Since adolescence—which, I should remind you, was a time where we used Oxy Pads and Sea Breeze with abandon—we’ve all been told approximately one million times that hot water opens your pores, and cold water, by the law of duality, shuts them. Bad news, though: We’ve been lied to—sort of.
While pores aren’t exactly muscles themselves, “There are many tiny muscles in the skin attached to the hair follicles,” says Ellen Marmur, an associate clinical professor of dermatology, genetics, and genomic research at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “These piloerector muscles contract when cold—think goose bumps. Plus, all of the superficial muscles of the face are attached to the skin.”
And, though cold water can make blood vessels constrict, making the skin appear more even, it’s not a permanent fix for large pores by any means. Plus, “Unless you’re following with moisturizer right away, splashing your face with any water will lead to evaporation and dryness of the outer layer of skin,” adds Heidi Waldorf, director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Instead, to make your pores look smaller over time, Dr. Waldorf recommends regular exfoliation with a Clarisonic and a BHA cleanser (we like Philosophy Clear Days Ahead Oil-Free Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment Cleanser)—but know that any sebum that gets lodged will likely turn black right away from oxidation.
Looking for something more intense and long-lasting? If you’ve already walked down the road of chemical peels with little reward, both derms suggest Clear + Brilliant, an in-office laser treatment that uses similar wavelengths to Fraxel laser resurfacing but at lower energies, Dr. Waldorf says. “The skin is red for a few hours afterward and starts to look smoother and the pores smaller the next day.” After about half a dozen treatments, you won’t have to be splashing yourself with cold water in a last-ditch effort to “shut” your pores. And for now, don’t worry about ending your nightly face wash with a splash of cold water to the face—unless, of course, you’re just trying to keep yourself awake.