Stop that right now young lady – pause, take a breath and look at exactly how close you are to your bathroom mirror right now. Is that an Inch? A centimetre? Are you millimetres from the magnifying glass? Lean in that close and you’ll no doubt be running for pore minimising solutions. Steaming your face, tweezering your blackheads and slathering on astringent ‘close pore’ solutions.
Again, stop right there young lady, take a step back from the pore steamer and read this first…
What Are Pores?
Pores are like mini-ponds dotted over your skin, they love your T-zone and they seem to have much less affection for your cheeks. Pores can be found almost everywhere. On your nose, your neck, your chest. In your ears, on your scalp and even on your toes. They can be invisible to the naked eye or they can sprout from pond to lake sized. Where ever you have a pore, you also have a hair growing from it. In fact pores are best thought of like hair homes.
The pores on your face and everywhere else on your body are there to house hairs. In fact there are 2 biological traits every pore on your body shares;
- They house a hair follicle.
- They contain an oil excreting sebum gland.
This means pores are able to keep your skin moisturised with oil and warm with hair coverage.
Skin Fact: The only area of your body which is not home to pores or hair homes are the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. Have you ever noticed how dry your hands can feel? How after a day of typing at a computer desk both palms feel dustry-dry and your next move is always to reach for hand cream? This is because the palms of your hands do not house pores. Without pores, your palms don’t have a steady supply of moisturising sebum. Without sebum skin looses hydration much more quickly. The result – that dusty-dry feeling.
Why Are The Pores On Your Face Bigger?
Have you noticed that too? The pores on your face are bigger than the pores on your arms. They’re also generally more oily. Why is that? It’s like heading to Starbucks and being offered a short, tall, grande or venti – who decided your T-zone was heading for a venti ‘eh?
There’s 2 sides to this story;
1. Some pores aren’t bigger, they just look it.
Imagine 100 white tea cups neatly lined up into a 10 by 10 square. All of your tea cups are the same size. All of your tea cups are the same colour. Now imagine pouring coffee into one of them. Next, take a step back and notice where your eyes are drawn. The white tea cup filled with steaming hot coffee is attention grabbing. It’s the same size as all the other tea cups but it’s contents make it stand out. This is one out of the 2 reasons why some pores look bigger than others. Rather than coffee filing them, they have sebum, dead skin and sometimes even pollution impurities.
2. T-zone pores can be prone to damage causing their walls to weaken and their size to increase.
Imagine a tea cup being filled to the brim with coffee, now imagine that tea cup having a lid placed on top and more coffee trying to be forced in. This is how widening of your existing pores can happen. However in your pores case, it’s not coffee causing damage, it’s excess dead skin and trapped sebum. The pores in your T-zone appear to be most sensitive to signals telling your skin to make more sebum. This therefore means your T-zone is prone to hair homes becoming infiltrated by more sebum and more sebum becoming a magnet for holding onto more dead skin. Sun damage is also a concern, as is diet with new links showing ingredients such as sugar can increase your skin’s oil production.
Why Steaming Your Face Does Not Open Your Pores…
Spoiler alert! Steaming your face does not open your pores. A popularly spread skincare myth, if you’re steaming your face to close pores, your efforts will be much better spent elsewhere (… and we’ll get onto that where later).
First though, after reading several articles telling you about the benefits of steaming your face, you’re probably wondering why this is myth. Why does steaming your face not result in the opening of your pores? Here’s why…
Your pores do not have muscles.
Heat makes things expand. After a high intensity training class your muscles are likely ‘turned-on’, tensed and taught, applying heat relaxes them in the same way having a sports massage would. So heat ‘opens up’ your muscles.
— Cheryl Woodman (@HonestyForSkin) 18 April 2017
If your pores had muscles, steaming your face would work. Assuming your pores were full of dead skin and sebum and assuming your pores muscles where tensed, steaming them would loosen your muscles and help release your pores contents.
But your pores don’t have muscles, which means this other thing happens.
When heat’s applied, things get bigger… but not in the way you want them to! Have your feet ever swollen after a long hot day on your toes? Have you experienced hand swell after a days sun bathing? Have you heard a balloon go pop when left in the conservatory? All these things happen because heat makes things swell.
So when you steam your face, your skin expands… technically and temporarily making your pores shrink in size. Instead of opening pores, steaming your face does the opposite.
Now you might be reading this thinking, huh, heat shrinks my pores – hand me a steaming device now! Know this first – the thing about temperature is it changes and that means the small shrinking effect heat has on your pores will be reversed quickly after the heat is taken away. Instead if you are wanting to minimise pores, there are many other much better tactics to adopt.
How to Minimise Pores
Ready to turn hair follicle lakes back into ponds? Me too! Now you already know the 2 ways we do this right? We can’t get rid of pores, we can’t get smaller pores, we can’t close pores but we can make them look smaller and we can help stop them from becoming bigger.
These are the 3 best tactics to adopt;
1. Exfoliate regularly.
Dead skin cells easily get stuck inside your pores. Here, they are like coffee being poured into 1 of your 100 white tea cups. They also supply food to spot causing bacteria which then causes inflammation and spots – both of which can damage pores leading to their widening. To avoid this exfoliate regularly. You can exfoliate physically, by scrubbing or chemically, by applying a tonic or lotion. When looking after your pores, the best exfoliants you can use are chemical ones e.g. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant (£25/118ml). These exfoliants are able to penetrate the sebum locked inside your pores whereas physical exfoliants will only work on your skin’s surface layers. Learn all about the perfect chemical exfoliant to help minimise pores… and why they’re not scary here.
2. Use sun protection daily.
Sunlight is home to lots of different kinds of light, one of which is UV or ultra-violet. UV light is very damaging to skin. It causes inflammation, collagen damage and a general weakening of skin. Using sun protection every day, helps to protect your pores from becoming weakened by UV light. This helps to avoid them largening, keeping them the size they were ‘born to be’. Try something like Green People Facial Sun Cream SPF30 (£16.50/50ml) or even the First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Pure Mineral Sunscreen Moisturizer SPF 40 (£28/56ml) which with zinc oxide will also help to reduce sebum production.
3. Avoid sugary foods.
Your skin is effected by the skincare products you use and the foods you eat. Most recently sugar is being identified as a culprit of oily skin, enlargened pores and acne. Sugar interferes with your hormone balances. To process sugar spikes your body releases insulin – a hormone. When this hormone is released, it’s always accompanied by another called insulin-like growth factor. To learn more about why this happens and exactly how to change your diet, head here and read step 3.
While steaming your face can’t open your pores to help clean and therefore minimise them, these 3 steps can… and they’re a lot, lot quicker!
Which skincare steps do you use to minimise pores? Which steps have you already seen the most change with? Which pore minimiseing steps will you adopt? Tell all in the comments below…
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who is more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She is founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.