Blackheads, Enlarged and Blocked Pores Explained

After dark circles, enlarged pores and pore related problems are one of the biggest male skin concerns. They’re annoying, and even though most people won’t notice them unless they’re right up in your face, you can still see them as though they were the sun in the sky.

What is it

Enlarged Pores

Enlarged pores are visible usually on the T-Zone (forehead, nose and chin) or pretty much anywhere on the face (and body) where you’re particularly oily.

Blocked Pores, Blackheads and Congestion

Blocked pores can occur on any skin type, from oily to dry. They’re pores that have developed a blockage that can either turn into a spot/blemish (read more about that here) or into a blackhead. This is collectively known as skin congestion.

Why it happens

Enlarged Pores

One of the functions of our pores is to pump oil to the surface of the skin to lubricate and hydrate the skin’s surface. It’s best to think of this pumping mechanism as an elastic band, stretching and contracting.

If your skin produces a lot of oil, this involves a lot of stretching and contracting of the pores and just like an elastic band, after a while it can become loose and even eventually snap. It rarely snaps and this is what’s known as a collapsed pore; these are harder to treat but not impossible – these are noticeable often with the appearance of a piercing. Enlarged pores are treatable, often simply by skin care.

Contrary to popular belief, pores do not produce sweat, instead sweat comes from sweat glands. Sweat glands are separate to the pores; these can have their own school of problems including inflammation and blockages but these are issues best dealt with by your GP.

Blocked Pores, Blackheads and Congestion

Almost any pore can become blocked, regardless of whether it’s enlarged or not (although this is a contributing factor).

When the skin’s surface becomes dry and dehydrated, skin cells don’t shed off evenly and can stay fastened to the skin. These dead skin cells then fall into pores and create a plug and also turn dark/black when completely oxidised. This is known as a blackhead.

If the plug is just a plug but the pore remains open, then a blackhead is formed – this is called an open comedone/comedo. If the pore closes around the plug and other factors are contributed such as bacteria and oil, then a spot is formed – this is known as a closed comedone/comedo or spots, blemishes and acne.

How to treat it

Enlarged Pores

Exfoliate

The best way to physically reduce the size of the pore and restore healthy pore function is to use chemical exfoliators such as:

Salicylic Acid
Glycolic acid
Lactic acid
Malic acid
Citric acid
Glycolic acid + ammonium glycolate alpha-hydroxyethanoic acid
Ammonium alpha-hydroxyethanoate

These ingredients remove dead skin cells lining the pore wall and gradually tighten it up. This does take time (months) but if you keep up to your regime, it can and will work. If the pore has totally collapsed, this can take longer and sometimes may not work at all through this treatment method; in that case, speak to an aesthetician or dermatologist.

Cover up

There are loads of products out there to conceal enlarged pores and are often referred to as primers, mattifiers, enhancers or perfectors. These products usually have a base of silicon (often listed as silicone, dimethicone or trimethicone) or similar ingredients that temporarily sit in the open pore to smooth it over. There’s also often light reflectors to brighten the skin or diffusers to mattify the skin.

It’s always best to try these products out on a small area of skin first as different skin types can be more prone to blockages and products like these can lead to this. Just make sure to wash them off at the end of the day and don’t sleep in them!

Blocked Pores, Blackheads and Congestion

Moisturise

This works better as a preventative measure but if you suffer with this concern, it will help to correct it as well as prevent future blockages. By hydrating the surface level of skin cells, you both plump and hydrate them, preventing the cells from collapsing into the pores and creating the blockage.

Make sure to match your moisturiser to your skin type. Even if you’re super-oily, you should still moisturiser, but with products that are oil-free gels and gel-creams containing water-based hydrators such as hyaluronic acid. If you’re dryer then look for richer (but not congesting) base oils such as almond oil, coconut oil and other natural ingredients – try and avoid mineral oil that can often congest and, in the long run, dehydrate the skin.

Exfoliate

This is probably the best method of both treatment and prevention. Using a mixture of both chemical and manual exfoliation (beaded and grained) you remove the surface dead skin cells, revealing fresher more hydrated cells underneath. Be sure to keep these fresh cells well hydrated else you’ll simply repeat the problem.

Exfoliation will also remove the top of the blocked pore/blackhead and coax the pore into pushing the blockage out a little. Repeat this roughly every 2-3 days (more if you’re dryer and less if you’re oily). This has what I refer to as a PEZ dispenser effect (those sweets that come out the character’s neck) and as the blockage is continually pushed out, it will eventually empty!

If there are more than 1 or 2 actual spots/blemishes on the skin, don’t use manual exfoliators (beaded or grained) as this can lead to them cutting, scarring and even spreading

Squeezing

If you squeeze a blackhead, more often than not, you only remove half of the blockage. The other half is then forced deeper into the pore which then creates a full blockage, turning into an infected, pustular spot.

However, if you’re determined to squeeze it then make sure you use clean hands and heat the skin first to open the pore more. I personally find it’s best to use the handle-end of a pair of tweezers and push deeper into the skin (targeting the base of the pore); then use a finger to push against it releasing the blockage. Afterwards, cleanse the skin, hydrate with an oil-free moisturiser and use your favourite blemish treatment in an attempt to prevent a spot – this won’t always work so you have been warned.

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