Stop hiding from the magnifying mirror! April Long finally puts pores on the spot—and gets her complexion primed for a close encounter.
I am in Lapland, within spitting distance of the Arctic Circle, beating myself with a birch branch and wondering how long it will take for me to faint. This is my introduction to the Finnish institution of sauna—which, it turns out, isn’t at all like what I’ve experienced at my local gym. First of all, there are three different rooms in which to swelter (a local favorite, the smoke sauna, leaves your hair smelling like a forest fire), and after sitting in each one for as long as you can possibly bear, whipping your skin periodically with the aforementioned greenery in order to boost circulation, the custom is to run outside and throw yourself into a plunge pool fed by the icy waters of a nearby lake. It’s madness, but quickly addictive: After a few rounds, I feel exhilarated, newly alive, as though every cell in my body has just enjoyed a breath mint. And when I check my reflection, my skin is glowing—and my pores… Wait, where are my pores? The effect is temporary, sadly, but that momentary impression is hard to forget.
As someone who has spent an inordinate amount of time examining the topography of her face in cruelly unflattering hotel-bathroom magnifying mirrors, I tend to think of my pores as being like the craters of the moon: large, unlovely, unchangeable, but I hope, not visible to the naked eye. I endeavor to blur them with primer, luminizer, and foundation; I try to forget about them, to avoid peering into my compact in super bright light—but it’s no use. Of the many insignificant details I could obsess about—fine lines, brown spots, the bat-shit unruliness of my eyebrows—for some reason, my pores bother me the most. So I suppose it’s somewhat heartening to learn I’m not alone: According to a recent survey conducted by the skin-care line SK-II, American women between the ages of 20 to 35 name pore refinement as their number one skin concern; further, 71 percent of the 500 respondents say they feel more confident when their pores are less noticeable, and 74 percent say they believe that having smaller pores makes skin look more youthful.
My first response on hearing these stats was, really? I, for one, have never looked at another person’s face and thought, Whoa, those pores are out of control. I’ve only noticed them on myself—and we’re all our own worst critics. When we microfocus on what we perceive to be enlarged pores, are we really seeing what we think we’re seeing? Actually, yes. We probably are. Our faces, on average, have about 300,000 openings that allow the healthy secretion of sweat and sebum, which help provide a natural barrier against the environment. There are various issues that can cause pores to appear larger: oil, dirt, and skin cells can clog them and expand their diameter (and once the gunk has oxidized and darkened, create blackheads); and while they’re generally most noticeable on congestion-prone oily skin, they can also flatten out and look bigger when the epidermis is too dry, so watch that winter air.
Those of us bedeviled by large pores have long had a fairly superficial but instantly gratifying range of OTC options: We can clear them with cleansers or peel-off strips designed to remove blockages, mask them with silicone-based pore-refining primers that smooth out the surface of the skin and make them look less obvious, or mattify them with oil-absorbing products. There’s new thinking, however, that goes beyond merely improving the appearance of pores in the short term and instead tackles the question of how to stop them from changing shape over time and becoming a chronic problem.
There’s a reason why you might be noticing your pores more now than you did a few years ago: The most pernicious cause of enlarged pores is age. As collagen and elastin fibers begin to break down and gravity takes its inevitable toll, pores become distended and more oval—a process that can begin as early as our twenties. “When we’re young, the collagen and elastin and hyaluronic-acid proteins in the skin fluff up and plump the dermis, which squeezes the pore opening tightly, making it tiny,” says New York dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD. “As we age—and sun damage, smoking, fatigue, and stress accelerate skin aging—we lose those structures, and the pores stretch open.” In other words: The firmer the skin, the less visible the pores.
One of the most powerful ingredients to be newly recruited in this dual-prong quest is a weird one: artichoke. While the benefits of eating the spiky thistle-family plant are well established (better digestion, liver support, reduced cholesterol), recent studies have shown that cynaropicrin, an active compound found in artichoke leaves, prevents photoaging by inhibiting free-radical formation and UVB-induced inflammation in human skin cells. It also acts on pores. In a small-scale study conducted by Japanese cosmetics ingredient company Ichimaru Pharcos involving 15 male and female volunteers, 80 percent of them showed less conspicuous pores (as measured by the evocatively named Roboskin Analyzer RSA-50) after applying artichoke extract to their skin twice a day for two months. Artichoke appears as the key component in Boscia’s No Pores No Shine T-Zone Treatment, as well as in SK-II’s new Essential Power Essence—in which it’s combined with the brand’s signature cell-turnover-enhancing pitera and elasticity-boosting Siberian ginseng to minimize the appearance of pores immediately after application, then significantly boost hydration and firmness levels in the skin within two weeks.
“Think of caviar that has just been put out and is nice and plump, but if it sits there all night at a wedding reception, it’s going to start to look a little dehydrated,” says P&G Senior Scientist Laura Goodman. “What if you could put something on top of that caviar and keep it looking fresh? The artichoke extract in SK-II Essential Power Essence essentially does that—it prompts the generation of antioxidants that boost inner cell density. When you’ve got more plumped-up cells, pores are going to be less visible, but you’ve also got a protective factor, so anything that the skin is getting hit with, like UV radiation, isn’t going to degrade the cells as fast.”
Lumene, a brand that sources ingredients from the salubrious wilderness of northern Finland, also harnesses phytochemicals to improve the condition of the skin so that pores are diminished. The lingonberry extract that appears throughout Lumene’s Time Freeze range has been proven in a study conducted by researchers at Sotkamo’s University of Oulu to contain molecules that inactivate an enzyme that breaks down elastin fibers in the skin; while cloudberries—the same bright orange fruit that I snack on after my inaugural sauna session (some of which, no kidding, have been foraged by reindeer herders)—contain high levels of omega fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamin C, all of which have been shown to boost luminosity. “Vitamin C protects the skin temporarily from oxidative stress like UV sun damage, pollution, and even acne,” Marmur says. “It’s also a natural exfoliator that cleanses the pores.”
Indeed, while long-term pore refinement may now be accepted as a part of our anti-aging regimen, that doesn’t discredit old-school, quick-fix solutions: Simple, gentle exfoliation can make a big difference. “If you picture a pore being shaped like an ice cream cone, you can see that if you shaved some layers off the top, the diameter would get smaller,” says Goodman. “You’re never going to change the root shape at the very bottom, but you can affect the way it looks at the top.” Marmur recommends that her pore-obsessed patients try products containing the aforementioned vitamin C, as well as retinol creams. “Retinol exfoliates, but it also helps the skin function at its optimum level. This means it sheds normally, reducing the trapped skin and oils that can lead to acne.”
My sauna-happy Finnish friends may be onto something too: “Steaming with warm, humid air softens the skin and primes it for clearing the pores from debris,” Marmur says. And a cold plunge firms up the skin temporarily, making everything—not just the pores—look a little tighter (there’s a reason Joan Crawford massaged her whole body with ice cubes). The main thing, though, is that those of us who find ourselves poring over our pores should probably take a step back—after all, the more you look, the more you see, and the more tempted you are to micromanage. “I advise my patients not to extract or pick their pores,” says Marmur. “I have seen faces full of scars. Remember, the skin needs to have some essential oils and proteins inside to be healthy.” Take care of your skin, “then just trust it and leave it alone.”
Source: Elle Magazine
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