By Viia Beaumanis
Few women enjoy zero-up keep skin; usually it’s too sensitive or too dry, prone to spots of afflicted with, what looks to you like, enormous pores. While less frustrating than perpetual blemishes, pores require a similarly vigilant counter-oil campaign. Yet, given the number of remedies, from facials and products to lasers and prescribed solutions, isolating a line of attack can be bewildering.
A pore is the opening of the pilosebaceous unit (“pilo” meaning hair, “sebaceous” meaning oil), which connects the hair follicle and oil-producing gland. “Sebaceous plugs,” as dermatologists charmingly identify blackheads, are not caused by overbearing glands but by abnormal cell turnover in the follicle lining. This creates a viscous paste that, when exposed to air, oxidizes and turns black. The size of pores is hereditary, expands with age and is affected by climate.
So, what’s a pore girl to do? While size cannot be permanently altered, the appearance can be noticeably diminished. Deluged pores expand and thicken, resulting in larger repositories for oil and dirt. The single most important thing you can do is to keep them scrupulously clean. Often viewed as a superfluous step, alcohol-based toner cause capillaries to dilate and the pore’s erectile muscles to constrict, eliciting a temporary tightening effect. “Astringents swell the skin around the pore, making it look smaller,” says dermatologist Dr. Sheetal Sapra of the institute of Cosmetic & Laser Surgery in Oakville, Ontario.
For lasting results, choose products containing salicylic acid. It promotes cell turnover and loosens trapped muck. Select absorbent masks that include mineral-rich kaolin clay (also known as “white” or “China” clay). It can be bought as pure powder in health stores and used alone or added to commercial masks. Exfoliating vitamin A creams, available via prescription, improve keratinization, otherwise known as skin renewal. “They clean pores, have an antibacterial action and stop plugs from forming,” explains Sapra. They also leave skin photosensitive, so they are not recommended for those who eschew SPF – which you should be using given that UV rays break down skin’s collagen support structure, making it looser and causing pores to look larger. Since both salicylic acid and vitamin A may leave skin parched, and a dry skin surface traps impurities, apply every other day if you’re feeling arid.
Knowing that balance is the issue with combination skin, Dr. Lisa Kellett of Toronto’s SpaMedica has launched the Clear Acne Treatment Program ($129 for a four-piece starter kit, at clearadultskin.com). Targeted at adults with oily/sensitive skin, it mixes anti-acne with anti-aging additives: benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and vitamin A. “I made it for me initially. [Anti-oil] products were too drying; anti-aging were too rich.” Extracting whiteheads and blackheads is best left to the professionals. If you must, gently steam to soften skin and impacted material, then approach gingerly.
Excessive pressure can result in broken capillaries around the nose and spread bacteria below the surface. “If the follicle wall is injured, contents of the plug dump into the surrounding dermis,” says Dr. Kellett. “This creates inflammation and can turn into a blemish.” Also, avoid creamy cosmetics. Downplay pores and shine with mattifiers; gels are best, and as an added bonus, they act as makeup primers (Sally Hansen’s Cornsilk, $11, at drugstores, makes a lightly mentholated one). For more coverage, opt for tinted moisturizer, but select water-based ones. “Many oil-free products cause breakouts,” counsels Dr. Kellet. “If it’s thick and you have trouble pouring it out of the bottle, skip it.” With its exfoliating and skin-plumping ability to stimulate collagen flow, the sugar cane-derived glycolic acid mitigates fine lines and sun damage, but congested pores find more benefit in the willow bark-based salicylic acid, which penetrates more deeply.
“It exfoliates, which keeps pores clear, but it’s also lipophilic,” explains dermatologist Dr. Mary Lupo, who teaches at Tulane University School of Medicine and works with Bioré, which is re-launching this August as a pore-specific line with a number of salicylic acid-based cleansers. “It’s attracted to oil.” Dr. Sapra concurs, “Salicylic acid actually breaks down plugs.” Lupo advises alternating salicylic acid peels with microdermabraision, which involves coating skin with a fine layer of salt or aluminum crystals (some practitioners employ ultrasonic energy or specialized brushes) to dissolve a superficial layer of skin before vacuuming up the detritus. “Doing that every two weeks, for two months, followed by monthly upkeep is a good recommendation,” agrees Sapra. “But to reduce pores [more permanently], you need to get to the base.”
By which he means lasers. Known under brand names such as Aurora, Quantum and Syneron, Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) exposes the follicle to a broad-spectrum light, reducing sebum production and shrinking the oil gland. Infrared (IR) lasers, such as Smoothbeam and Cooltouch, do the same while also boosting collagen. “Any treatment that generates enough heat to stimulate colagenesis improves pore size,” says Kellett. “The question is, is the effect permanent?” Lupo agrees lasers minimize “for a limited time,” but asserts that “keeping pores consistently clean with salicylic acid also makes them look smaller.”
So, steadily employed, IPL (from $500 to $1,500) or IR laser treatment ($125 to $400) is just as effective as a combination of salicylic acid peels ($200 per treatment) and microdermabraision ($150 per treatment). You do the math. Nutrition may also be key. “Patients with vitamin C, vitamin A and riboflavin deficiency can have changes in the pilosebaceous unit structure,” says Kellett.
Which leads us to Dr. Nicholas Perricone. Named by Vogue magazine as one of America’s top four dermatologists, the author of 2002’s The Perricone Prescription: A Physician’s 28-Day Program for Total Body and Face Rejuvenation as well as 2003’s The Acne Prescription feels that what goes in is as important as what goes on. Starch rapidly converts to sugar in the bloodstream, which, according to Perricone, causes inflammation, enlarged pores and hampered cell function. Eat protein prior to, or with, starchy foods – it slows the conversion process.
Dark berries and leafy greens, rich in antioxidants and in anti-inflammatories, should be enjoyed often. Vitamin C as well as the essential fatty acids found in avocado, olive oil, fish and nuts stimulate the production of collagen. Again, more collagen = smaller-looking pores. Perricone also posits, like Kellett, that a riboflavin deficiency leads to large – looking pores and blackheads. So, exfoliate, eat well and pick up a multivitamin containing vitamin C and riboflavin. Use masks with kaolin. Ask your dermatologist for vitamin A cream. Salicylic acid is your friend. In other words, pretty is as pretty does.