Just The FAQs: What Should I Do About My Huge Pores?

People obsess over their pores. Absolutely. Obsess. Let’s first establish that everything is huge when you are two inches away from a 10x magnifying mirror. Next, let’s establish that you have the poreswhat can i do about huge pores you’re born with. Now that we’re clear on that, let’s talk about what we can do about them.

  • Clean them out. Pores are like garbage bags. You can cram them full of plenty of trash and they will continue to expand. Plus, dark spots like blackheads make pores more visible. So make sure your routine features something to keep them clean regularly and get your facials, since manual extractions are still the most effective to remove blackheads.
  • Exfoliate them. If you dug a hole in the ground, and you threw the dirt up on the sides of that hole, it’d look deeper, right? The same is true of your skin. Dead skin cells don’t always flake off the way they should, which leads to a build-up called hyperkeratinization. This common condition makes pores look larger than they are. The best way to address this is with some form of exfoliation. Pore minimizing products that feature alpha hydroxy acids will help the most here, so look for ingredients like glycolic or lactic acid.
  • Temporarily tighten them. Many pore minimizing products contain ingredients that can temporarily tighten the opening of the pore. In  this case, you are not changing the part of the pore that is below the surface of the skin; you are only affecting the opening at the surface. Some of these products work by causing a small amount of inflammation at the surface, while others work with a cool temperature to simply constrict the opening. This is not be confused with closing the pores. Astringents and clay masks are two such products that may help with this, although the results may last only a few hours.
  • Camouflage them. The marriage of skin care and cosmetics is a wonderful thing, especially when you can rely on a cosmetic product to hide the pores. There are literally thousands of options out there. Look for ingredients like silicone or dimethicone. These products lay on the surface of the skin and keep the makeup from sinking into pores and fine lines. Remember that this is a temporary fix and will wash off at the end of the evening. And don’t worry about pore clogging. Silicone and dimethicone actually can’t penetrate the skin and will form a permeable layer on the surface. These ingredients can be beneficial to many skin types for more reasons than just decreasing the appearance of the pores.

Always remember that you can minimize the appearance of the pores, but you cannot get rid of them. Also, take two giant steps away from that magnifying mirror. Try some of these tips and give yourself a little break on this one.



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The Kitchen Sponge Theory

My teacher in esthetics school made a huge impression on me. She had many sassy little sayings that have stuck with me. One of them was a way to correct us when we would erroneously ask if something would “open” or “close” a pore. She would always snap back: Pores don’t have doors. [Tweet this!]

It is true. They don’t open and shut. In a facial, when we open up your pores, what we actually mean is that we’re softening the skin. Toners don’t close your pores… they constrict them. Large pores aren’t open, they are visible.

I like to offer a slightly different theory with more explanation. Technically it seems like the pores have opened or closed. kitchen sponge theoryBut there is a distinction here that, if you understand it, you will automatically understand  how to treat other skin care problems.  I like to explain with what I call the Kitchen Sponge Theory.

Imagine that your skin is like a dish sponge. When that dish sponge is dry, it is hard. It doesn’t bend at all. It’d be easy to break. When you first run that sponge under water, the water rolls off. It doesn’t absorb. But if you hold the sponge under water, it starts to absorb it. The sponge softens. It becomes flexible. It bends easily. It absorbs more water.

This change is essentially what we mean when we say that pores open. We are actually making the surrounding tissue more pliable to remove blackheads easily. That sponge bends easily after it’s been run under water, just like steam, oils, and enzymes all soften the skin and the debris within the pore. The skin is more supple and allows me to extract clogs without causing damage. Products absorb better, allowing nutrients to penetrate deeper into the skin. In contrast, toners can constrict pores. They generally do this because the colder temperature constricts the skin and makes the pores less noticeable. (Hint: they’d go back to their original shape eventually.) There are other ways to make the pores appear smaller as well, such as regular exfoliation. Remember that you can change the appearance of your pores, but not the size!

It may seem like I’m splitting hairs. Who really cares if the pores open or if the skin softens? My first response is that the more we understand how the skin functions, the better we can treat it. If you understand the texture of the skin, you’ll understand why it clogs in the first place. Then you’ll understand why you have to go through a process if you want to properly pick (but don’t, because you should come see me for a facial). My next reason is that if you understand this, you won’t fall for tricky sales people who want to sell you ineffective products to “close your pores.” You read this blog. You know better now!



