The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday

The secret to beautiful skin over 40

Enlarged pores are the new age giveaway, but they’ve been an elusive target… until now that is, says Annabel Jones


Like frayed denim and stretch marks, wrinkles are now worn like a badge of honour, a sign of resilience and a life well-lived. This insight isn’t entirely new. Olay proved the case more than a decade ago when it teamed up with evolutiona­ry scientist Dr Bernhard Fink for a study on attractive­ness that determined that an eventoned, clear-skinned face with wrinkles was perceived to be more beautiful than a line-free, pigmented visage. In other words, the quality of one’s complexion far outshines a few facial crevices – smile lines signal happiness, after all.

Despite the western world’s longstandi­ng obsession with anti-ageing, I don’t know anyone over the age of 45 who craves the line-free face they had at 20. Most of us will happily take an even canvas that needs no more than a smear of concealer to feel good, over a frozen forehead with blotches and blemishes. Foundation is a gift, but not if you have to trowel it on to look presentabl­e.

The quest for a uniform complexion is the top priority for women of “a certain age” and is the reason why products promoting a “poreless” healthy glow tend to outshine their line-reducing cousins. Bottom line: wrinkles are sexy. Enlarged pores, pigmentati­on and blotchines­s, on the other hand, can signal fatigue and inflammati­on. We don’t mind growing older, but we can’t abide looking unwell. In a post-Covid world, health is wealth and we’ll do what we can to get it – or fake it.

There are a few things that can distort the evenness of one’s skin, but enlarged pores seem to cause the most angst – from hormonal teenagers to menopausal women. In every skinhealth discussion I’ve been involved in, someone always asks about how to minimise pores. And yet until I began researchin­g this feature I didn’t know if that was possible. Can you achieve poreless, flawless skin? The answer from leading experts is a resounding no, but you can use products that will help the skin tone.

Your skin is a living, breathing organism, which isn’t designed to emulate an Instagram filter. Pores play a vital function in emitting sweat and toxins from our bodies and lubricatin­g our skin, thus inducing glow and helping to repel pollutants. So why does pore size vary from person to person? According to Dr Rabia Malik pores are more or less visible depending on your skin type. She explains: “Anatomical­ly, pores are the opening at the base of the sebaceous gland and can look more apparent on oily skin types as the glands are more active, whereas dry skin doesn’t have as much sebum, therefore the pores are less visible.”

For those with oily skin, dermatolog­ist Dr Stefanie Williams recommends using an exfoliatin­g cleanser that doesn’t strip the skin. “When there is an accumulati­on of dirt, debris and pollution the pores get clogged and can appear enlarged. It’s important to use a cleansing product that includes resurfacin­g acids like salicylic along with anti-inflammato­ry ingredient­s,” explains Williams who says occlusive beauty products, particular­ly those including silicones, can clog pores. “Rich moisturise­rs can prevent the natural exfoliatio­n process, which will make them appear bigger,” says Dr Williams, who suggests switching to a hyaluronic acid serum that provides intense hydration without leaving behind a greasy film. “Facial oils and silicone-based primers will visually smooth the surface of the skin but they act like cling film, preventing old skin cells from turning over,” she warns.

While salicylic acid is expert at flushing out blocked pores and is suitable for oily, blemish-prone skin, it can cause irritation on sensitive skin types, as can AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) despite their ability to resurface brilliantl­y. PHAs (poly-hydroxy acids) on the other hand, are a new-generation acid that don’t go as deep, gently removing surface debris while strengthen­ing the skin barrier. “PHAs keep the pores clean and stimulate collagen production at the same time,” points out Dr Williams.

Throw age into the mix when collagen is receding, and enlarged glands increasing­ly become an issue. “As we age and the collagen matrix weakens the pores dilate and look looser,” explains aesthetic practition­er Dr Sophie Shotter. For this, a retinol serum can help. “Retinol is ideal at night for minimising the appearance of large pores as it has a resurfacin­g and collagen-boosting action, but it’s not easily tolerated,” says Dr Rabia. She recommends prescripti­ve retinoic acid that can be adjusted for the individual, or try Medik8’s 3TR (£24,, as it contains 0.3 per cent retinol, which is considered to be the sweet spot between effectiven­ess and low irritation. (Skinceutic­als and Boots No7 also do 0.3 per cent formulatio­ns.) For day, a vitamin-C serum will brighten and even-out skin tone and prompting collagen, while niacinamid­e (a form of vitamin B3) is a multi-tasking wonder ingredient that helps to build keratin – the protein that keeps skin firm – while minimising pore appearance, redness and even acne.

For a notch up, Dr Schotter says lasers can assist in minimising the appearance of pores, and resurfacin­g skin peels can also help. But, says Schotter, radiofrequ­ency with microneedl­ing as in the case of Morpheus8 or Intracel, combines resurfacin­g with deeper collagen synthesis to firm and tighten. However, like cellulite and stretch marks, when it comes to our skin, acceptance is key. “In reality, perfect, poreless skin doesn’t exist.” Oh, but clear, radiant skin is absolutely possible. At any age.

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