Warning! Objects in mirror may appear larger than they are.
If you know the story of Don Quixote then you know during his wild adventures, where others saw harmless, charming windmills, our hero Quixote saw giant hulks that must be slain! He didn’t just settle on one, oh no, in his brave fight, he travelled the countryside, seeking out these monsters as they appeared to him. Was he mad? Well, you’ll have to read the book.
The story and travels of Don Quixote strangely remind me of the huge problem many of us perceive the condition of our pores to be.
What’s going on and why do they bother us so?
They’re either clogged, congested or just too large. The pores of the nose come under particular scrutiny. These visibly ‘dirty’ pores are often cleaned, buffed, polished, scrubbed and extracted in an effort to purify them and like Don Quixote, we are not satisfied until the job is done.
This quest for the perfect pore can go on for many years and bathroom cabinets the world over are full of the necessary remedies to rid us of this unsightly problem.
Now, Don Quixote, in his travels had a sidekick, a squire of sorts, Sancho Panza. Sancho, knew his master was a little mad and grossly mistaken, but who was he to argue with the great man from La Mancha? But still… “What giants he cautiously asked”?
And so it is with your pores. What starts as somewhat annoying, can eventually lead to something akin to an all-out obsession. So rather than leave you on your merry quest to find a solution, I thought, like Sancho Panza I would perhaps name the beast for what it really is and tackle four common problems.
Tilting at windmills? Maybe, it’s time to make peace with your pores.
1. Let’s start with your nose.
You may from time to time notice that the pores of your nose appear discoloured, you may even be of the opinion that this discolouration what’s commonly known as blackheads. Perhaps, but it’s more likely to be something you may not expect it to be.
Many of us at some point, even if our skin is on the normal to dry side, will have some amount of oil activity on the nose and what appears to you as clogging is, in most cases just the oxidation of oily sebum sitting in the follicle. This oxidation makes the pore (the opening of the follicle) appear black. No amount of extreme cleansing, scrubbing or even steaming is going to rid you of this problem. In fact, all these remedies will actually make the matter worse.
Find yourself a gentle, non-foaming cleanser and clean the skin of your nose as you would the rest of the face, thoroughly but gently, followed by regular use of a topical serum containing salicylic acid. This is a popular skin care ingredient and many companies use it. I’m suggesting a serum because although salicylic acid added to your BB cream or moisturiser is a nice idea, for the best result and unimpeded penetration into the follicle, a serum formulation is best.
2.You have little white bumps which appear from time to time, mainly around your eyes.
These are known as milia and can be hard to treat, however, not impossible. They are generally caused by internal disharmony usually associated with digestion. So while topical solutions can help, a visit to a naturopath to sort out any mild digestive issues will also be beneficial. Sometimes it can be simply a case of too much rich dairy products especially high-fat cheeses. But, everyone is different, so check in with a naturopath if you have milia.
As well as the internal remedies your naturopath may offer you, once again salicylic acid will help with milia. But, it will be a slow process and while I highly recommend using a salicylic serum at home, regular salicylic chemical peels, ideally at 20% concentrations once a week will soften and exfoliate the skin allowing the fatty deposit of milia to be freed from its current entrapment under a few layers of dead cells. Many skin care professionals like to extract them, personally, I think the job can be done far more efficiently with chemical peels and without the unnecessary risk of damaging or scarring your skin.
3.Blackheads, clogging and congestion or generally bumpy all-round.
Unlike the oxidation taking place on your nose, blackheads, clogging and congestion can appear anywhere on the face and are identified by their somewhat raised and bumpy appearance.
Again, a very gentle, water-soluble cleanser, and AHA/BHA serum used daily and regular chemical peels will unlock the blackheads and congestion from the follicle.
It’s very tempting and even often advised that you use a scrub for this problem. I will disagree with this solution until the cows come home, as scrubbing is far too random and in most cases, the scrub is not just targeting the black head and you may end with a cascade of blackheads and congestion as the skin becomes dehydrated on the surface, trapping dead cells in the follicle below. Following these recommendations and treating your skin gently and patiently and you will find this problem will eventually pass.
3.You’ve just got large pores. You were born this way…
Let’s just get straight to the truth. You cannot shrink a pore. Well, at least not in the many ways often suggested to you.
The reason why you have large pores will give you your solution. Excessive oil is often accommodated by large pores to allow the oil to flow freely. So the more oil you secrete the more likely you will have visibly large pores. Often the temptation is to wipe out every trace of oil by whatever means possible. Yet again, often the face is subjected to over cleansing, harsh products and scrubs with disastrous consequences for your poor skin. This will not reduce the size of the pore but will provide you with a newly acquired problem, which is more blackheads, clogging and congestion.
The amount of oil you produce in your skin is largely genetic, but if you over cleanse, your skin will pump out more oil to compensate for the oil you have stripped away. So, again and if you have oily skin, as difficult as it may avoid harsh products. Always choose a gentle, water-soluble cleanser, one with no foaming (or very little) action at all. Clay masks can be beneficial, but again if they dry too much of the surface, then you are exacerbating the problem yet again.
4.What about those pores that begin to appear larger and larger as we age.
There are a couple of reasons this may happen, 1). You have a post oily skin and even though your oil flow has diminished as you’ve gotten older the size of your pores have not and if your skin has become particularly dehydrated then the temptation is to change your skincare to richer cleansers and creams leading to an over nourishment of the skin and enlarged spongy pores and 2). Your pores are beginning to lose elasticity and this loss of support makes the pore appear much larger.
If you have a post oily skin that now feels dry and parched make sure the cleansers and moisturisers recommended for you balance the lack of water content in your skin and replace any losses to your protective lipid barrier with moisturisers rich in ceramides rather than oils. Often, as we age the tendency to appease this problem is with overly rich moisturisers. This will leave the skin with a spongy appearance and overly large pores trying to accommodate the creams you are applying.
If on the other hand, the pores are just beginning to appear enlarged (including in the chest area), an anti-ageing regimen which includes retinol and AHA/BHA serums will help improve the elasticity of the skin and improve the appearance of your pores.
Finally, a reason for blackheads that may surprise you. This one’s a bonus…
Sometimes topically applied vitamin C can cause blackheads. If you’re a regular reader of The Beauty Issue, then you know how much I love L-ascorbic Acid (vitamin C) for the overall health of the skin. BUT, if the formulation of choice is unstable and unable to penetrate the skin, then there’s a chance the vitamin C will sit in your follicles and oxidise leading to comedones and congestion. So, rather than abstaining, just make sure you choose a well-formulated brand, one that suits your natural skin type, whether that be normal, oily or dry and always incorporate an AHA/BHA serum into your routine to exfoliate your skin and improve the absorption of your vitamin C serums.
Slaying those giants once and for all.
And lastly, sometimes in our hope to find a solution, inadvertently we make our skin worse. Years of misconceptions, mass media marketing hype or bad advice has not helped. The solutions I’ve offered today are twofold; Practical remedies based on treating your skin conditions gently as well as finding products that work with the natural functions of your skin type.
Failing all that, be confident in the knowledge, what you perceive to be a ‘giant’ skin issue rarely is.
And now you?
Have you made peace with your pores or is the battle still raging? Got a story or your own solution to share? I’d love to hear from you.
See you in the comments.