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Proper Picking Procedures

It’s never my first recommendation, but sometimes the temptation to pick a pimple is overwhelming. And I understand… sometimes those guys just scream to be squeezed! I have a list of rules that must be followed how to properly pop a pimpleshould you succumb to the urge to pick.

  • Start with steamed skin. Usually after a shower is best. Steam softens the skin and allows the debris to come out more easily.
  • Use an enzyme mask before. Enzymes also soften the skin, making the extraction process easier. One to try? The Murad Vitalic Pomegranate Exfoliating Mask is a great option.
  • Only pick the most obvious whiteheads, with the infection right at the surface. If you’re going for a blackhead, only go for those that at the surface and opened.
  • Wrap your clean fingers in tissues. Never use your nails. Use gentle pressure. Don’t force it if it doesn’t give immediately. Wait a few days and try again.
  • Cleanse the area and sanitize it with a salicylic acid spot treatment, like Sircuit Skin Fixzit. You can even apply ice for a few minutes to reduce the inflammation.
  • Use a sulfur mask to kill bacteria and help the pores contract. You can even leave it on the spot overnight. One of my all time favorites for this is Peter Thomas Roth Sulfur Cooling Masque. I do this to reduce blemishes when I first notice them too, so I don’t ever get to the point where I have to extract them.
  • Leave it alone. This is the point where not picking becomes very important. If you repeatedly pick at a blemish, you slow down the healing process, and ultimately you can cause long-term scarring.

Ideally, we will never get to the point where something screams at us to be picked. But it happens to all of us, and using these precautions can prevent the long-term collagen damage that occurs when we’ve overpicked. Also remember that sometimes the best way to control your urge to pick is to take one giant step away from the magnifying mirror. [Tweet this!]



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Just the FAQs: Do Pore Strips Work?

girl uses pore strip to get rid of blackheadsThere are few questions that surprise me. What surprises me about this particular question is how often I hear it from the guys that come in for facials. I’ve even answered this question from guys while watching football.

The short answer is, no, pore strips don’t work. [Tweet this!] But if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I don’t have a short answer for anything in skin care.

Pore strips are used by wetting a strip of fabric with a special adhesive and applying it to the nose. It then forms a bond with any blackheads. When you remove the strip, the blackheads are supposed to be pulled out of the skin and removed with the strip.

Blackheads are created by a build up of excess oil and sebum that collect in the pore. The surface oxidizes and turns dark. I’ve talked about how blackheads are formed in more depth in other posts.

So why doesn’t a pore strip work?blackhead cross section

  • The surface of the blackhead is not usually flush with the surrounding skin, as you can see in this illustration. The pore strip cannot adhere to the blackhead if it is actually below the skin. Therefore, it can’t be pulled out.
  • Even though blackheads seem like they would be pretty solid, most are not. Most blackheads are oily in texture, so even if you can remove the top oxidized portion of the blackhead, the pore still contains the rest of the oil and sebum. This means that in a matter of days, you will just have a new blackhead.
  • If the blackhead is in fact a solid blackhead that could adhere to a pore strip, I promise you that it is not going to come out by yanking something off your nose. In a facial, I use enzyme masks, steam, and special solutions to dissolve blackheads and make the surrounding skin more pliable, and I still have to work pretty hard to dislodge them.

Some people will argue with me and tell me that they see something on the other side of the pore strip after they’ve removed it, but most of that will be hair. And even if you did get a clog, there is still more debris in the pore. Mostly I think that pore strips just irritate skin and make it more sensitized. The only way to truly get pores clear is to get manual extractions in a facial. Save the money you’d spend and invest in a facial or a good, pore detoxing product.




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Just The FAQs: Do I Need a Deep Cleansing Facial?

Often when I ask a new client what their primary reason for getting a facial is, they respond that they need a deep cleansing. The deep cleansing facial is a Deep cleansing facialpopular treatment on most spa menus.  But I think the concept of deep cleansing is unnecessary and even a little misleading. Usually what we’re doing is more exfoliation to get deeper into the pores. Unfortunately, what most people think of as a deep cleanse generally leaves the skin stripped of natural oils, which can cause more problems than it solves.

Here’s what you should look for if you want to book a deep cleansing facial.

