Skin Pores

Getting Beautiful Skin Image Gallery Even invisible pores are hard at work. See pictures of ways to get beautiful skin.

For every hair on your body, there is a corresponding skin pore. Although we can't see all of these pores, we can see some of them. The same holds true with hair; while we share the same number of hairs with apes, human hairs are much less coarse, and most are so wispy they can't easily be seen.

The average adult has around 5 million hairs on his or her body, so if you think you have large pores and feel low about it, take heart in the fact that 4.9 million or so of your pores are nice and tiny and that only a proportionately small number of them are causing you grief.


Maintaining clean, healthy skin pores is important for maintaining healthy (and healthy looking) skin. Dirt and oil on your face collect around your pores like leaves and debris collect around a storm drain. When those pores get clogged, it creates a pile-up of oil and dead skin cells in the follicle. Soon, bacteria make their way to the blockage, and the growth in bacteria causes inflammation.

Now, someone on the other side of the blockage is ham-fistedly squeezing, poking and rubbing the blocked pore, which doesn't help matters one bit. It only adds more hand oils, dirt and unwelcome physical pressure -- all the things a zit needs to make it in this world. Worse, you may just make those pores stretch out more.

The bad news is that you can't do anything to permanently shrink large skin pores. The good news is that there are ways you can make them look smaller.

To learn everything you need to know about skin pores, quit touching your face and keep reading.


Function of Skin Pores

Although we're not covered head to toe in a suit of fur, our skin is abundant with hair follicles, tiny shafts through which hair can grow and reach the skin.

"Follicles" and "pores" are sometimes used interchangeably, and other times referred to as two different things. In truth, the pore is simply the opening upon the skin of the hair follicle, which extends downward through several layers of skin.


If a hair follicle were a tall chimney, the pore would be the opening at the top of the chimney. Instead of emitting smoke, the follicle emits a shaft of hair. Skin cells are constantly dying inside the follicle. Additionally, small sebaceous glands located inside the follicle (picture a cul-de-sac located off to the side of an otherwise straight road) produce oil called sebum. Sebum is a mixture of fats, proteins, cholesterol and inorganic salts. It travels up the follicle and (in a perfect world) exits through the pore. It also carries those dead skin cells found within the follicle up to the skin's surface.

What about sweat -- doesn't that come out of the same pores? No. Sweat is produced by separate sweat glands that also heavily populate your skin. While sweat emerges from the skin from a different source, it does affect your skin's appearance. Once that sweat reaches the surface, it dries but leaves salts behind that can block your pores.

This mix of oil and dead skin cells helps coat your skin to protect it from bacteria, viruses, wind and rain (we sort of take our skin's protective qualities for granted). Sometimes, though, the pore is occluded (blocked) and the materials trying to get out can't, resulting in acne.

For more information about skin cells, read Skin Cells: Fast Facts.

If you have large pores, there's some good news -- but you may have to wait a few years to receive its benefits. As we age, our skin produces less oil, leading to dryness. This dryness, coupled with environmental damage to the skin, causes skin to age and wrinkle. Large pores produce more oil, and this comes in handy later in life when your skin needs it most. So while you may be bugged by the appearance and size of your skin pores today, you're just getting an early start -- and their existence will please you down the road.

Next: Maintaining clean, open pores.


Maintenance of Skin Pores

Many people don't like having large, noticeable pores, but there are steps you can take to minimize their appearance:

  • If you use makeup, remember to wash it off each night with a gentle cleanser to prevent pore blockage.
  • Protect yourself from the sun. Sun and aging thicken the outer layer of skin, and as the tide of skin cells rises, they form a tiny volcano rim around pores. This makes pores seem bigger than they really are.
  • Oily-looking skin tends to make pores look larger. Washing your face regularly to cut down on oiliness will improve their appearance. Solutions or medications containing salicylic acid can dry out the skin and help you maintain clear pores.
  • Debris, such as dead skin cells, collects around the edges of pores, making them look bigger. Topical vitamin A treatments can prevent skin cells in the pore from sticking together and clogging it up, and help reduce the ridges or rims that develop around pores.
  • Exfoliating processes such as microdermabrasion (in which tiny particles are blasted against your face and immediately vacuumed back up) remove dead skin layers with the goal of making your skin look more attractive. Some people opt for chemical peels or laser resurfacing, but these are more intensive procedures and carry the possibility of unwanted side effects.

As frustrating as it can be to have large pores, you can minimize their appearance -- and your frustration -- through regular care and maintenance.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "What is Acne?" (Apr. 15, 2010)
  • Amirlak, Bardia, MD, et al. "Skin, Anatomy." Sep. 5, 2008. (Apr. 15, 2010)
  • Discovery Kids. "Human Hair." (Apr. 15, 2010)
  • Harper, Julie C, MD.; Fulton Jr., James, MD, PH.D. "Acne Vulgaris." July 15, 2008. (Apr. 15, 2010)
  • Kunin, Audrey, M.D. "Blackheads & Enlarged Pores." (Apr. 15, 2010)
  • Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. "Moisturizers: Options for softer skin." Dec. 16, 2008. (Apr. 15, 2010)
  • Preston, Lydia; Alster, Tina, M.D. Breaking out: a woman's guide to coping with acne at any age. Simon and Schuster, 2004. 0743236238, 9780743236232.
  • Schalock, Peter C.; Sober, Arthur J. "Management of Acne." Primary Care Medicine: Office Evaluation and Management of the Adult Patient (Sixth Edition). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009. 0781775132, 9780781775137.
  • Tourles, Stephanie. Naturally healthy skin: tips and techniques for a lifetime of radiant skin. Storey Publishing, 1999. 1580171303, 9781580171304.