We need to start with the basics: what is a pore, and why they are so important. There will be some repetition here but I hope our readers will not mind too much. As usual, feel free to skip whatever is too boring, but, hidden within the boring stuff you may find some useful facts you have not heard about in the past.
Celebrities’ photos how no pores. This is not because celebrities have no pores but because magazines use Photoshop to a ridiculous extent. Is this a problem? I think it is.
False advertising makes women buy products that can’t possibly have the effect advertised, which was obtained with photo editing and not with the product they are selling. But, most importantly, a woman convinced that baby smooth skin is possible may try other, dangerous experimental treatments that may lead to permanent dis-figuration.
What are pores and why do we have them? Pore is the common name given to the pilosebaceous unit, a part of the anatomy of normal skin and distinct from the pores involved in sweating (much smaller and not often a cause of complaint). The pilosebaceous unit consists of hair, hair follicle, muscle, and sebaceous glands (see figure below). Sebaceous glands are connected to the hair follicle and deposit sebum on the hair, which brings the sebum to the skin surface along the hair shaft. In our less evolved primate cousins, sebum protects and “waterproofs” hair and skin. For us, sebum can still help our skin with some anti-aging effect (because the sebum waterproofs the skin, preventing moisture loss over time). Besides this benefit, sebum is mostly a leftover product of evolution, and how much we have and make is more up to genetics than it is to what we do to our skin. In any case, pores (and sebum) are here to stay for a few hundred thousand years, so we have to learn to live with them.
Figure: normal pilosebaceous unit
Why do we have larger pores than babies? Pores get larger and more visible during adolescence, when sex hormones increase sebum secretion. Both men and women produce androgens and estrogens. As androgen production increases, sebum secretion also increases and pores get larger. Unless the receptors for androgens are missing (a relatively rare condition) most of us are likely to get comedones (see below) and acne, whatever our sex.
A higher androgen level is probably responsible for the thicker skin that men have in practically all of the body, not just the face, and may be responsible for the fact that men’s skin seems to age more slowly than the skin of women. Another big factor is that estrogens, which affect the synthesis of hyaluronic acid and other dermis macromolecules, decrease sharply in women after menopause; while in men the decline is slower.
Pores and Acne
One of the not-very-useful effects of sebum is acne, one reason why the popularity of pores is so low.
Figure: acne lesions (from http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Acne/)
Pores can get clogged with dead cells, keratin and sebum, resulting in an environment with low oxygen concentration and favorable to the growth of the acne bacterium, Propionibacterium acnes. This is a real problem and one that adequate skin care can prevent and correct. A comedo may be open to the air (“blackhead”) or closed by skin (“whitehead”). Being open to the air causes oxidization, which turns it black. The products of bacterial metabolism cause inflamed pimples characteristic of acne.
Pores and Stem Cells
Is there anything nice we can say about pores? Yes: they are the source of the multipotent stem cells responsible for maintaining skin structure throughout our life. When we hurt our skin in everyday life, these stem cells (abundant in the bulge region of the hair follicles, in the basal layer of the epidermis) will be activated and do the all-important job of repair and regeneration of the skin, or start a new cycle of hair growth. Remember these important stem cells, they have your DNA and the genetic information required to repair your skin. Obviously, they cannot be replaced with apple stem cells or anything else, whatever the ads may say (unless you are an apple).
What to do with pores? First, try doing nothing.
If you don’t have comedones, blackheads or acne lesions, your pores are NOT clogged and you should leave them alone. If you get the “brilliant” idea of looking at your face using a magnifying mirror, the pores may look “full.” This may be an optical illusion, or maybe there is some leftover makeup or whatever. Just throw away the magnifying mirror and learn to enjoy your body as it is. Many people scar and get hyperpigmentation when they squeeze their skin, depending on how their skin reacts to stress. The least you can expect from pore squeezing is increased sebum secretion and pore enlargement.
How to “Minimize” Pores
If your skin is very oily, decreasing sebum secretion will decrease pore size in younger skin. Try our T-zone serum and see whether it works for you.
Skin Actives collagen serum, used in conjunction with our Vitamin A Cream (or our Vitamin A serum, or our Clarifying cream, which also contains vitamin A) will help with acne scars, including the red marks and hyperpigmentation. This great duo will also help diminish the size of pores by decreasing sebum secretion and by promoting synthesis of structural skin components that will build up at the edge of the pore.
As long as you continue using the Vitamin A Cream, you will not get much more benefit from strong exfoliators because vitamin A and the Collagen Serum make skin renewal possible and “normalize” the shedding of external layers.
Note: our Vitamin A Cream will exfoliate slowly; you will not see the exfoliation but it will happen, keeping pores unclogged, healthy, and free of infection.
Good make-up can help maintain the illusion of “no-pores.” Some inert ingredients help reflect light in such a way that pores are hidden. There is no reason why this type of make-up should cause any problems, but some people may be allergic to ingredients in make-up. This creates a vicious circle where people use more and more make-up to cover up the skin roughness caused by the make-up. Remember to cleanse thoroughly, as obstructed pores promote the growth of anaerobic bacteria that cause acne.
Avoid products containing alcohol like “toners,” which may “shrink” the pore in the short-term by dehydrating the skin, but the alcohol will dissolve and take away valuable lipids in your skin (remember ceramides?). Also, long-term, alcohol will dry the skin and sebum secretion may increase in response.
Skin is not a wall
With the help of advertising, we may have a mental image of the skin as a wall that can be easily altered and fixed. It isn’t. It is a live organ where cells and intercellular matrix are interconnected by complex chemical interactions.
If you damage your skin, you cannot simply “replace the drywall and repaint.” And yet, we humans go for experimental therapies and ignore all the warnings of what can go wrong. What is an experimental therapy? When someone at the mall tells you that high energy laser will eliminate your scars. They are stretching the truth. If you have hyperpigmentation spots, ask for numbers and specifics about the effect of laser on darker skin; don’t just sign the release and hope for a miracle. If something goes wrong, you will find out that side effects were mentioned in the release you signed without reading (sign here here and here!).
Three ways to exfoliate your skin and get the “smooth feel”
There are three ways of exfoliating your skin: physical (like crystals used in microexfoliation), chemical peels, and enzymatic peels. At Skin Actives we have products that use these three methodologies while taking care of your skin health. Please see the post on “dull skin”.