  • In order to be effective, there needs to be some sort of boost in the exfoliation phase of the facial. The added exfoliation removes more dead skin and softens clogs, going a little deeper than what you can do at home. This freshens the complexion and makes extractions easier. If you are booking a deep cleansing facial, make sure it includes a bump in the exfoliator, above what is offered in the basic facial. If it’s a regular facial, you may want to spring for the add-on peel.
  • We need to do extractions. Some specific deep cleansing facials have extra time added for extractions, but it is not necessary in my opinion. But let me stress, you cannot have a successful deep cleansing facial without extractions. [Tweet this!] Otherwise, I’m not doing anything for you that you can’t do at home. If someone is charging you for a deep cleansing facial and they are not doing extractions, they are stealing your money.

So do you need a deep cleansing facial? The people who do are generally very oily and/or acne-prone, and they need a more aggressive method for getting the debris out of the pores. Look at your nose in the mirror. Do you have lots of visible blackheads? Is the texture of your skin bumpy? Are you oily within an hour of washing your face? If any of your answers are yes, you may want to consider a deep cleanse.

Before you book a deep cleansing facial, ask yourself what you really need. Take a close look at the description on the spa menu. Compare the description of the deep cleansing facial to the one for the regular, or basic facial. If they are charging you more, what are they adding? If they don’t have a specific deep cleansing facial, ask your esthetician. You can still get that deep clean feel without the fancy name. Upgrade your peel. Extra extractions can be helpful for a small percentage of the population, but most people just don’t need that much time. In fact, sometimes it can even reach a point of being detrimental. Ask if you are unsure of how much time you’ll need. If you’re concerned about oil and debris on the surface of the skin, you need to look at your daily cleanser, not a facial. And, if you’re concerned about blackheads, maybe there are ways to tweak your home care routine to better address your concerns.



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Winning the Fight Against Blackheads

Once people start to understand how blackheads are formed, and what must be done to get rid of them, the next question I hear is which product is the best. These are a few things that I look for when I am evaluating the effectiveness of a product.

  • Serums are more effective than cleansers. In general, I prefer serums because they stay on the skin longer, while cleansers ultimately wash off. In the case of blackheads, you need something that can really penetrate the pore, and serums can do that. Also, serums are easier to zone treat (just treating the area where the problem occurs), and you can stop using it if you experience too much drying.
  • Ingredients are key. Salicylic acid is the best ingredient to fight blackheads, but the addition of glycolic acid can really bump up the effectiveness. These two are most important, and after that, the product just gets better if it has other acids like lactic or azelaic (which can often help with pigmentation).
  • The product should have a light, spreadable texture and be free of clogging ingredients like mineral oil or petrolatum.

And here are some of my favorites products that fit this description.


blackhead fighterActive Serum by iS Clinical features sugar cane extract (glycolic), bilberry extract (lactic), and willow bark extract (salicylic). It also features arbutin and kojic acid, which can help to brighten the skin. It works on blackheads and the appearance of pores. Because of the salicylic, it also helps with acne. Use this product all over for help with texture and brightening as well.



Ain’t Misbehavin Intensive Medicated Blackhead Treatment by DERMAdoctor is a treatment designed specifically for blackheads. It uses salicylic acid, glycolic acid, azelaic acid, and a myriad of other great ingredients to work on stubborn clogs. Use it as a zone treatment to minimize blackheads and breakouts.


blackheadsBlemish Clearing Serum by Juice Beauty is technically an acne treatment, but its use of salicylic and glycolic also makes it a great blackhead fighter. I love the price of this one. It really spreads, making it a great value. Plus, Juice Beauty utilizes as many certified organic ingredients as possible, which makes it a great choice for someone looking for something natural and paraben-free. Use it as a zone treatment or all over, depending on your concerns.


All of these products are great options to help to minimize the appearance of pores and diminish the occurrence of blackheads. There are always others out there to try, but be sure to check the ingredients list to make sure you’re buying something that is effective. And remember that good skin care starts at home, so make sure to invest wisely products that address your concerns the best.



See a product here that you think would work for you? I earn a commission and you help to support this blog if you use the affiliate links provided. But your trust is important to me, and I’d never recommend something that I haven’t used or didn’t like. Read my disclaimer.

Just the FAQs: Do I Need Extractions?

When I ask if someone would like extractions in their facial, sometimes my clients ask, “Is that when you pick my skin?” Proper extractions are not quite the same thing as picking. Extractions are the gentle removal of clogs and blackheads. When I do extractions, I do many things beforehand to prime the skin and soften the clogs, so that I can get as much debris out of the pore as possible while causing minimal damage to the surrounding skin. It’s not just about popping a whitehead and hoping for the best. And, from years of experience, I generally know whether a clog is ready to come out or if it needs a little help from some products at home.

