Do you need to clean your pores?
Does scrubbing away at our skin make it better? Michael Freedman takes a look.
Many of us will have seen, if not tried, various products claiming to clean the dirt out of our pores.
From scrubs to cleansers to plasters that stick to our faces, there are many tools at our disposal.
But do we actually need to clean out our pores, or are the little black stems on the other side of the sticky plaster or mask fine where they are?
The pores on our face, just like our ear canals, are designed to clean themselves. So for most people, leaving them to their own devices is fine, and just cleansing the face is enough. But there are a variety of reasons why pores can become blocked, causing blackheads to form under the skin.
These blackheads are made up mostly of dead skin and some dirt.
Hormones, bacteria or sometimes too much cleansing (because this can irritate the skin, causing it to thicken) can cause pores to block. This is a common cause of acne because when the pore blocks, there is pressure in the oil gland which can then rupture, releasing very irritating oils.
It’s these that cause the red lesions known as acne.
It’s important never to squeeze a blackhead too much because you might cause the oil glands to rupture back into the skin, causing an even worse reaction.
You can buy a special blackhead removing tool from the chemist and this avoids breaking a blackhead under the skin. There are also medical prescription gels that can clear pores. Vitamin A products stop the skin lining the pores from thickening, so they don’t block the oil glands, leading to acne.
Some people have genetically bigger and more noticeable pores, and pores get bigger as we age. This doesn’t mean they’re more likely to fill up with dirt. The only issue is some people don’t like the way this looks and can feel self-conscious about their bigger pores.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE?
There are a few different ways to think about your pores. Some people have normal skin and just want to clean their face. In some people, pores are blocked with a condition such as acne. And some have normal skin and just want their pores to appear smaller.
Normal cleansing: If your skin is normal, just wash your face gently with lukewarm or cold water.
Use a gentle cleanser, but if your skin is on the dry side, you don’t need a cleanser.
Treating acne: Use a chemical exfoliant such as alpha hydroxy or beta hydroxy acid to exfoliate your skin without having to scrub it.
This means there is no damage to the pore.
The longer you leave the cleanser on, the more it works.
WHAT CAN BE HARMFUL?
Steaming: heating the face can make the blood vessels stand out and cause rosacea (a red rash) in those who are prone to it.
The oils are dissolved more readily and stripped from the face, which means unless you really have very oily skin, it will dry out.
We now know heat ages the skin so it makes sense to avoid this type of treatment for most people.
Facial brush: while a facial brush will exfoliate your skin, the risk is the pore will swell because of the irritation, causing more blockage.
Facial scrub: gels, creams, cleansers and scrubs containing tiny particles that exfoliate your face can also cause swelling and block the pores.
Blackheads are made up mostly of dead skin and some dirt.