For many of us, those little holes on our faces known as pores are little more than an unsightly nuisance.
But aside from blemishing our complexions, they do serve a purpose: pores house a hair follicle and sebaceous gland and serve as a gateway for sebum, our skin’s natural oil. “A pore is just a route or a channel for these things to reach the skin’s surface,” says Dr. Kucy Pon, consulting dermatologist for Olay.
While the size of our pores is largely determined by genetics, some pores tend to be bigger than others because of the size of the hair follicle and oil gland. Poor hygiene and the resulting dirt, oil and dead skin cells that often build up can also make pores look bigger.
“Pores are generally clogged with sebum and dead skin cells, which naturally slough off from the side of the pore,” says Dr. Lydia Evans, a New York-based consulting dermatologist for L’Oréal. “If a pore becomes clogged, that will temporarily stretch the pore and make it more apparent.”
Excessive clogged pores can lead to another unwelcome skin condition: blackheads and whiteheads. And if your pores seem to be getting bigger as you get older, you’re not imagining things: aging and sun damage also contribute to pore size. “As the skin around a pore loses its firmness when we age, the pore may appear larger because of the lack of support from the surrounding tissue,” says Evans.
Want to know more about your pores? We clear up (ahem) the top three myths and truths about pores.
The myth: Pores open and close
The truth: Despite what your mother told you, you can’t steam your pores open. “Pores do not have muscles around their opening to allow them to open and close,” says Pon. However, steaming the skin can help loosen up underlying debris, making blackheads easier to extract. But it’s best to leave extractions to the professionals, says Evans.
The myth: The ‘black’ in blackheads is dirt
The truth: Those little dots we see across our noses and cheeks are actually the result of oxidation, a chemical reaction involving oxygen and sebum, says Evans.
Prevent new blackheads from forming by getting into a regular exfoliating regimen. Use an exfoliating cleanser and look for ingredients such as salicylic acid, which helps slough off dead skin cells.
The myth: You can get rid of pores
The truth: You can’t banish them completely, but with the right skin care, you can make pores less noticeable. “You can make pores look smaller by removing excess sebum, debris and makeup from the pore,” says Pon.
Be sure to cleanse twice daily and after an intense workout or whenever you get sweaty or dirty, says Evans. “Oil sitting at the mouth of a pore may reflect light and thereby make the pore appear larger,” says Evans. And avoid the temptation to over-cleanse.
“Very frequent washing can inflame the skin and may make your pores look more prominent,” says Evans.