- Certain things you believe about pores might not be true.
- Contrary to popular belief, you cannot open or close your pores, but pores can dilate and stretch.
- At-home face masks and nose strips won’t actually shrink your pores but they can temporarily cause your pores to appear smaller.
- INSIDER spoke with Dr. Kathleen Suozzi, director of the aesthetic dermatology program at the Yale School of Medicine to learn the truth behind some of the most common myths about pores.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
For many people, their number-one skin-care concern is their pores. Whether the goal is preventing breakouts or reducing oiliness, pores are at the center of nearly every discussion about creating a clear, glowing complexion.
Thanks to the internet, everywhere you look there’s advice about how to clear, shrink, and essentially obliterate your pores. But, some things you may have heard about pores aren’t completely true.
To learn the truth behind some common beliefs about pores, INSIDER spoke with Dr. Kathleen Suozzi, director of the aesthetic dermatology program at the Yale School of Medicine
Read on to find out why these myths about pores need to be put to rest once and for all.
MYTH: Your pores open and close
Steaming your face, working out, or using certain face masks won’t “open your pores” and “let them breathe.” Pores do not open and close like a mouth, but they can dilate (or stretch), said Dr. Suozzi.
It’s possible the confusion comes from a misunderstanding about what pores actually are. Pores are prominent openings on the skin that contain a hair follicle and sebaceous gland underneath them, Dr. Suozzi told INSIDER.
The sebaceous glands are responsible for producing oil called “sebum” that lubricates our skin. But sometimes those sebaceous glands can go into overdrive (especially in people with oily skin types), which can lead to buildup under the surface.
“Pores can dilate when the opening becomes clogged and the oil is being produced has no exit and backs up. That dilates that exit,” Dr. Suozzi explained.
As for what you’ve heard about steaming your face to open pores, it’s mostly a misunderstanding. Steam won’t cause your pores to open up like a door, but the heat can cause excess pore buildup to loosen and rise to the surface.
Of course, you should be wary of applying any excess heat (whether through steam or hot water) to your skin because it can exacerbate or trigger other skin-related issues, such as rosacea.
MYTH: Having clogged pores means your face is dirty
Since pores are on the surface of the skin, it makes sense that some people believe blackheads occur when materials from our environment, like dirt, get inside them. In reality, outside debris isn’t what clogs pores.
“When we talk about a clogged pore, the medical term for that is a comedone. There are two types: open comedones and closed comedones,” said Dr. Suozzi. “Open comedones are commonly referred to as blackheads and that means the follicular ostium (the opening of the pore) has been blocked by debris. But that is not debris from outside and it does not mean your skin is dirty.”
In other words, those dark specks you see in your pores aren’t actually dirt. Dr. Suozzi explained the debris is actually the buildup of dead skin cells and sebum (oil) underneath the skin. Different factors such as hormones, genetics, and skin type can cause this to occur.
MYTH: Every pore is a blackhead
Blackheads occur when dead skin cells block the opening of a pore and make it difficult for the oil being produced by the sebaceous glands to exit. This trapped oil causes the opening of the pore to dilate and bring the oil to the surface. Once that oil makes contact with the air, it oxidizes and gets that blackish color.
But not every squeezable pore on your face is a blackhead. “You can probably express some material from any prominent pore (if it’s squeezed), but that doesn’t mean that’s a blackhead,” said Dr. Suozzi. “You’re just expressing the normal sebaceous glands that’s there.”
MYTH: People with dry skin don’t have problems with blackheads or large pores
Generally, it seems like oily skin types and large pores go hand-in-hand. But this doesn’t mean people with dry skin can’t have noticeable pores, too. Pore size is determined by a variety of factors, like genetics or hormones. Plus, sun damage and aging can also cause anyone’s pores to appear larger over time, Dr. Suozzi told INSIDER.
MYTH: Wearing makeup is going to clog your pores
Fortunately for makeup-wearers, not all beauty products will cause your skin to form comedones. Although makeup doesn’t exactly seep into individual follicles and clog pores, certain ingredients found in some cosmetics may irritate the skin in a way that can trigger the formation of a comedone, said Dr. Suozzi.
“Certain cosmetics will have a label that says comedogenic or non-comedogenic. Comedogenic means comedone-forming. Certain oils and compounds [found in comedogenic makeup] can be prone to exacerbating the formation of comedones,” she told INSIDER.
She added that opting to use makeup that’s labeled non-comedogenic may help you avoid potential breakouts.
“When you look at different sunscreens, moisturizers, or makeup products, they’ll specify if it’s not comedogenic, so you’ll know that putting it on your skin is not going to exacerbate the formation of comedones,” said Dr. Suozzi.
MYTH: Sunlight can help clear your pores
It’s possible this myth comes from thinking that heat from sun exposure would dry excess oil in your pores, causing them to shrink. But, in reality, prolonged sun exposure can actually cause your pore size to increase, said Dr. Suozzi.
This happens when sun rays damage collagen, which provides strength and structure to your skin and other parts of your body. As the collagen becomes weaker, your pores can appear wider on the surface.
You can protect your skin by wearing non-comedogenic sunscreen, but the best way to avoid permanent sun damage is to limit your exposure.
MYTH: Washing your face several times a day will prevent clogged pores
As Dr. Suozzi. mentioned, whether or not you’re prone to developing comedones like blackheads depends on a variety of factors, such as your skin type and hormones. It isn’t greatly impacted by how often you wash your face.
Although washing your face helps to remove excess oil and dead skin cells that can contribute to breakouts, you should be careful not to overdo it. Dr. Suozzi said that over-washing your face (especially with harsh exfoliants) can irritate the surface of your skin and it can even cause redness or excessive dryness.
MYTH: Chemical exfoliators can entirely clean out your pores
The confusion here likely comes from the way certain skin products are marketed. Phrases like “deep clean” can make you think certain products are seeping into the skin and scrubbing all sorts of debris and buildup away, but this is not how chemical exfoliation, a process that removes dead skin cells with the use of chemicals, works.
“[A chemical exfoliator] is not going in and washing out all the debris, but it is helping to unclog the dead skin cells there,” Dr. Suozzi told INSIDER.
MYTH: Using suction tools and scrubbing tools is the most effective way to keep your pores clean
Head into the skin-care section of a beauty-supply store and you’ll likely see many scrubbers, brushes, and even suction tools that claim to aid the exfoliation process and clean out your pores. Although these devices may remove extra oil and debris from the surface of your skin, not all of them are great for cleaning out your pores.
In addition, Dr. Suozzi said she cautions against using these tools because they can irritate the surface of your skin. She told INSIDER, “Manual extraction (especially with at-home suction devices) can lead to the appearance of broken blood vessels.”
Instead, she recommends the aforementioned chemical exfoliants. Although they won’t entirely “clean out” your pores, they can typically help you get rid of dead-skin-cell buildup without causing physical damage to the outside appearance of your skin.
MYTH: You can shrink your pores at home with products like nose strips and face masks
Although pulling a nose strip from your face might feel satisfying, chances are it’s not doing much – or really anything – for your pore size. Remember, underneath every pore is a hair follicle. The size of these follicles are partially predetermined by genetics and they won’t be changed by a simple at-home product.
Although adhesive strips and masks can remove trapped oil and debris from inside of these follicles, all they really do is temporarily make your pores appear less prominent – the key word here is “appear.” They do not actually shrink the size of your pores.
So there’s not much you can do to make your pores shrink but it’s not impossible to do so. As Dr. Suozzi explained, there are certain laser treatments that can help promote collagen and shrink the appearance of one’s pores.