What Are Pores?

In the cosmetic world we talk about Pores often whether it be to give them a deep cleanse, to avoid clogging them or to shrink them into obscurity (without resorting to Photoshop). When I was teaching this weekend I had to stop and explain what pores are and while I knew, I found my explanation was a little clunky and dis-jointed. Feeling that pores may be something we talk about without really understanding I thought that this might be a great opportunity to take a closer look at those pesky little facial holes…..


This picture is one of the best that we have seen to show the origin behind the two types of holes in our skin.

First we have the sweat glands. There are two types of sweat gland – those in our groin and arm pits that secrete a scented liquid filled with partner attracting pheromones or something. Second are the sweat glands we have everywhere else. These are the ones that spring a leak when you crank up the volume on the stepping machine at the gym. Block these up for any length of time and you start to over-heat, become itchy, sweaty and irritated. It isn’t pleasant!

Second we have the hair follicles. Once upon a time we were very hairy but nowadays thanks to evolution, razors and laser treatment our hirsuteness has been significantly reduced. However, our skin doesn’t seem to know that and while most of us no longer have hair covering every inch of our bodies our hair follicles still remain. Hairless (or micro-hair) follicles have become known as pores. They have oil glands associated with them and the oil that once lubricated our emergent hair, now lubricates our bare skin.

The chemical make-up of these pore secretions changes slightly from person to person and can include horny keratinous material which builds up to abnormal levels in people with acne, keratosis pilaris, eczema, psoriasis, ichthyosis and fungal infections. It also consists of bacteria, environmental dust and dirt and skin mites.

The oil that our pore secretes is attempting to clean us up, to flush out the crud, to de-contaminate us but sometimes just like when you live with animals and/or toddlers the mess builds up quicker than you can clean it! Also not all dirt is created equal and while some might just sit happily and cause no real problems other dirt will irritate and potentially make you (or your pore) sick. This pore sickness could result in inflammation, irritation and infection.

Repeated bouts of that can lead to pores becoming enlarged and as enlarged pores can trap more dirt the cycle continues. Enlarged (or larger than average) pores are not just caused by dirt or inflammation though, in many cases this is a genetic variation or while in others it is triggered by internal factors such as diet and general health including natural ageing.

I feel it is important to note that the majority of clogging that goes on seems to come from within us rather than from outside of us well, that is unless you are working in a particularly dirty environment and have enlarged pores and by dirty I mean filthy – mining, plumbing, mechanics etc…..

So those things called pores are a hang over from our hairier days! Oil secreting portals that act as natural cleaning agents and that help to keep our skin lubricated (natures own moisturiser). How very interesting!

Later on in the week we will have a look at the term ‘comedogenetic’ and explore how that relates to our pores and to the ingredients we use but for now we should just sit back and think for a little longer about how we might embrace the humble pore and celebrate what it tries to do for us, our complexion and our general health. After all the skin is the largest organ and it would not be half as good at protecting us from pollution and toxins if these little holes didn’t exist which is odd as being holes we instinctively want to believe that the pores are channels for delivery rather than excretion. Maybe we should look further into that too!

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