Estheticians who do not believe in extractions generally argue that extractions damage the surround tissue and that the skin should be Extractions during a facialallowed to function on its own. I am in favor of extractions, because I believe that the skin’s functions naturally lead to clogs, and that it needs help moving them along. I also believe that good preparation and careful extractions do not have to cause damage to the surrounding skin.

So do you really need them in a facial? I say yes.

  • A clog in the skin is one step closer to a blemish. All acne starts with a clog that then becomes infected with bacteria. So if you are concerned about acne (and who isn’t?), you certainly want to remove clogs that make it more likely for you to break out.
  • Glowing skin is even toned. If you are trying to get your best glow going, you don’t need blackheads marring an otherwise clear surface.
  • Pores, like trash bags, stretch when there is something inside of them. Having a blackhead makes the pore appear larger. Cleaning the pores out allows them to shrink to their original size.
  • Blackheads and clogs can cause an uneven texture. Skin that glows is smooth, so extractions get us closer to that goal.

The worst part about extractions is, yes, they can be uncomfortable. Clogs have a tendency to accumulate in sensitive areas, like the folds of the nose. It often takes some directed pressure to get the pore fully cleared, and it’s not always enjoyable. And even good extractions may leave your skin pink in some areas. But they should not be torturous. You should find an esthetician who will work with you on your pain tolerance and desired level of extractions. I like to check in with my clients to see where they are at. Some days you may be more sensitive than others or have a lower pain tolerance.  You might have an important event and we should be less aggressive. I always try to work within my clients’ limits. Extractions may be uncomfortable, but they should not ruin the entire experience.

Facials are great because, as an esthetician, I can do lots of things to get your skin radiant. Extractions are just one part, but they are a big part of that process. Even if it’s not your favorite time in the facial, try not to skip the extractions. And remember you can help your esthetician out!  Using products at home that help to minimize blackheads can make a huge difference in the ease of the extractions. And of course, when you get extractions regularly, it becomes easier each time. So it helps to be consistent!


The Epic Battle of the Blackhead

People who come in for facials generally have a myriad of concerns about their skin, but one of the concerns I hear the most regularly is blackheads.  People want to know why they get themWoman insepcting her blackheads and pores in the mirror. and what they can do about them. Blackheads are made of sebum and dead skin cells. The oil and skin cells lodge inside the pore and harden, clogging the pore. As the clog sits in the skin, it oxidizes, which causes the darkened color that appears black in the skin. It’s a totally natural process, and just about everyone gets blackheads somewhere at some point. They generally occur most frequently in the T-zone, although they can show up anywhere. People often assume that because they have blackheads that they must have oily skin. But this is a common misconception that often leads to treating blackheads in a way that can actually make them worse. Often, dry skin gets an especially stubborn kind of blackhead that is even more difficult to remove. If you think back to how the blackhead is formed, it starts to make sense. In oily skin, the oil is thinner and more liquid, and even when it clogs, the clog can still be pliable, and the skin surrounding the blackhead is often more forgiving.  A clog that is in dry skin, where the oil starts out being very thick and solid, is not as easy to manipulate, and the surrounding skin is more solid and less forgiving. Determined to live a life without blackheads? There are several ways to address them.

  • A professional facial is the best place to start. Manual extractions are the only way to truly remove clogs. [Tweet this!] Everything else controls them (meaning you’ll get fewer blackheads or the ones you have may be less noticeable).
  • Use a serum with salicylic acid. This is a great method of control and maintenance. It also makes my job easier when you come for a facial, because the clogs are primed and ready to go.
  • Keep your skin hydrated and supple. Proper moisture levels keep the clogs and the surrounding skin soft, meaning that when I start to work, I can get a better, more thorough, less uncomfortable extraction.

Skin clear of blackheads is something that must be constantly maintained. You cannot have blackheads extracted one time and expect to never get them again. Forming blackheads is one of the skin’s natural processes, and some people are more prone to this process than others. Regular facials with manual extractions are necessary to maintain a skin free of clogs, though what is “regular” may vary from person to person.

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The Ingredient Chronicles: Salicylic Acid

This tricky ingredient shows up in many skin care products. It is commonly found in acne treatments. Let’s take a closer look at how salicylic acid works in the skin to use it effectively.

Skin care ingredients like salicylic acidSalicylic is a beta hydroxy acid, or BHA. It is an exfoliant derived from the botanical willow bark or made synthetically. Salicylic works primarily inside the pore, as opposed to AHAs like glycolic that work on the surface of the skin. It’s oil-soluble as well, so that means that it can break up the oil that’s in the pores. It also slows the production of the oil in the pore.  Because of this, it’s a great ingredient to use to control excessive shine.

