causes the skin to lose its pliability. Firm skin supports the pores so they appear smaller; ageing causes the skin around the pore to become loose and inflexible, so the pore appears larger and more dilated.
- Environmental Factors: These play a large part – pores are sensitive to pollution, hot temperatures, and humidity, and when irritated can increase in size.
CAN PORES BE SHRUNK?
Bottom line: the number of pores you have, along with the size of each pore, is genetically determined. The only way to really affect their appearance would be to unwind your DNA, which renders shrinkage a myth.
DOES CLEANSING HELP?
Pores are, well, pores. Meaning dirt, oil, and bacteria can easily get trapped in them. Cleansing regularly will flush out the pores, so there is less risk of blackheads, breakouts, or acne.
SOME PRODUCTS CLAIM TO TREAT OPEN PORES – IS THIS TRUE?
It is a myth to think that certain products close pores. Pores don’t shrink as they don’t have muscles around them allowing them to open or close.
What happens is that they temporarily dilate when you add a strong astringent ingredient to the skin, such as alcohol; in reality, these harsh ingredients are stripping your skin of its protective barrier, rendering it susceptible to bacteria and an overproduction of oil, causing more problems in the long run.
WHAT ARE BLACKHEADS?
Blackheads are made of oil that collects in an open pore which becomes oxidised by the air. Blackheads are often the culprit of large pores since they often cause the follicle to enlarge permanently once they have filled up the space with a plug. Eliminating blackheads will help prevent large pores from forming – follow the link to find out how to get rid of them for good.
DOES WASHING WITH COLD WATER SHRINK PORES?
Pores are not temperature-sensitive. Cold water will temporarily dilate the pore, making the outer layers of skin shrink, which in turn makes the pores look more ‘open’ – but pores don’t open and close based on temperature.
DON’T BE TEMPTED TO TWEEZE
This is a really controversial tool and a big no in my book! When I was training, I worked in a clinic that used this tool on their clients, and you could literally see the irreversible damage the indentations from the loops had caused on the client’s skin – frightening, really.
If you do want to perform manual pore extraction, I recommend treating your skin to a gentle steam to break down the hardened sebum, and gently extracting it with a tissue; this will avoid any unnecessary micro-tearing of your skin.
PORE STRIPS – YAY OR NAY?
Pore strips are able to clean the surface of the skin to some degree; however, they are not capable of deep cleansing. They remove the superficial portion of a blackhead – the adhesive sticks to the upper portion and pulls the ‘dark, oxidised matter out’, removing portions of the blackheads instantly.
My concern with pore strips is that they can irritate or harm sensitive, acne-prone skin, so if you’re already dealing with acne or irritation, you need to avoid them.
THE NAKED TRUTH
A major mistake many of my clients make with pores is putting off dealing with them until they become a real problem. Clogged pores left untreated lead to blackheads, breakouts, and acne, and can easily become inflamed and irritated.
I recommend starting early when it comes to keeping pores clean – a simple skincare routine with products that slow sebum secretion and draw out impurities will help to refine the appearance of pores, keeping your skin healthy, which you can read all about here.