Forget everything you thought you knew about pores.

By Lindsay Tigar
January 28, 2020

In an age of airbrushing, photo editing apps, and filters galore, it often feels like everyone has erased their pores. As a result, many people struggle with self-confidence, and become fixated on finding out how to shrink pores and making sure their pores are as squeaky clean as possible. This explains the flurry of products and treatments that promise to shrink and scrub…but do they actually work?

Despite our obsession with clear, smooth, radiant skin, many of us still don't know a lot about our pores. Here, dermatologists debunk some of the most popular pore myths, and tell us exactly what to believe. 

1
Myth: We only have one set of pores. 

According to Marguerite Germain, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in South Carolina, pores are simply small openings in our skin. We have two types of pores, oil and sweat, though only oil pores (also known as hair follicles) are visible. In fact, when you use a magnifying mirror to examine your nose and chin, you’re seeing only your oil pores. Oil pores generate sebum oil and deliver it to the surface of the skin to keep it healthy, supple, and moisturized, says Dr. Germain. Sweat pores work in a similar way by allowing sweat to travel from the glands to the surface to cool down the body.

2
Myth: Blackheads are actually dirt stuck in our pores. 

Though it’s a common belief, blackheads are not dirt—nor are whiteheads pus—says Anna Guanche, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in California. Clogged pores are actually a result of increased oil production and dead skin cells called keratin. Most people experience this normal occurrence, since we all have oil pores on our face that secrete oil. “A blackhead occurs when dead skin cells and oil block the opening of the pore. When the oil reaches the skin's surface it becomes oxidized and turns black, hence the name blackhead,” Dr. Guanche explains.

3
Myth: You can change your pore size.

No matter how many serums and creams you buy, you can't change your pore size. Dr. Germain says that pore size is mostly genetic, so if your parents have bigger ones, you probably will, too. However, there are some steps you can take to minimize the appearance of your pores, including regular exfoliation, the use of retinol, and laser or microneedling treatments. It’s important to note, however, none of these are permanent. “These can improve the appearance of pores by stimulating collagen in the dermal tissue, which pushes on the walls of the follicle, making the opening of the pores appear smaller,” Dr. Germain says. To maintain, regular visits to a professional are necessary. 

4
Myth: Sun exposure reduces pore size.

When you were a teenager, your mother might have told you to "get a little sun on your face" to clean up acne or to decrease the appearance of your pores. This old advice has been passed down through generations, yet it couldn't be further from the truth, says Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologic surgeon in New York. When we allow those damaging UV rays to shine on our face, we’re actually experiencing sun damage. Over time and as we age, this habit could have the opposite effect. “Sun exposure degrades collagen, which causes pores to look larger because the opening of the follicle isn’t compressed," says Dr. Engelman. "And when skin loses its elasticity, it can cause your pores to look bigger."

5
Myth: Wearing makeup clogs pores.

If you suffer from acne, you've likely wondered whether your makeup is breaking you out, or been advised to "let your skin breathe." It may feel like a no-win situation, since you want to cover up your zits to feel confident, but you worry you’re causing even more breakouts to occur. However, according to Channing Barnett, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Florida, it's not necessary to banish makeup if you pay attention to labels. While she says it's true that some ingredients in cosmetics can irritate skin, if we choose products that are non-comedogenic, we're in the clear (pun intended). “Comedogenic means comedone-forming," Dr. Barnett explains. "Choose non-comedogenic makeup as it does not contain ingredients that trigger blackheads."

6
Myth: Cold water will close your pores.

Before you apply makeup, do you splash on some cold water to close your pores? We hate to break it to you, but it’s not really doing anything, no matter how much ice you use. According to Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in California, pores are not muscles and are created by surrounding skin and tissue, which form the structural wall. So, they’re not going to respond to freezing temps. “A quick, cool rinse before popping out of the shower will definitely leave your skin looking less pink (since it will temporarily close the blood vessels) and less puffy, but it won’t change your underlying pore size,” she says. 

7
Myth: Estheticians can steam open your pores for more effective treatments.

Often during a facial treatment, an esthetician will apply steam to your face before lathering on product. Most people believe this is to open your pores so they will soak up the products more effectively. This isn’t exactly the case, says Dr. Shainhouse. “The heat can actually cause enlargement of the superficial blood vessels in the skin, and cause temporary skin swelling, which will make the pore diameter effectively smaller, until the skin cools back down,” she says. 

When pores are warmed up, skin will feel more moisturized, but it also might disrupt the protective barrier, making skin more sensitive and prone to trauma. This is why it’s important to really trust whoever you hire for a facial, since you may experience unnecessary breakouts, and in some extreme cases, scars.

8
Myth: Washing your face more frequently will prevent clogged pores.

When you’re experiencing an annoying (and sometimes, painful!) breakout, your first instinct might be to wash your face. After all, if there’s something stuck in there, you want to get it out, right? According to Dr. Barnett, whether or not we are prone to blackheads depends on a number of factors, including skin type, hormones, and even genetics. What does not play a factor in a major way is how often we cleanse. “Yes, you can indirectly help avoid blackheads by removing excess dead skin and oil through washing and exfoliation," she says. "But don't  do it excessively. Excessive washing of your face can cause irritation, dryness, and redness. These, in turn, can worsen your breakouts."

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