Pores. We all have them and we can’t live without them. Even though they sometimes get filled with gunk, pores serve an important function in your biology. Your facial pores are what most people are referring to when they speak of pores, large, small, clogged, or cleansing. These pores are the exact same as those found in other parts of your body – with the exception of underarm and perianal area.
Types of Skin Pores
So what are these pores for, exactly? There are several types of pores that cover most of the body, including the face. These glands are actually sweat glands, their function is to help your body stay cool and to also remove waster products form the body. The composition of your sweat is mostly water with the addition of sodium salts and nitrogenous waste. When you get sweat into your mouth it has a salty taste. This is from the electrolytes (sodium salts) sodium and chloride. The main composition of sweat works like this: 98-99% water, 1-2% salts and wastes.
The cooling function of sweating through the pores works by increased sweating during times of stress or high heat. The body does not reabsorb its salt as much during this time which leads to more sweat on the skin, then evaporation of this sweat. The act of the sweat evaporating is what causes your skin to feel cooler.
Your facial pores will sweat in the same way as the other pores on your body to help regulate body temperature. This is called thermal sweating. There is another type of sweating caused by heat, called gustatory sweating, that happens when you eat hot foods. This may mean hot cooked or hot/spicy. There’s a compound in hot/spicy foods that combines with the receptors in your mouth that detect heat. You’ve probably heard of this compound, it’s used in a number of preparations to send heat into the skin for pain relief- capsaicin. Cayenne peppers and jalapeno peppers are familiar foods that contain this chemical which makes your upper lip sweat.
Emotional sweating is another that we’re all familiar with. This type of sweating is caused by stress, fear, pain, and sometimes excitement. Did you know that this type of sweat is more prominent on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands? Scientists think that this could be an evolutionary response to help primates like humans get away from a threat faster. Sweat in these areas increases friction which in turn allows the primate better grip to run or climb away from a threat.
Many people are familiar with using deodorant or antiperspirant- usually in combination – to avoid odor caused by bacteria that grows in some types of sweat. The pores under your arms or near the genital area secrete a different type of sweat than the sweat on your face. This odor causing sweat is oily and coats the hair in the areas. Antiperspirant blocks these glands or pores to reduce or prevent sweating. The chemicals can block the pores by forming a sort of plug. This is important to understand as facial skin can become plugged by the application of antiperspirant or creams, makeup, and more.
These pores are not the same as hair follicle pores, though many people often assume that their blackheads or pimples (whiteheads) were caused by excess sweating. There are actually many different reasons for blackheads to form. On a side note, the medical name for blackheads is comedo which is a Latin description of the worm-ish shape taken by the gunk pushed from a pore in the blackhead.
Hair Follicles, Another Type of Pore
Hair follicles are found on all mammalians. The structure is actually pretty complex, though we humans are usually more concerned with getting rid of hair or blackheads instead of how they came about. At the bottom, underneath your skin, is a large section called the papilla. Here you’ll find connective tissue and capillaries. Next in the hair follicle layer is the matrix. This is where cell division and hair creation begins. This matrix is wrapped around the papilla, except for a tiny part where the papilla is connected to the connective tissue underneath. This is where you’ll find the capillary moving into the follicle. Without this opening, no blood or oxygen could reach the cells and hair would never grow. Over the matrix is the root sheath, then a bulge which holds stem cells that help supply both the skin and hair follicle with new cells. There are glands attached to each hair follicle which secretes sebum, an oily substance. These are the sebaceous glands.
Blackhead Basics, or Blockages of Pores
Blackheads, or comedos, are caused by blockage in or around the hair follicles. This is usually a ormation of keratin and oil. Keratin is skin debris that can be dead skin cells or possibly dirt, though the black color of the comedo is not from dirt. The color is caused by oxidation – much like how the flesh of fruit will turn brown when exposed to oxygen. It is a common misconception that scrubbing the skin often and with force can remove blackheads and prevent them. This is actually responsible for causing more blackheads or pimples because the skin has been aggravated.
