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Nobody likes them, but everybody has them. Below, a comprehensive guide to keeping your pores’s profile to a minimum.
Written By Fiorella Valdesolo
Lessons on Pores | THE VIOLET FILES | @violetgrey

— PHOTOGRAPHY BY GUY AROCH FOR THE VIOLET FILES

For as long as we’ve been obsessing over pores in our magnifying mirrors, we’ve been doing everything in our power to erase them from existence. But though they’re essential to our skin’s ecology, how to best attend to them remains a mystery for many. Here, some of our favorite dermatologists and aestheticians demystify the small but mighty pore. 
Part of the pilosebaceous unit, a pore is simply a pathway for our glands to release necessary oils (without them, skin would feel dry and irritated) onto the skin’s surface. Their appearance and size is mostly predetermined. “Genetics play a tremendous role. Typically if someone has large pores and you look at a family photo, you will see that many others have them as well,” says New York dermatologist Dr. Robert Anolik. But the sun and the natural aging process also take a significant toll. “Just like your ears grow and your nose gets bigger as you get older, so do your pores,” says London-based facialist Amanda Lacey.

“All complexion issues begin with a blocked pore,” says New York dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross. “The first thing you see is a black dot. As the pore gets bigger, collecting dead skin and oil, the black dot grows bigger.” If you do not attend to it, a dismal chain reaction sets in: clogged pore to blackhead to whitehead to pimple to cyst.
Can we actually shrink the size of our pores? Not exactly. But removing all the oil, bacteria, buildup (from makeup, self-tanner, and the like), and debris will significantly diminish their appearance. Pores also look larger as we begin to lose the collagen in our complexion. Gross uses a straw as a point of comparison. “The straw can get bigger not only because there is stuff inside it stretching it out, but also because the fibers around it begin to give way,” he says. “Anti-aging ingredients make more collagen around the outside of that straw to keep it nice and narrow in diameter as opposed to letting it open up and look larger.” And despite plenty of editorial real estate devoted to the opposite (splash toner on face to close pores, etc.), Lacey adds that pores do not open and close. Not even, as we were taught from a young age, with hot and cold water. “They’re not like elevator doors,” she insists.    
The sun’s menacing ways also come into play with pores. “Everyone knows the skin produces pigment in response to the sun, but it also creates a thicker coat of oil on its surface in an attempt to block the penetration of the sun,” says Gross. More oil means pores are more likely to get blocked and appear larger. Not to mention the sun will age skin and make it lose elasticity. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Wear sunscreen every day, rain or shine.
Main Ingredients
The ideal pore-friendly regimen is a combination of anti-aging ingredients that support and promote collagen production, plus agents like acids that help break down the pores. “The best duo for keeping pores cleaned out is salicylic acid in a leave-on product and a retinoid or vitamin A product,” says New York–based facialist Jordana Mattioli. “The salicylic acid removes excess skin cells from the surface of the face, so they don’t build up in the pore, and exfoliates inside the pore to improve its shape, allowing for a more even flow of oil. And the retinol or vitamin A will improve cell production and even out the pore lining.”

For collagen stimulation there are other classic anti-agers besides retinol that will also do the trick: vitamin C, peptides, and antioxidants. But choose your combination carefully. “Peptides just stimulate collagen and ferulic acid is an antioxidant that prevents its breakdown, but vitamin C stimulates and prevents,” says Gross. And beware of any heavy moisturizers, especially those with comedogenic mineral oils that will incite a major traffic jam for your pores, advises Lacey.
Masks
A regular mask, with the right ingredients, can literally pull impurities from the pores. Mattioli loves the clay variety, Gross suggests sulfur, and Nicole Paxson, medical aesthetician at Dr. Adam Kolker’s New York office, favors a yeast mask like Biologique Recherche Masque Vivant. Dakar doubles up for maximum pore-cleansing benefits. “I recommend having two masks on hand: a clay- or mud-based one [like her Volcano Mask] to absorb impurities and excess oil and provide clarifying benefits, and a soft mask [like her Nano Mask] with ingredients like resveratrol or other super antioxidants, stem cells, and natural essential oils to help hydrate, soothe, and calm the skin,” she says. Then, layer them, but remember that order is key. “Soft and hydrating masks should always go first, followed by the clay or mud mask. If you do the reverse the soft mask will never be able to penetrate through the clay one.”
Cleanser
A thorough cleansing regimen is obviously essential to keep pores spick-and-span. During her facials Mattioli uses a triple cleanse method—balm then clay then gel formulas—to remove absolutely everything on the skin. And Paxson advises changing your cleanser seasonally to keep pores tidy: Use a gel or foaming cleanser in the summer months, when skin is naturally oilier, and a milky variety in winter.
Exfoliators
Don’t: While your initial instinct for attacking your pores may be to strenuously slough away, granular exfoliants are usually not the best course of action. They tend to dry skin out, the scrub particles can be harsh (especially for sensitive types), and they lack the precision of liquid exfoliants to reach every far corner of the face.
 
Do: Paxson loves the exfoliating effects of Biologique Recherche’s cult classic Lotion P50. If you have sensitive skin conditions like eczema or rosacea, however, Gross cautions against using anything enzymatic because the enzymes work by causing a skin irritation. Gross’s latest incarnation of his beloved Alpha Beta Peel, which uses a combination of alpha and beta hydroxyl acids and willow bark extract, is geared specifically toward the super-sensitive, with lower concentrations of its active ingredients. And in the summer, when skin is subjected to more SPF than usual, both Mattioli and Lacey think a little manual exfoliation of the DIY variety is in order. Mattioli likes to use a simple muslin cloth, while Lacey recommends using your ring finger to polish the skin in the shower.
While the Clarisonic brush and its countless copycat products have legions of fans who swear by their polishing abilities, many aestheticians—Lacey, Paxson and L.A.-based skin guru Sonya Dakar among them—find the swiveling tool to be too harsh. “I’m not a fan of the brush for the majority of people because it’s too common that they overuse or misuse it by applying too much pressure,” says Paxson. “They often cause oversensitivity, irritation, and redness, so I only recommend them for clients with thick, excessively oily skin. Our fingertips really are enough to create friction on the skin and gently work in a cleanser.” 
A bathroom requisite in high school and college, the Biore strip offers instant gratification (just look at all those blackheads stuck to the flypaper-like surface!), but it may not be the best for your skin in the long run. “You might as well just use a piece of tape,” says Dakar. The strips remove only the top layer of blackheads without addressing the enlarged pore, and there is potential for further irritation. “The main ingredient on the strips is Polyquaternium-37, a film-forming hairspray-type ingredient that can cause irritation and breakouts,” says Mattioli. “Another concern is that the strips can injure or tear skin and cause spider veins to surface. They are also unsafe if you’ve been having facial peels, or using Retin-A, Renova, AHAs, or salicylic acid.”

IN POLITE
SOCIETY

In polite society, clear pores
 are even MORE 
 important than
 a clear CONSCIENCE.
–Violet Grey
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