Salicylic acid is one of the more common ingredients used in acne control products. We know that acne is caused by three things: oil, dead skin, and bacteria. Salicylic acid actually can address all three things, but it specializes in breaking down the clogs in the pores. Like a jackhammer, it breaks up the oil that acts as the cement to form the clog in the first place. It is usually partnered with something like benzoyl peroxide, which is more effective at killing bacteria.

By looking at the way salicylic works, we can see alternative uses. Most people don’t consider blackheads to be a form of acne, but in fact, blackheads are the very beginning of acne. If blackheads are a concern for you, salicylic is the way to go. It will dissolve the blackhead, making it more pliable and more easily extracted by a professional. Once the pore is clear, it will help to keep that oil from building up again. Folliculitis, or ingrown hairs, can also be addressed by using salicylic acid, since ingrowns have many similar properties to pimples (both are caused by a buildup of oil and dead skin in the pore). It is also great if you are prone to breakouts after waxing. A light application helps to kill bacteria, reduce redness and itching, and keep the follicle clear.

Remember that, as with many effective skincare ingredients, you can get too much of a good thing.  Since salicylic curbs oil production, it can in fact be drying. For dry skins, I find that using salicylic in just one step of your routine is usually sufficient. Dry skin that is still concerned with breakouts should try an acne control serum once a day, maybe even just in the areas prone to breakouts or blackheads. Combination skins may follow the same advice, or try a salicylic wash a couple times a week to control oil. Very oily skins may find that a wash and a serum work well to control breakouts or shine. Be careful in combination and oily skins, as using too much salicylic can cause what’s often called a rebound effect, where the drying effect actually stimulates the skin to produce more oil. If you feel like your skin is oily no matter what you try, you may be suffering from rebound oiliness.

Salicylic acid is a great ingredient when used correctly. It controls oil, fights breakouts, and even soothes irritation. It is definitely an ingredient to consider for all skin types. With a little help and advice, you can figure out exactly how it works best in your routine.



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Just the FAQs: How Often do I Need a Facial?

As I do my initial consultation before a facial, I usually ask when you had a facial last. My clients often get a guilty look as they admit that it’s been “a while,” or “longer than I can remember.” So the next question I hear is, “How often should I get a facial?”

This is a tough question that varies with the individual. The easiest answer is that you need a facial as often as you Woman getting a facial at a spa. need your pores cleaned. Skin will always make blackheads and clogged pores, and some skin types make them faster than others. So if your blackheads seem to come up regularly, then you might need a monthly facial. If you don’t notice as many blackheads, you may be able to get a seasonal facial.

But facials have many benefits other than just getting those pores cleaned out, many of which people overlook when thinking about whether or not they need a facial.

  • Professional exfoliation. I’m a believer in the importance of regularly getting a professional peel. I work with products that are safe but are stronger than retail products. This deeper exfoliation stimulates cell turnover rates and rids the surface of excess dead skin. When you remove layers of dead skin, the products that you use at home penetrate better, which in turn gets you better benefits and longer lasting results.
  • Massage. It’s more than just a means of relaxation. It has many therapeutic benefits. It stimulates blood flow and draws oxygen to all layers of the skin. This helps to stimulate healing, lymphatic drainage, and nutrient delivery. Also, massage tones and relaxes muscles, which allows them to relax and contract as they should, leading to a softer, smoother complexion.
  • Professional consultation. In a facial, you get an hour to ask me questions about your skin. I analyze your skin and consult with you. This is a great time to figure out how to get more from your routine and check whether you’re using what’s really best for your skin and concerns.
  • Relaxation. Yes, relaxation is incredibly important to good skin. [Tweet this!] Furrowed brows and clenched teeth create repeated muscular movement that can eventually cause wrinkles. Additionally, chronic stress can change hormone levels in a way that can increase breakouts and stop nutrients from getting to your skin. Taking a little time to relax can reverse the aging effects of stress. Sometimes that hour you carve out for pore cleaning is also the only hour you have to relax and unwind.

Your need for regular facials really boils down to what your concerns for your skin are and what results you want. There are some treatments and skin conditions that must be treated more regularly, even weekly. After you achieve your desired result, you may be able to switch to a maintenance schedule and get facials monthly. Consult with a professional that you trust, who can guide you in setting up a customized program.



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