You may not be aware that whiteheads and blackheads are the same. Often people will refer to a pimple as a whitehead, but a whitehead is smaller and does not have the same inflammation (or redness) that you’ll see with pimples. The difference between a whitehead and blackhead is whether or not the comdeo is open to the air. Remember – exposure to air causes the oxidation that forms the black/brown color of blackheads.
Ancient History of Pores and Blocked Pore Cleaning
For as long as people have been looking at one another, they’ve been trying to look better. Blackheads create an impression of a dirty face or that the person with them isn’t quite clean. No matter that this isn’t really the case for most people. Teenagers are the most likely to feel vulnerable over blackheads since the start of puberty is when the sebaceous glands really gear up into overdrive. Hormonal changes play havoc with skin in teens and adults. The teen years is also when makeup / cosmetic wearing usually begins. As discussed, cosmetics can block or clog pores which may increase the occurrence of blackheads.
Quite a few home remedies have been in use by humans for clear, beautiful skin for thousands of years. Cleopatra was reknown for her gorgeous skin which was kept smooth and clear by multiple skin care products created by her personal physicians and attendants. Perhaps the most well known and tested routines of this Egyptian Queen is the morning ritual of washing the face with buttermilk. Sound weird? Here’s the science behind this ancient routine – buttermilk contains alpha-hydroxy acids that are known to cleanse the skin and soften it. The ancient queen also used natural clay from the Dead Sea to help tighten and cleanse the skin.
Clay is well known for its ability to remove impurities along with excess oil from the skin. One issue with using clay is that it can be very drying. Skin that is overdry may become irritated which, again, can lead to even more skin problems.
Removal of Blackheads, Blocked Pores, and Dirty Pores
There have been many tools in the fight against blackheads. Most people can’t stand these plugged pores, for good reason. Many will become infected and turn into pimples. A good facial cleaning routine, without going to extremes can help remove blackheads. There’s not much that anyone can do to completely prevent these blockages. Most of the time plain soap and water will be enough to help keep pores clear. Some gentle exfoliation can help remove the excess skin debris. When exfoliating it is important to use a gentle, slightly rough surface. In the past (and even some current formulations) exfoliating scrubs included crushed or ground walnut shells. The skin may feel smoother though there is a real risk of tiny, microscopic scratches in the skin which can lead to acne.
Some preparations can remove the top layer of the blackhead by dissolving the hardened outside of it. This doesn’t always remove the lower portion of the plug which may move upward and cause the black color to appear again in a day or so.
There are some tools that dermatologists and some beauticians use to remove the blackheads. This should be done only by a licensed professional since improper use can result in injury or scarring. The skin is treated with steam or warm water before using the tool to help the pores relax and open.
Other treatments can target infection, though these are usually reserved for acne (pimples). Still more treatments for acne can remove the top layer of skin which is theorized to unblock clogged pores. Dermabrasion is yet another popular method of clearing the top layer of the skin. Cosmetic surgeons often offer skin resurfacing treatments which may help with blackheads, though the resurfacing cannot be performed as often as plain, old fashioned face washing or exfoliation.
Removal Tools for Cleaning of the Pores
Professionals often use specialized tools to remove blackheads. These can be difficult for you to use at home, though they are usually available for purchase. There are a few things that are not too hard for the casual user to employ. One is called the ‘needle’ or ‘pin’. This is a small metal tool with a loop at one end and a spoon shaped scoop on the other with a small hole. These are used after the skin is steams or warmed with hot towels to open the pores. The scoop is placed over the pore and pressed down lightly.
Suction extractors use vacuum suction to pull the blackhead out of the skin.
Other do it yourself methods of removing blackheads may or may not work for you. Let’s take a look and some of the most popular (and most odd) remedies out there.
Bicarbonate of soda is a well known baking ingredient. It has been used for everything from deep cleaning ovens to baking cookies. Did you know that it’s also useful for cleansing skin? Make a paste of baking soda and mineral water, then massage the paste onto skin where blackheads are concentrated. Allow to dry, then wash away with warm water and blot dry. This can be done up to two times a week.
