Pore You

Essentially, a pore is an opening – a small hole – in the surface skin. So small that it’s indiscernible to the naked eye but even so it is large enough to secrete liquid. Pores feature in every single millimeter of our skin and we house millions of them, as do all our brethren mammals.

It takes two

The term ‘pore’ itself can be confusing because our skin actually has two kinds of pores that serve very different functions;

  1. hair follicles housing oil (sebaceous) glands (technical term: pilosebaceous unit). Their purpose is to lubricate the skin. These on the skin all over the body except for the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. When these get blocked – which is extremely common – all sorts of conditions from acne to pilaris keratosis can result, depending on the location and pre-existing conditions.
  2. sweat pores serving as the ducts for sweat glands. Their purpose is to cool the body. These are everywhere but more concentrated under the arms, in the groin and on the hands and feet. It is extremely rare for these to become blocked but if they do it’s usually in the armpits.

It’s easy enough to confuse the unpleasant clammy feeling of unwashed oily skin with the unpleasant clammy feeling of unwashed sweaty skin. They may happen at the same time but they are not even remotely the same thing. Hence, a sweaty workout will not, in any way, exacerbate acne (unless there’s rubbing from straps or equipment as with acne mechanica but that’s another issue.) At the same time, ‘sweating out’ toxins is physiologically impossible since toxins (skin cell debris, bacteria etc.) lodge in the pores of plosebaceous units and not in those of sweat glands.

Pore myth #1: You can change the size of your pores.

False: Pore size is genetically determined. Just as your height is influenced by genes, so too are the size and visibility of your pores. But oftentimes, what looks like large pores are actually stubborn blackheads that have made themselves at home. With enough material (dead skin cells mixed with excess oil in the case of blackheads) accumulating, a visually invisible pore can stretch many times its natural size until it becomes an unsightly blemish.

Pore myth #2: Pores open with heat and close with cold.

False: This is perhaps the biggest fallacy of all because in and of themselves pores do nothing. Thus, when we hear or read about warmed pores ‘opening’ two mechanisms are at play here:

  1. Heat from a hot shower, steam or sauna softens pore-clogging debris (the stuff that results in blackheads, whiteheads, pimples and other conditions) so that it becomes easier to remove with exfoliation or extraction.
  2. Heat and moisture from the above, soften the skin’s elastic connective tissue fibers (our old friends collagen and elastin) so that the pores themself are stretched, making it easier to extract, exfoliate and remove debris.

So what heat and cold actually do is influence the behavior of skin plugs within the pores and the connective tissue fibers running all around them. But the pores themselves are passive; things happen to them, not by them.

A cautionary note here: Just as warm, wet skin is stretchier than when it is cold and dry, so too is it more fragile and prone to tearing, bruising and scarring. So while DIY exfoliation is wonderful for your skin, try to leave the extracting to professionals. And do not touch your face after exfoliation until you have washed your hands, even if you’ve just bathed.

Sad pore news

Unfortunately, pores can get larger and more visible with age because with the degradation of collagen and elastin over time, the skin slackens and stretches and as a consequence the pores do too.

Happy pore news

Though pore size is a roll of the genetic dice, there are lots of things you can do to reduce the look of them. First is deep cleaning and exfoliating regularly on your own. Next, get a deep cleansing facial and/or a light peel done by a professional who will be able get all the debris out without damaging your skin. Finally, if you can make the investment, consider dermatology laser and light assisted devices – particularly Fotofacial intense pulsed light – that restores the elasticity of the skin’s connective tissue, refines the texture and keeps the look of the pores under control.

Pores do happen but they don’t have to show on your skin.

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