Skin Pores: How Do They Work?

For every strand of hair on your body, there is a corresponding pore. We can’t see all the skin pores, and the same holds true for hair. While we share the same number of hair as apes, human hair is much less coarse, and most are so wispy they can’t really be seen.

Skin Pores: How Do They Work?

Credit: Gabriela Mendes

The average adult has around 5 million hairs on his or her body. If you think you suffer from large pores and feel low about it, take heart! 4.9 million or so of them are nice and tiny.

Maintaining clean, healthy skin pores is important for maintaining healthy (and healthy-looking) skin. Dirt and oil collect around them like leaves and debris collect around a storm drain. When these get clogged, it creates a pile-up of oil and dead skin cells in the follicle. Soon, bacteria make their way to the blockage, and the growth in bacteria causes inflammation.

Now, if you keep squeezing, poking and rubbing the blocked pore, it doesn’t help one bit. It only adds more oil, dirt and unwelcome physical pressure — everything a zit needs to flourish. Worse, you may just make those pores stretch more.

While there isn’t a permanent solution to shrink skin pores, there are ways you can make them look smaller.

To learn more about skin pores, read on!

The Function of Skin Pores

The Function of Skin Pores

Credit: Tookapic

Our skin is abundant with hair follicles, tiny shafts through which hair can grow.

“Follicles” and “pores” are sometimes used interchangeably, and other times referred to as two different things. In truth, the pore is simply the opening on the skin of the hair follicle, which extends downward through several layers of skin.

If a hair follicle were a tall chimney, the pore would be the opening at the top of the chimney. Instead of emitting smoke, the follicle emits a shaft of hair. Skin cells are constantly dying inside the follicle. Additionally, small sebaceous glands located inside the follicle (picture a cul-de-sac located to the side of an otherwise straight road) produce oil called sebum. Sebum is a mixture of fats, proteins, cholesterol and inorganic salts. It travels up the follicle and (in a perfect world) exits through the pore. It also carries dead skin cells found within the follicle up to the skin’s surface.

What about sweat — doesn’t that come out of the same pores? No. Sweat is produced by separate glands that also heavily populate your skin. However, it does still affect your skin’s appearance. Once it reaches the surface, it dries and leaves salts behind that can block your pores.

This mixture of oil and dead skin cells helps to coat your skin, protecting it from bacteria, viruses, wind and rain. Sometimes, though, the pore is occluded (blocked) and the materials trying to get out can’t, resulting in acne.

If you have large pores, here’s some good news. As we age, our skin produces less oil, leading to dryness. This dryness, coupled with environmental damage to the skin, causes the skin to age and wrinkle. Large pores produce more oil, and this comes in handy later in life when your skin needs it most.

Maintenance of Skin Pores

Maintenance of Skin Pores

Credit: Kevin Laminto

Many people don’t like having noticeable pores, but there are steps you can take to minimize their appearance:

  • If you use makeup, wash it off every night with a gentle cleanser to prevent pore blockage.
  • Protect yourself from the sun. The sun and ageing thicken the outer layer of skin, and as the tide of skin cells rises, they form a tiny volcano rim around pores. This makes pores seem bigger than they really are.
  • Oily-looking skin tends to make pores look larger. Wash your face regularly with mild, hydrating cleansers.
  • Debris, such as dead skin cells, collects around the edges of pores, making them look bigger. Topical Vitamin A treatments can prevent skin cells in the pore from sticking and clogging it up, and help reduce the ridges or rims that develop around pores.
  • Exfoliating treatments like microdermabrasion (where tiny particles are blasted against your face and immediately vacuumed back up) remove dead skin layers with the goal of making your skin look smoother. Some people opt for chemical peels or laser resurfacing, but these are more intensive procedures and carry the possibility of unwanted side effects.

As frustrating as it can be to have large pores, you can minimize their appearance — and your frustration — through regular care and maintenance.