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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Water, Water Everywhere

I often hear clients sheepishly tell me that they are dry because they haven’t been drinking their water.  Fortunately, from your skin’s perspective, that old 64-ounce-a-day rule doesn’t really apply.

The first and most important reason is a matter of definition. Hydration refers to the water content of the skin, while moisture indicates oil content. Dry skin is lacking oil, and since, just like in salad dressing, oil and water don’t mix, you can’t moisturize your skin by applying or drinking water. [Tweet this!]

Another problem with trying to hydrate your skin internally is simply the fact that it’s virtually impossible to take in enough water to significantly increase water content of the skin. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to take in enough of any single nutrient to see a specific benefit on the skin. Your body works on an emergent basis, meaning that it prioritizes your vital organs over your skin. Although you want your skin to look great, your body doesn’t so much care as long as the skin isn’t broken. So it sends all that hydration (or other nutrients) to your stomach, your heart, your lungs, or your brain.  But don’t misunderstand this statement… your skin is absolutely affected by your diet. It’s just affected in more general ways, such as in the glow or the clarity of the skin. Drinking water can help a lot in these areas, especially if you’re drinking water instead of a high calorie sugary beverage!

Finally, the most glaring inaccuracy of this myth is that we don’t actually need to drink 64 ounces of water in order to be adequately hydrated.  Any nutritionist will tell you that we get most of the water we need from fruits and veggies, so those of us that eat lots of those probably don’t need to drink a lot of water on top of that.  Even coffee doesn’t dehydrate the way most people think it does. For more, I’ll refer you to my go-to nutrition source, the Nutrition Diva, who discusses this in more scientific detail.

So, now how to hydrate your skin, if not by drinking water? A few tips:

  • Serums that have a watery texture and use ingredients like sodium hyaluronate, hyaluronic acid, glycerin or aloe can be great for leaving a little water in the skin. Make sure to layer this under a skin-type appropriate moisturizer in order to seal that hydration into the skin.
  • Spritz an alcohol-free toner on before you moisturize. This is the only purpose to a toner, in my opinion. It leaves the skin damp, and the moisturizer can again lock it in. Rosewater, inexpensive and easy to find at most health food stores, is perfect for this.
  • If you’re oilier, use an light-weight moisturizer that has some of the above listed ingredients in it. Avoid mineral oil.

Remember that you can be oily and dehydrated, as well as dry and dehydrated. Hydration is a skin condition, not a skin type.  Most people benefit from more hydration.  Hydrated skin is fuller, plumper, and softer.  So spritz on that toner and stop beating yourself up for not getting a full two liters of water every day.

 

 

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