Celebrities and models always look so gorgeously poreless in photos staring out at us from magazine covers. One word: airbrushing. Yes, they have pores just like the rest of us mere mortals. And they probably obsess about them just as much, too. But having pores is a non-negotiable part of having skin.
Pores are the connections from your sebaceous glands and hair follicles to the surface of the skin—without those openings, hair would have no place to sprout out from, and the oil that’s necessary to lubricate your skin would never find its way to the surface.
Your pore size is partly a matter of genetics (so, yes, you can blame your parents!) and partly due to whatever is currently trapped inside of them. If you have a lot of oil or dead skin cells accumulating, that can stretch them out and make them look bigger.
And as with most skin-related problems, the appearance of your pores can get worse thanks to the double whammy of sun exposure and aging. Both have a negative impact on collagen and elastin—the two components of your skin’s structural support system. Exposure to ultraviolet rays creates molecules called free radicals that destroy your existing collagen and elastin. And one of the natural effects of getting older is that production of new collagen slows down. The combined effect means that what’s being damaged daily by sun exposure isn’t being repaired and rebuilt quickly enough. When you lose support around your pores—because of a loss of collagen and elastin—they start to sag and look larger.
The most effective way to get pores back to their natural diameter is laser treatment, which removes the top layers of skin. A pore is shaped like an ice cream cone; as you work your way down from the opening, it gets smaller. Light peels and microdermabrasion achieve similar ends through different means, and a basic facial will help clean out gunk. The next-best options include Retin-A or over-the-counter retinol and salicylic acid, which have been shown to clear and narrow pores. These are the ingredients to look for in any product that claims to be “pore-refining.”
The best treatments are also the best courses of prevention: Protect your skin from the sun, wear non-comedogenic makeup and keep up a good skincare regimen. To pump up your face-washing routine, use a sonic cleansing system daily and an exfoliating scrub (once a week in the winter, twice a week in the summer) to get rid of dead skin cells.