The Skin and Science Series

In this blog series, we unravel the intricate science behind it all. Our aim is to empower you with knowledge so that you can make well-informed decisions about your skincare routine. From exploring the intricate workings of various skin types to understanding the powerful ingredients that transform our complexion - each instalment of this series promises to provide you with valuable insights and practical advice. 


Pores – those tiny openings in our skin that we so often love to hate - play a crucial role in maintaining skin health. They allow oil to be released from sebaceous glands beneath the skin's surface, moisturising our skin and keeping it soft and smooth. 

In this article blog post, we explore the science behind pores, from their relationship with oil production, and how they can affect the texture of our skin, to their size, and how it is influenced by factors like age, sex, genetics and ethnicity

Additionally, we'll delve into the reasons behind pore enlargement and discuss effective strategies for managing and reducing their appearance.


The Science of Pores and Sebaceous Glands

Sebaceous glands are tiny glands nestled within hair follicles that secrete sebum which is a complex blend of triglycerides, fatty acids, wax esters, squalene, cholesterol esters, and cholesterol. Sebum (or oil) is essential for maintaining the skin's moisture and barrier function

The amount of sebum or oil we produce is directly related to the size of our oil-producing sebaceous glands. Larger sebaceous glands often translate into oilier skin and larger pores, as research suggests.

While sebum is vital for the skin's hydration and barrier function, an excess or deficiency can pose challenges.

Generally, pores become more noticeable as we age, particularly for men who tend to have larger pores compared to females. 

Additionally, genetic factors can contribute to pore size and skin texture concerns. 

With this in mind, let's explore how we can address enlarged pores and roughened skin texture...

Understanding Pore Enlargement

To effectively reduce pore size, we must address the underlying factors that cause their enlargement. Before diving into solutions, it is crucial to comprehend why this phenomenon occurs in the first place.

The Impact of Androgens

During puberty, a surge in androgen hormones, including testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT), triggers the activation of sebaceous glands. 

The level of androgens in the body directly influences oil production.

As androgen levels increase, sebaceous glands enlarge and begin producing more sebum, leading to visible pores on the skin's surface (as well as oiler skin!). What this means is an increase in oil production. 

Conversely, lower androgen levels correspond to reduced sebum production and less oily skin

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The Role of DHT 

Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a potent androgen hormone produced in the skin itself, plays a significant role in sebaceous gland enlargement. Increased DHT levels result in larger sebaceous glands, leading to enlarged pores and often oilier skin. Understanding the impact of DHT can help in devising strategies to address pore size concerns effectively.

Pore size

Length of time of androgen exposure vs amount of androgen exposure = increased pores

Gender Differences and Hormonal Influence

 The size of pores is often associated with gender, with men generally having larger pores than women.

This difference can be attributed to the fact that men naturally produce more androgen hormones, such as testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which are primarily male hormones. These hormones stimulate the enlargement of sebaceous glands, resulting in oilier skin and larger pores. 

Research suggests a correlation between higher levels of circulating androgens and increased skin oiliness in individuals. However, it's important to note that women also produce androgens, although in smaller quantities compared to men. 

While hormonal levels play a significant role in pore size, some individuals may have hyperreactive sebaceous glands that are more sensitive to normal androgen levels, leading to excess oil production and larger pores.

What about ethnicity?

It's fascinating to observe how individuals of different ethnic backgrounds exhibit variations in pore size. 

For instance, studies have shown that people of Southeast Asian descent tend to have smaller pores compared to those of African descent. This discrepancy can be attributed to the interplay between genetic factors and sebaceous gland hypersensitivity to androgen hormones.

Race, as a determinant of genetics, also contributes to pore size differences. 

A notable example is the contrast between Chinese women and African-American women, where the former often display smaller pores while the latter tend to exhibit higher sebum production rates.

Understanding the genetic factors behind pore size variation adds another layer of insight into the complexities of our skin biology. It highlights the intricate connection between our genetic makeup and the physiological processes that shape our skin's characteristics.

Pores, Oily Skin and Acne

Acne is an inflammatory skin condition triggered by the overgrowth of certain bacterial or fungal species, leading to an inflammatory response on the skin's surface. 

The severity of inflammation can result in scarring and pigmentation issues.

While oily skin itself does not directly cause acne, it plays a pivotal role in its development and can exacerbate its severity. 

For people who have acne, it is likely they already harbour the ‘right’ type of acne-causing bacteria or fungus on theirskin. 

Under normal circumstances, when these microbial levels are low, they do not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, when they begin to overpopulate, an inflammatory response is triggered, leading to redness, swelling, and irritation.

What causes these acne-causing microbes to overpopulate? 

The answer lies in their ideal environment and a readily available food source – excess sebum (oil) – which creates a perfect breeding ground for these microbes, leading to their overgrowth and subsequent inflammation. 

Scientific evidence supports the connection between sebum production, bacterial overgrowth, and acne development, with acne typically appearing during adolescence when sebaceous glands become active and sebum production increases due to hormonal changes.

Managing Acne by Reducing Oiliness

While excess oil alone may not be the sole culprit for acne as it can be successfully treated with antibiotics or anti-inflammatories, it is logical to control oiliness to regulate bacterial levels without relying solely on antibiotics.

Dialling back oil production can effectively reduce acne by removing a significant food source for acne-causing microbes. Follow these simple steps to help in managing oil production:

  • Practise proper skincare routines, using oil-free or non-comedogenic products
  • Manage hormonal imbalances
  • Avoid foods that contain excessive amounts of oil, particularly fast food. 


Reduce those pores!

We saved the best until last. 

Pore size and oily skin can often be a cause of concern for many individuals. The good news? There ARE ways to tackle these issues and achieve a smoother, more refined complexion.

Blocking the Trigger with Anti-Androgens

One approach to shrinking sebaceous glands and reducing oil production is through the use of anti-androgens. These medications** work by blocking androgen signals to sebaceous glands, preventing them from producing excess oil. Examples include spironolactone, oral contraceptives, and cyproterone. 

**It's important to note that these are prescription medicines and should be used under medical supervision.


Harness the Power of Retinoids 

Retinoids are another powerful tool in your skincare arsenal. 

While not classified as anti-androgens, retinoids directly target sebocytes, the cells responsible for sebum production. 

Oral retinoids, taken over several months, have been shown to reduce the size of sebaceous glands and visibly impact pore size. Topical retinoids, though less effective in shrinking glands, can still improve the appearance of pores. 

Opt for a well-formulated topical retinoid and be mindful of potential skin irritation and dryness.


Exploring Alternative Options

If you prefer a gentler approach, there are alternative ingredients that show promise in controlling oil production and reducing pore size: 

  • Azelaic acid (2-5%), zinc sulfate (oral and topical), and myristic acids have demonstrated the ability to block DHT and regulate oil production. 
  • Some flavonoids, such as epigallocatechin gallate, myricetin, quercetin, baicalein, and fisetin, have also exhibited DHT inhibitory activity. 

While further research is needed to determine their impact on sebaceous gland size, these ingredients are worth exploring due to their accessibility and low skin irritability.

Patience and Consistency: The Key to Success

Regardless of the approach you choose, it's crucial to understand that achieving visible results takes time and consistency. 

Whether you opt for anti-androgens, retinoids, or alternative options, commit to a long-term skincare routine and adhere to the prescribed usage guidelines.
Be patient, as the process of shrinking sebaceous glands and reducing pore size is gradual but well worth the effort.

Remember, everyone's skin is unique, so finding the right approach may require some trial and error. Stay committed, be gentle with your skin, and embrace the journey towards healthier, more refined pores. 

Your radiant complexion awaits!



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