Mix a teaspoon of cinnamon with enough honey to make a thick paste. Apply to the blackheads, leave on over night. Wash away in the morning. This can be done daily.
Mix oatmeal and tomato juice into a paste. Use this paste as a facial scrub. It contains acids that are known to be good for the skin and the oatmeal is an extremely gentle, yet effective exfoliation agent.
The juice of lemons has been used by celebrities and others for centuries. The acids in lemons can help break down the gunk in your pores. Mix lemon juice with yogurt and honey for a refreshing skin mask. Apply to skin, massage, leave on for at least 10 minutes, then rinse away with warm water. Use daily unless your skin is sensitive to lemons (or citric acids). Reduce the amount of lemon juice until you find a mix that’s right for you.
In the ‘Golden Age’ of movies, many actresses claimed to use plain lemon juice on their skin to keep it blemish free. Take care as the acids in lemon juice can be irritating and may also bleach the skin unevenly.
Honey is another centuries old remedy. Just apply plain honey as a mask and rinse off after 10-30 minutes.
You can also mix honey with oatmeal or herbs or crushed fruit to create your own masks. Honey that’s been blended with fresh mint leaves is refreshing. Mixed with yogurt you’ll have moisture and gentle exfoliation.
It’s easy to use clay treatments. The clay found in natural clay treatments is exactly the same clay found in the ground. You probably have clay in your yard or nearby. You can use cleaned clay you found yourself or purchase it. To clean clay you’ll need to place the clay in a bucket of water. Try to manually remove the rocks or other foreign matter. From here you can pour over a screen to filter away the leftover ‘crud’. The result will be a thin, watery mix that’s the same color of the clay. Allow the bucket to sit until the clay has settled out of the water. There will be layers – one of clear water on top and the bottom will be pure clay.
This cleaned clay can be dried in the sun and stored until you wish to use it. The clay can be broken off a bit at the time and ground into a powder. Add enough water to make a paste and spread it on your face. When it dries, wash it off and enjoy a squeaky clean.
Blackheads are the most common on the face, though they can appear anywhere on the body. The chest and back are two other areas that are plagued with blackhead or whitehead outbreaks. Exfoliation can help greatly.
To exfoliate, use a body wash made for this purpose. You may also decide to invest in ‘scrubby’ wash cloth or perhaps a shower brush. These can help remove dead skin cells which can clog pores to cause body blackheads.
You may decide to make your own scrub to save money. Maybe you just want to avoid using weird chemicals on your body. The skin is your largest organ so feed it well.
Here’s a few recipes to get you started:
Warm the coconut oil, mix in the sugar and essential oil, then use all over your body with a soft mitt or wash cloth. Massage into your skin, but don’t scrub hard. Rinse off in a warm shower. Keep stored in an airtight container.
Vanilla Sugar Scrub
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ½ cup coconut oil
- ½ teaspoon Vitamin E oil or Jojoba
- 1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
Warm the coconut oil and the Vitamin E oil, mix in the sugar and vanilla bean, then use all over your body with a soft mitt or wash cloth. Massage into your skin, but don’t scrub hard. Rinse off in a warm shower. Keep stored in an airtight container.
Kitchen Hand Scrub
Warm the olive oil, mix in the sugar and lemon oil, then use all over your body with a soft mitt or wash cloth. Massage into your skin, but don’t scrub hard. Rinse off in a warm shower. Keep stored in an airtight container.
Pumpkin Pie Scrub
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ oil (your choice the type)
- 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- ½ tsp vanilla
Warm the oil, mix in the sugar, the vanilla, and the pumpkin pie spice, then use all over your body with a soft mitt or wash cloth. Massage into your skin, but don’t scrub hard. Rinse off in a warm shower. Keep stored in an airtight container.
