6 Things You're Getting Wrong About Pores

They’ve been magnified, scrutinized, clogged, squeezed — even slapped with sticky strips. But what do we really know about our pores, anyway? Turns out, maybe not as much as we’d like to think.

To clear up the topic (couldn’t resist) we uncovered some of the most pervasive myths, misunderstandings, and flat-out delusions that persist about these confusing crevices. Stay tuned — it’s about to get steamy as we extract some serious knowledge from Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper).

A woman with enlarged pores on her face

4 minute read

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MYTH #1: Your pores open and close

This is one of the most pervasive skincare misunderstandings out there — but it’s totally false. Our skin contains millions of pores, but none of them have the muscle tissue necessary to perform any type of movement.

So why do we continue to believe we can steam them open like a pot of clams? Because we’re misinterpreting what’s really happening when we prep for that monthly facial: steaming softens up the oil and debris that’s trapped in the pores, making it easier to extract.

MYTH #2: Exfoliants clean out your pores

Not all exfoliants are created equal — which is why this one’s partially true. We have to understand exfoliation 101: there’s water soluble exfoliants (AHAs), and oil soluble ones (BHAs).

Alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic and lactic primarily act as keratolytics, loosening the bonds that hold dead skin cells together. Beta hydroxy acids like salicylic, on the other hand, can dissolve the oil inside of the pores to help break up the gunk that’s trapped inside. SLMD Salicylic Acid Cleanser is Dr. Lee’s go-to for the job.

MYTH #3: You can shrink your pores

You can try, but it’s never happening: the size of your pores is determined by genetics and skin quality. Some people have larger pores in general, and then there’s variation in pore size throughout the face and body.

As we age, we lose both collagen and elastin — the connective tissue matrix responsible for skin’s structure. When that begins to degrade and relax, the pore openings can expand — kind of like when your favorite pair of leggings starts to lose its shaping superpowers. Retinoids (like SLMD Retinol Serum) and vitamin C (try SLMD Bright Future) both stimulate collagen and elastin production, which can make skin appear firmer.

MYTH #4: Visible pores are blackheads

Those of us who’ve logged some serious hours scrutinizing — and squeezing — in front of the magnifying mirror know this just isn’t true. When a pore appears darker, it could be for a few different reasons:

If your pores do have waxy filaments and/or blackheads, incorporating more exfoliants can help. SLMD Resurfacing Acne Swipes contain a blend of salicylic, glycolic and lactic acids to penetrate and brighten.

MYTH #5 People with dry skin don’t get clogged pores

It’s true: people who are more susceptible to acne tend to have oily — not dry — skin. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get pimples if your skin is dry. In terms of the life cycle of a pimple, it takes two to tango: sebum mixes with dead skin to clog pores, which may or may not provoke an immune response and lead to inflammatory acne.

In other words, it’s not just a case of excessive sebum: dead skin cells are also to blame — and we’ve all got those (by the trillion). If you’re concerned about managing your dry skin without clogging your pores, look for non occlusive products, like SLMD Facial Moisturizer and Dual Defender SPF 30.

MYTH #6 Everyone needs an at-home pore vacuum

These exfoliating suction devices may be trending on TikTok, but they’re not recommended for all skin types and tones. While generally considered safe in the hands of a professional aesthetician or dermatologist, DIY pore vacuum devices can damage your skin.

Side effects include redness and inflammation, which can make conditions like hyperpigmentation worse. Darker skin tones, in particular, are prone to also developing telangiectasia — aka tiny visible blood vessels — from the suction. Instead, Dr. Lee recommends trying a pore purifying mask a couple of times per week. SLMD Clear Out contains salicylic acid, natural sulfur and zinc oxide to exfoliate, unclog pores, inhibit acne, and soothe skin.

Dr. Lee’s last word

It’s very common for my patients — women in particular — to be preoccupied with their pores. Especially since our smartphones can capture our skin in high definition, we’ve been seeing more and more people using filters to make their skin look completely poreless. But everyone has pores, and virtually everyone’s pores can become clogged at some point in time. Be kind to your skin — and try using salicylic acid, my favorite ingredient to really penetrate and help keep them clear.

—Dr. Sandra Lee

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