Celebs and models always look so gorgeously pore-less in the photos staring out at us from their magazine covers.
One word: Airbrushing.
Yes, they have pores just like the rest of us mere mortals. And they probably obsess about them just as much, too. But having pores is a non-negotiable part of having skin. “You need to have them because they are essential to skin function,” says Jocelyn A. Lieb, M.D., of Advanced Dermatology in New Jersey.
Pores are the connections from your sebaceous glands and hair follicles to the surface of the skin—without those openings, hair would have no place to sprout out from and the oil that’s necessary to lubricate your skin would never find its way to the surface.
Your pore size is partly a matter of genetics (so, yes, you can blame your parents!) and partly due to whatever is currently trapped inside of them. “If you have a lot of oil or dead skin cells accumulating in your pores, that can stretch them out and make them look bigger,” explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, NYC.
And, as with most skin-related problems, the appearance of your pores can get worse thanks to the double whammy of sun exposure and aging. Both have a negative impact on collagen and elastin—the two components of your skin’s structural support system. Exposure to ultra-violet rays creates molecules called free radicals that destroy your existing collagen and elastin. And one of the natural effects of getting older is that production of new collagen slows down. The combined effect means that what’s being damaged daily by sun exposure isn’t being repaired and rebuilt quickly enough. “When you lose support around your pores—because of a loss of collagen and elastin—they start to sag and look larger,” says Zeichner.
Oh, and if you’re thinking that heat will open your pores and cold will shut them down, think again. “It is an absolute myth that pores can open and close like windows when exposed to heat or cold,” says Zeichner. That said, heat (like steaming your face) will help soften up whatever gunk is plugging up your pores, making it easier to extract (which is why the professional facialist does this—don’t try it at home!). “But it does not change the size of the pores themselves,” he says. Same goes for a splash of cold water afterward. “It can be soothing and it can constrict blood vessels to reduce inflammation,” says Zeichner. “But it doesn’t magically close your pores.”
What You Can Do At Home
Wear sunscreen every day: Blocking those damaging rays on a daily basis is key to keeping pores looking better. “It’s one of the few things you can do preventively to help keep the skin’s support structure strong and pores minimized,” says Joel Cohen, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology, University of Colorado. Look for a daily moisturizer that contains a broad-spectrum sunscreen and an SPF of 30 or higher.
Exfoliate gently: Light exfoliation—with a mild scrub or a brush like the one in the Olay Pro-X Advanced Cleansing System—can help the appearance of pores by getting rid of the dead skin cells that clog them and cause them to dilate. “But there’s a delicate balance,” warns Lieb. “If you scrub too much you’ll cause inflammation, and when the skin around the pores is inflamed more oil and debris can get trapped inside them.” Doing it once or twice a week is plenty.
Use salicylic acid: You’ll find this ingredient in cleansers, lotions and masks (like Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash). It works to minimize pores by keeping them clear. It penetrates pores and helps to dissolve and dislodge oil, dirt and dead cells.
Apply a retinoid: Whether it’s an over-the-counter retinol or a prescription-strength Retin-A, the active ingredient is one that’s shown to help stimulate new collagen production in the skin. More collagen means better skin structure, and that means pores don’t sag and look larger.
Minimize pores with the right makeup: “Start with a primer to help smooth out the appearance of the skin and fill in pores so that foundation goes on flawlessly,” suggests Michael Moore, a Denver-based makeup artist. (He likes Laura Mercier Foundation Primer and OC Eight Professional Mattifying Gel.) Mineral powder foundations can give an airbrushing effect to the skin, he says. For the most pore-minimizing coverage, apply it with a dry makeup sponge, pressing the powder firmly into the skin, and then buff off any excess with a large powder brush.
What The Dermatologist Can Do
Microdermabrasion: This professional version of at-home exfoliation is a great way to clean out pores—ridding them of the oil, dirt and dead skin cells that can make them look larger.
Lasers: For the most results with the least downtime, check out fractional non-ablative lasers (like Fraxel). “They cause micro-zones of destruction under the skin,” explains Lieb. “And as the skin around them heals, it creates new collagen and elastin which helps tighten the skin and minimize pores.” Expect to do a series of about six treatments over the course of several months to really make a difference. “Ablative lasers cause more damage, so there’s more downtime,” says Cohen. (Don’t expect to leave the house for at least a week.) “But they can work wonders on the texture of the skin resulting in a much smoother appearance after just one treatment.”
Peels: Whether you try glycolic acid, salicylic acid or a trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peel, the improvements in skin texture and pore size will depend on the strength of the peel. The stronger the acid solution, the more effect it will have.
Photo dynamic therapy: A new product called Allumera—a topical photodynamic cream that’s applied to the skin and activated by different wavelengths of lights—has been shown to reduce the appearance of pores by up to 44 percent. “The interaction of the light and the product helps to reduce the inflammatory process, causing the pores to shrink,” explains Cohen. And while the results won’t be permanent, after an initial series of three treatments, doing one every few months can help maintain your improved skin texture.
While all of these treatments will help to some extent to keep your skin looking as pore-less as possible, there is no real panacea. “To some extent, you’re stuck with what you’ve got,” says Zeichner. “If your pores are really troubling you, my best advice is to throw out your magnifying mirror!”
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