Why Pores Are the Powerhouse of Your Skin

While it’s perfectly normal to have pores, they constantly get dissed and dismissed. Everywhere we turn, we’re encouraged to shrink them, close them, and basically wish away their presence. It’s not helpful that filters and Photoshop set an unrealistic expectation that “perfect” skin means “poreless” skin. The obsession with pores could also just be a sign of our times, as many of us continue to rely on video conferencing for work.

“With people spending more time looking at themselves on a screen all day, people are noticing their skin more,” says board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD, of MDSC Dermatology. As a result, we’ve forgotten that pores have a permanent, all-important function — and therefore our focus shouldn’t be about making pores disappear.

To that end, we at Glow Recipe are working to be more conscientious of our language around pores, and won’t be using the word “poreless” moving forward. With that in mind, here’s a friendly reminder that pores aren’t the enemy, plus tips on how to treat them properly.

Reading this on a screen? Here’s how your devices may impact your skin.

What are pores?

“Pores refer to the small openings in the skin that connect to the oil glands and hair follicles,” says Dr. Garshick. The average adult has about five million of them from head to toe. “They allow oil or sweat to reach the surface of the skin. Some people may notice the pores to be more prominent in more oily parts of the face, such as the T-zone, but they exist everywhere on your body,” she says.

Visible pores are especially common with oily skin! Read how to properly hydrate oily skin.

Why are they important?

Pores aid in moisturizing and protecting your skin: “They help the oil and sweat that originates from the glands to reach the surface,” says Dr. Garshick. “The process of sweating through your pores also helps cool your body down as the sweat evaporates.” Studies have shown that sweat gets rid of impurities like phthalates and BPA from your skin, and pores are essential to facilitating that process. Plus, clear pores help better absorb your skincare products — that’s why all the directions on your product packaging always suggest you start off with dry, just-washed skin. 

Can you minimize pores?

We can’t sugarcoat it: Your pore size is based on genetics, “so you cannot truly shrink them,” says Dr. Garshik. They can, however, get stretched out if they’re clogged, or from natural collagen loss as you age. “Pores can get filled with dead skin, sebum, oil, dirt, and debris, so when they are filled, they can appear larger. As we age, we lose collagen and elastin — and this can also lead to pores appearing larger because the skin is looser,” she adds. 

Can you open or close them?

Despite a lot of marketing lingo, “you cannot truly open up or close your pores,” says Dr. Garshick. “But when you use steam, you enable the contents of the pore to come out more easily, so the pore doesn’t appear as filled. As pores become clogged, they can be stretched or dilated,” she adds.

Open and closed pores can also refer to blackheads and whiteheads. “They are pores that are filled with excess sebum, dirt, dead skin cells, because blackheads are open pores, the contents are exposed to air which leads to oxidation leading to the dark color. On the other hand, whiteheads, which are considered closed pores, are not exposed to the air and thus remain white,” she says. 

Dealing with blackheads? Check our guide to removing them without wrecking your skin.

What’s the best way to minimize pores?

While it’s impossible to shrink or close your pores, you can make them appear smaller, if you choose. Plus, clogged pores can lead to acne and irritation, so it makes sense to want to keep them clear and happy. 

Office Treatments

If you’re comfortable with an in-office treatment, your dermatologist can perform a chemical peel that can unclog pores and get rid of dead skin cells that are making your pores appear larger, says Dr. Garshick. “Similarly, some procedures such as CO2 laser resurfacing, microneedling, and microneedling with radiofrequency, can all help to promote collagen synthesis, which keeps the skin firm and can improve their appearance.” A prescription-based retinoid is scientifically proven (though we like to call it magic) to increase cell turnover and encourage new collagen growth thanks to its powerful exfoliating effect. 

Over-the-Counter Options

Wash your face

As far as your over-the-counter routine, start with always washing your face at the end of the day. Even if you’re not wearing makeup because you’re working from home, excess oil and dirt can still accumulate on your skin, so you want to make sure you sweep that off so it doesn’t sit in your pores. 

Exfoliate gently

Gentle exfoliation unclogs pores and improves the appearance of their size. “Focus on gentle, chemical-based ingredients such as salicylic acid, which is a beta-hydroxy acid, or BHA. It’s oil-soluble, so it can penetrate deep into your pores to remove dead skin and grime,” says Dr. Garshick. “Other exfoliating acids, like alpha-hydroxy acids, and polyhydroxy acids can minimize the look of pores because of their exfoliating powers,” she says. The Watermelon Glow PHA+BHA Pore-Tight Toner combines both PHAs and BHAs to resurface and smooth out your skin, and simultaneously hydrates skin with cactus water. It’s gentle enough for everyday use, so you can get its pore-clearing perks on a daily basis. Same goes for the Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask, which exfoliates skin while you sleep with hibiscus-derived AHAs.

Try a retinoid

If you don’t have a retinoid prescription from your doctor, over-the-counter retinol can also do the trick in regulating skin cell turnover that helps keep pores clear and clog-free — and, often, without the usual dryness and flakes. In Avocado Melt Retinol Sleeping Mask, for instance, the retinol is encapsulated, so it bypasses the surface of the skin and thus minimizes irritation.

Wear sunscreen always

Finally, although sunscreen gets a bad rap for clogging pores, it’s important to wear a broad-spectrum option every day: “SPF protects the skin against sun damage, which can lead to DNA damage and collagen breakdown. Those factors ultimately can make the pores appear larger,” she says. Whether it’s your skincare, SPF, or makeup products, be on the lookout for ones that are oil-free and non-comedogenic to minimize the chance of build-up. (Looking for an oil-free moisturizer? It doesn’t get better — or more lightweight yet hydrating — than the Watermelon Glow Pink Juice Moisturizer.)

Oh, and don’t forget to put down the magnifying mirror. No one else (aside from your derm), is noticing them from that close up, so just give your pores a little space.

Read more about how to care for your pores: