You can steam your face, splash it with ice-cold water, or cover it in a warm compress—but your pores still won’t open or close. They never have and they never will. So why is this beauty myth so prevalent?
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Pores are essentially holes in your skin connected to hair follicles that allow sweat and oil to reach the surface. “So you don’t want to totally erase your pores because then you wouldn’t be human,” says Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology in NYC. In other words, pores of all sizes are totally normal.
We have pores all over our face, but it’s common to have a higher concentration in the centre, around your t-zone. “There are certain things that have to do with pore size. Genetics, sun damage—if the collagen around the pore loosens, they can stretch out,” says Dr. Mona Gohara, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. While your pores might not be able to open or close, they can grow in size if the collagen in your skin becomes weak and damaged. There’s also the issue of congestion, which can give the illusion of larger or more obvious pores.
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If loss of collagen is the reason your pores suddenly seem larger, no amount of cold water will help you. Instead, turn to retinol, the derm-favourite vitamin A derivative that increases cell turnover and boosts collagen production. You can get a prescription from your dermatologist for a retinol cream, or you can try an OTC version (just know that results will take longer). Sun damage also contributes to collagen loss, so you’ll need to wear an SPF 30 or greater every single day. “It’s true that with time your pores may appear to be more prominent, due to sun exposure and the ageing process,” adds Gohara.
So hot water and steam won’t open your pores. What they can do is loosen the sebum (oil) in your face, allowing it to slide out of the pore easily when you wash with cleanser. If clogged pores are a constant issue, Levin recommends looking for products containing AHA and BHA acids like lactic, glycolic, and salicylic acid. These acids will help with cellular turnover to keep your pores clear.
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This beauty myth seems to perpetuate thanks in part to the way your skin looks and feels after being exposed to extreme temperatures. It’s not your pores that are opening and closing, but rather the blood vessels in your face. “I think people tend to react to transient changes that you can see from your blood vessels opening and closing. It has nothing to do with the actual pore itself,” says Levin. “Any sort of procedure like microdermabrasion, microneedling, some sort of heat-based technology, is going to make your pores look smaller just because there’s more edema or swelling. The skin plumps in response to trauma. The pores look like they’re tighter, but they’re actually not.”
This story originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US