Another option to removing blackheads from the skin is to use pore cleansing strips. These strips have adhesive on one side which binds to the blackhead and when the strip is pulled away quickly, the black head plug (and usually the inner white part) may be removed. Some people make their own pore cleansing strips, though these are not always as effective as store bought brands. It may take up to 20 minutes for the adhesive in a pore strip to bind to the blackhead properly. The majority of cases where pore strips did not work at all are due to leaving the strips on for too short of a time.
The original commercial pore strips came out in 1997 and were marketed by Biore. Since the introduction of the pore cleansing strips, many other skin care brands have created their own versions. Some people even make their own at home versions. The Biore strip won a ‘Glammy’ from Glamour Magazine for Invention of the Year and in 1998 Biore received the CEW Beauty Awards (Cosmetic Executive Women). It has remained the top selling pore cleansing strip(Amazon Link / Paulas Choice Link).
These homemade pore strips may be made from gelatin, milk, and there are some people that even swear by using white school glue. With DIY strips the adhesive must either dry or ‘set’ before being pulled away quickly. One popular recipe is to mix 1 tablespoon milk with 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin, place in the microwave for about 10 seconds, apply to nose, let dry fully, then strip off. Users have mixed results that usually revolve around the mix not drying through. It must be dry before you try to pull it of or the removal process won’t work.
All strips can remove the natural oils present in the skin which can make your skin more susceptible to infection. Open, dry, and irritated pores can result in even more issues, such as pimples or deep pustules. The latter are large deposits of pus under the skin. Yes, it’s as unsightly and uncomfortable as it sounds. Avoid using pore strips more than once a week. If you do, your face can end up looking damaged. Skin can be torn or made raw which just aggravates the area or can scar.
Another tip – pores strips are meant only for the areas designated on the box. Skin in other areas may be too thin and easily damaged. Never use pore strips near the eyes as the skin is too thin and sensitive. It can tear, leaving a very painful wound.
BIORE PORES TRIPS BEFORE AND AFTER
Using pore strips isn’t really bad for your skin unless you use them daily. About once a week is enough, though the reality is the once the blackhead has been removed, eventually you’ll see gunk in there again. There’s even been some speculation that bacteria can enter through the freshly stripped pores which result in infections.
Pros and Cons of Using Pore Strips
Using pore strips to get rid of blackheads have pros and cons, like most everything else in life.
- Cleans deep in pores
- Can be used just once a week
- Is simple to use
- Easy to carry with you
- Won’t spill like other treatments
- Doesn’t leave suction spots
- No risk of pinch or squeezing damage
- Pulls the skin and hairs
- May damage sensitive, thin skin
- Can be painful
- Can only be used once a week
- Is not a permanent solution
Best Cleansing Practices
You’ll want your skin to be ready for the strip treatment. By not having your skin prepared you’re likely to have less than satisfactory results. By following some easy steps to have your face fully cleansed, you’ll have all of that gunk out of your pores in no time.
- First, wet your face with warm water. Avoid using hot water right away. Using hot water dehydrates your skin. You want to work up to the heat! (if you are wearing make up, remove it with makeup remover before this step).
- Next, use a gentle cleanser. Rub it onto your cheeks and chin, massage over your temples and forehead.
- Then, splash with warm water to remove all traces of the soap or cleanser.
- Pat dry with a soft towel. Don’t rub.
Now that your face is clean and dry, you can proceed. But, if you want to get an even deeper clean, steam your face.
Pour enough water into a pot to boil. Once it is boiling, lean over the pot (carefully!) and allow the steam to bathe your face for about 10 minutes. Don’t get too close to the water and don’t steam for longer than 10 minutes.
Never steam your skin without washing it first. Steaming alone will open the pores and allow dirt that’s on the skin to get into the pores, making you end up with more blackheads.
Aging and Pore Strips
As we age our pores are more visible. This is because as pores age, they are clogged and cleaned – over and over. These clogs cause the pores to visibly widen which only gets more visible as skin sags with age. You can fight this by keeping your pores as clean as possible. Pore strips used once a week may help keep pores from becoming too wide.
Keeping the pores cleaned after the weekly strip treatment is important. This will help reduce how aging affects your skin.