Do Your Pores Really
Open and Close?
“Dr. Stein Gold, do my pores open and close?” I get this question a lot. The short answer I give my patients is that, no, your pores do not open and close like a window. A pore is at the opening of a hair follicle, and that follicle is connected to the glands that produce sebum, or oil. The size of your pores is fixed for the most part—there are no surrounding muscles that can cause them to open or close. And the size of your pores is actually an inherited characteristic, so you can thank your parents for that. So why do they appear larger over time? The skin around them can get stretched out a bit, and while there’s plenty you can do minimize the appearance of your pores, nothing will make them physically smaller once this happens.
Here’s what makes pores larger
To picture what open pores look like, think about the pores on your nose where blackheads are common. When they’re dark, they’re more noticeable, right? They look more prominent. Comedones (hard clogged pores), blackheads, and whiteheads can all make your pores appear larger because they’re full of skin cells, oils, and bacteria, and that dark color inside draws your eye right to them.
Pores can also get larger over time. As you get older and more and more sun damage happens, the skin surrounding your pores gets a bit weaker. It’s not as tight. That can cause the pore walls themselves to get a little lax, so your pores look a bit larger just because of damage to the surrounding skin. Yet another reason to consistently use sunscreen, but we’ll get back to that.
You can’t steam pores open—no matter what an aesthetician says
You many have been for a few professional facials over time, and the person giving you that facial may say they’re going to start by steaming your skin to “open” your pores. But that’s not really what’s happening. Steam can hydrate skin, increase circulation, and soften clogged debris, but it’s not opening your pore. That’s not to say it can’t help—making all the gunk in a hard blackhead more pliable can help to dislodge the debris. But that’s all.
Can pores shrink?
You’ve probably seen products or product reviews that say, “This will shrink or close your pores!’ Don’t believe it. Again, nothing is going to physically alter the size of your pores—it’s just not going to happen. But we can make them look smaller simply by treating those blackheads and clogs—flushing them out, if you will.
Start with a good cleanse to make pores look smaller
It’s important to wash your skin well, and regularly. You want to remove all the debris and make sure you effectively remove all of your makeup, so you’re not clogging your pores and creating the potential for blackheads. A good cleansing routine will make your skin look brighter and healthier, and potentially clear out the blackheads, making your pores look less noticeable.
Use these pore-clearing ingredients
Beyond cleansing, acne treatments that work by keeping the pores clear will help, too. Treatments containing adapalene, for example, may increase cell turnover so dead skin can’t get trapped in your pores as easily, and can help with blackheads and whiteheads, as well as deeper bumps and pimples. If you use such a product, it will help clean out those blackheads over time so they’re not as noticeable. And when you don’t have that black spot in your pore, it certainly looks cleaner and smaller. Sunscreen is also key. Preventing sun damage—what us dermatologists call photodamage—will help preserve your collagen, keeping pores in tiptop shape.
To make a difference in your pores, you’re in this for the long haul
So, how long does it take to notice a difference in your pores by using my strategies above? That’s an important question. We all want something that’s going to work overnight, or at least quickly. But it’s going to take time. We measure improvement in weeks and months, not days. It usually takes at least three months before the skin and pores really look clear.
Bottom line: You can’t open or close your pores. But if you want your pores to look smaller, a good cleanser, proper use of acne medications, and a great sunscreen are your best bets.
Linda Gold Stein, M.D.
Dr. Linda Stein Gold, Chair of the Acne Store Board of Dermatologists, is the Director of Dermatology Clinical Research and Division Head of Dermatology at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. She received her medical degree from University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, completed an internship in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
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