For some, the word pore is more than one of those overly used skin-care terms we use almost daily but actually know very little about. And despite our limited knowledge about just what they are, those teeny-tiny holes all over our skin can be a major source of insecurity for some, depending on their outward appearance.
For instance, can they actually change in size, or is it only possible to alter their appearance? Ahead, aesthetician Nayamka Roberts-Smith, also known as “La Beautyologist,” delivers a crash course on what you need to know.
What Is a Pore?
In the simplest terms, Roberts-Smith describes a pore as “an opening in the skin that allows liquids and oxygen to pass through.” A lot of these pores also house hair follicles. And within each one, you’ll find oil and sweat glands. The pores themselves are the openings that allow these substances to reach the surface of the skin.
Do They Open and Close?
One of the biggest assumptions, which we can partly attribute to the tricky language used to promote beauty brands, is that pores can open and close, or change in size. And while this would seriously be a dream come true, the unfortunate news is that it’s simply not true.
“The idea behind that myth is that pores contain sebum (oil) that softens when warmed. Think of it like melting butter,” says Nai. “Liquified sebum exits the pores easier, and allows for products to penetrate the skin easier, too. So it only seems like the pore is more ‘open.'”
Splashing the face with cold water after cleansing also does nothing to alter the size of your pores. However, be wary of using water that’s too hot, as it will leach all the oils from the pores, and overdry the skin.
So, What Causes the Clogging?
No surprise here: Roberts-Smith says pores typically clog with debris, dead skin, bacteria and oil. She also adds that “oily skin, inflamed skin, and under-exfoliated skin tends to clog the most.”
The size of your pores depends almost entirely on genetics, but they can become more visible as the skin’s elasticity decreases with age. “For those with already large pores and oily skin, the skin dries out in the aging process, making pores less visible,” says Roberts-Smith. At the end of the day, what will really seal your skin’s fate is how you take care of it from day to day.
Can You Alter Their Appearance?
There are four surefire ways to change the appearance of your pores: controlling oil production; exfoliating the surface of the skin; exfoliating within the pores to clear out oil, bacteria, and debris; and extractions.
“Oil production can only be controlled by adding more hydration to the skin,” says Roberts-Smith, although mattifying products aren’t the best choice since they actually dry the skin out more, causing more oil.
Exfoliating acids such as glycolic and lactic acids are the best way to remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. These are also known as alpha-hydroxy acids and are usually derived from fruit enzymes. For instance, citric acids are derivative of citrus fruits and malic acid is extracted from apples.
As for the clearing out the inside of a pore, salicylic acid is the only exfoliant that will penetrate it deeply. This is by far the most popular type of beta-hydroxy acid, which is best described as an oil-soluble substance that reaches the deeper layers of skin. Lastly, manual extractions–or when a physical tool is used to clear the skin– should only be done by a professional.
If you need a refresher on which acids fall under the AHA or BHA categories, this exfoliation guide is a great place to start.