Saving Your Skin: A 12 Step Approach to Overcoming Pore Paranoia

Do you wish your pores would shrink? Or better still, disappear? If so, then you're not alone. Judging from media reports, the booming market in "pore-minimizing" products, and my own experience as a skincare professional, the new obsession that dermatologists have dubbed "porexia" increasingly afflicts people of every age, gender, and complexion type. Is There a Cure? Some of the most popular pore treatments may help minimize the visibility of your problem temporarily. But no single topical treatment or invasive procedure has consistently proven safer, more effective, or more lasting than a lifetime program of disciplined natural skincare. Committed Pore Maintenance: A Lifelong Beauty Recovery Program The following 12 classic skincare principles offer a comprehensive, commonsense approach to managing anxiety about your pores, while gradually optimizing your complexion's texture, clarity, and youthfulness. 1. Know the difference between fact and fiction. Pores are nothing more than tiny openings in the skin surface. Their size is a fixed quantity related to the size of the underlying oil glands. These glands are the source of the mixture of sebum (oil) and skin cells that gets trapped inside pores and forms blackheads. The dark side of blackheads has nothing to do with dirt or poor hygiene. It's the result of oxidation: a chemical reaction between the melanin in the dead skin cells on the blackhead's exposed surface and the oxygen in the atmosphere. 2. Accept what you can't change. The size of your pores is largely determined by genetics and your age. At puberty, pores go through their first growth spurt. From that point on, the combined forces of aging, hormonal changes, and environmental stresses on the skin take an increasingly heavy toll. This cumulative damage eventually results in larger, looser pores as the  supportive network of collagen fibers in the surrounding skin weakens and sags. 3. Be careful what you wish for. You'd be in big trouble if your dreams of a pore-less complexion came true. As the skin's distribution channels, pores allow the healthy flow of two vital bodily fluids: (1) sebum, the natural lubricant that keeps skin moist and supple and (2) sweat, the liquid coolant that regulates body temperature and protects us from potentially fatal heat stroke when the mercury soars. 4.  Kick the quick-fix habit for good. Stop wasting money on miracle "pore-reducers." No topical skincare product can permanently constrict pores. The "pore-tightening" effect of alcohol-based astringents and anti-blackhead creams is actually a fleeting optical illusion. Equally deceptive is the bracing "clean" sensation you get from these products. In fact, both the brisk sting you feel and the shiny taut look you see in the mirror and are symptoms of potentially damaging irritation. By stripping off your complexion's protective acid mantle, these harsh chemical solutions cause a variety of painful reactions, including minor swelling around your pores. This effect, which merely hides what you're trying to erase, quickly fades. But the price you pay in inflammation, dryness, and increased vulnerability to acne-causing bacteria amounts to beating up your complexion to spite your pores. 5. Slough off the old; bring out the new. By gently sloughing of dead surface cells, a disciplined exfoliation routine accelerates the emergence of fresh skin cells and stimulates collagen production. Daily exfoliation with a washcloth or sponge and weekly or monthly applications of scrubs or masks that contain finely ground walnuts, organic fruit acids, or other natural exfoliators will gradually minimize the visibility of your pores by reducing the buildup of oily clogs and improving the strength and resilience of the surrounding skin. The autumn months are the ideal time to jump-start your pore recovery program. (Read more about the benefits of a seasonal exfoliation program...) 6. Keep it clean. Never go to bed without washing off your makeup—no exceptions. Although their manufacturers claim mineral-based make-ups are safe and gentle enough to wear overnight, the majority of these so-called "all-natural" products include ingredients like bismuth oxychloride, a synthetic derivative of natural minerals that tends to collect in oily pores. These impacted particles can aggravate acne symptoms and irritate sensitive or allergic skin. Other ingredients, including certain types of natural minerals, pose additional risks. For instance, those glittering particles of mica in highlighters may light up your cheekbones, but they can also cause tiny abrasions in thin, fragile skin. 7. Easy does it. Too much of a good thing can make a bad situation worse. Avoid over-washing, over-exfoliating, and overzealous use of retinoids, acne medications, and other pore-minimizing solutions. In addition to causing serious inflammation and increasing susceptibility to infection, treatments that over-strip the skin surface can upset the delicate moisture balance of healthy skin. To compensate for their drying effects, oil glands often go into overdrive, adding the insult of acne symptoms to the characteristic redness and flaking of a seriously injured complexion. The temptation to over-treat the target of a painful fixation is understandable.  But the temporary relief of your anxiety about a minor flaw isn't worth the price you'll pay in serious and highly visible skin problems. Try to remember, your skin is not the enemy. Like every bodily organ, your skin needs intelligent care and handling to perform its vital role in your health and appearance. 7. Don't try this at home. The urge to take the problem of clogged pores into your own hands is particularly dangerous. Do-it-yourself blackhead removal can lead to infections, scarring, and permanently enlarged pores. 8. Get professional help. Aestheticians are specially trained to remove blackheads without causing infections or scarring. To prepare your skin for pore extraction, aestheticians typically lightly exfoliate and steam your face. Contrary to popular belief, the practice of steaming has nothing to do with opening the pores. Because the tissue surrounding the pores consists of skin rather than muscle cells, it's impossible for pores to expand or contract in response to temperature changes. The actual purpose of steaming is to loosen the contents of clogged pores. To extract the clog, the aesthetician then presses gently on the surrounding skin with tissue-wrapped fingers. A good skincare salon can also advance your pore-minimizing goals with a customized program of exfoliating masks or microdermabrasion. 9. Go natural. Like synthetic alcohols and harsh detergents, petroleum-based moisturizers not only irritate sensitive skin, but also magnify pore problems. The greasy film these products form on the skin's outer surface can block pores and actually repel moisture. Our skin tends to absorb plant-derived oils and humectants more readily because their chemistry and molecular structure closely resemble those of human sebum. This natural kinship is the reason that organic skincare products are the best option for maintaining healthy pores. Plant-derived moisturizers such as aloe vera, shea butter, and hyaluronic acid are not only deeply hydrating, but  also non-comedogenic (i.e., they don't clog pores or increase acne and blemishes).10. Use protection. Free radical damage from sun exposure is one of the prime suspects in premature pore enlargement. 11. Perform a searching a lifestyle inventory. Your diet, exercise routine, sleep habits, and stress level all play a crucial role in maintaining the clarity and refined texture that characterizes healthy, youthful skin. 12. Maintain a balanced perspective. According to professional makeup artists and well-known dermatologists, porexia is particularly common among models and movie stars. This seemingly counterintuitive phenomenon makes sense in a crazy kind of way. The fewer serious skin problems you have, the more likely you are to fret about the ones nobody else can see. If your pores look like massive craters—especially if you're staring at your nose in a magnifying mirror—the problem may lie not in your skin but in your distorted self-image. Instead of comparing yourself to the illusion of perfection we see in the media, try to remember that you don't need makeup tricks, special camera lenses, or digital wizardry to minimize any flaw, regardless of its size. The natural radiance of a vibrant spirit and confident smile puts every face in its best light.