Pores and ageing
In the third and final part of our pores series, you will learn why your pores appear more enlarged as you age, and what you can do about it!
why are my pores getting larger with age?
If your enlarged pores are caused by overzealous sebaceous gland activity (more sebum secreted = pores enlarge to get rid of it), then here’s some good news: sebaceous gland activity decreases with age. We produce 40% less sebum in sixties (females) and seventies (males).
So why don’t your enlarged pores decrease in size with age? The bad news is as we age pores appear MORE enlarged! Why? Because enlarged pores are associated with development and severity of wrinkles, it is theorised that ageing skin loses firmness and elasticity and our pore openings sag open as a result. I should stress that research shows that our pores don’t increase in number or size as we age, but their shape becomes deformed (they sag open to become more elongated and less circular), so they appear enlarged. This elongated shape of pores follows the direction of fine lines in the skin.
Increased conspicuousness of pores has also been correlated to elasticity. A protein called ‘microfibril-associated glycoprotein-1’ (MAGP-1) in the matrix that sits between the skin cells, functions to assemble the elastic fibres that keep skin elastic (‘bounces back’). One study showed that this protein declines with ageing (and chronic sun exposure), particularly around the pore openings, which may lead to loss of structural integrity of the pore support structures, and sagging of the pore openings.
Another study showed that this increase in enlarged pores was most noticeable in subjects aged in their 30s and 40s, so even though we are discussing ageing, this article is not just for those readers aged 40+. Of course if you are younger, you can have excess sebum AND ageing-related pore issues… so you will need to address both causes using the suggestions below, as well as those in part 2 of this series.
And yet another study showed that aged pores were surrounded by convex structures arising from the skin surface. This study speculated that these structures are caused by inflammation from (1) chronic exposure of the skin surface to excess sebum, and; (2) inflammation of internal skin surrounding the pore caused by leakage of sebum from the sebaceous glands into the dermis when pores are blocked with sebum and skin cells. They also suggested that shadows cast from these structures further enhance pore conspicuousness and contribute to uneven application of cosmetics (also enhancing pore appearance). This study underscores the importance of the sebum clearing and reduction treatments I discussed in part 2 of this series.
Ok, enough with the scary pore science. Let’s look at how we can minimise age-related pores:
(A) Sebum control
Check out Part 2 of this series for sebum control measures.
(B) Improve skin strength and elasticity by reducing elastin (and collagen) breakdown
First and foremost: BE GENTLE– scrubbing, squeezing, overuse of pore strips, drying cleansers and heat (especially if you use these in conjunction with prescription retinoids) will irritate and inflame the skin, increasing damage, making pores sag and look more visible. Using toners with alcohol (or any product with denatured alcohol – listed as ‘alcohol’ or ‘SD alcohol’ in the ingredients, especially if it is high up in the ingredients list) will also contribute to dryness, irritation, and inflammation.
Elastin and collagen work together (via our friend, the skin protein MAGP-1) to keep skin looking young – elastin provides the ability to stretch and bounce back, whereas collagen provides strength. So treatments that enhance collagen and elastin production and prevent their breakdown will also minimise pore size (by preventing elongation and saggy openings).
Sunscreen and sun protection
UV radiation (UV-R) leads to a breakdown of collagen in the matrix between skin cells and a shutdown of new collagen synthesis.
Applying a broad-spectrum, sunscreen with an SPF30 or higher therefore helps prevent photoageing via collagen/elastin breakdown. Sunscreen should be applied every day when the UV index is 3 or higher (there’s an app for that!), even when it’s raining or cold outside. Remember, SPF is not a suit of armour; staying out of the sun and wearing protective clothing is always a better option.
In short, if you are spending time and money looking after your skin, and NOT using sun protection, then you are wasting your hard earned resources. It the least sexy but most important addition to all other interventions against skin ageing.
Ed’s note: Our SPF series kicks off next week. We will detail everything you need to know to protect yourself from the sun, including busting some SPF myths!
UV-R exposure generates ROS (reactive oxygen species) in the skin that damage DNA and lead to a cascade of molecular changes that ultimately lead to collagen and elastin break down. After exposure of human skin to UV-R, antioxidants present in the skin protect cells against the damaging effects of ROS, but repeated UV-R exposure, depletes this natural defence mechanism. Topical (and dietary) antioxidants are well researched and can augment this natural defence process.
We will cover antioxidants in detail in later posts, but but if you want to get started on your search for a good topical antioxidant, this might help (it’s not an exhaustive list – add ubiquinone and superoxide dismutase to this list!):
Retinol: a special antioxidant
Retinol (Vitamin A) is such a superstar ingredient, it deserves its own post. We will cover retinol products in detail in later posts - mainly because it can be confusing which retinol does what, what strength is optimum and what kind of reaction you can expect. In the interim, just know that it’s a superhero ingredient in skin ageing and pore minimisation. Retinols can increase collagen content in the skin by inhibiting collagen degradation and increasing collagen synthesis, they can also reduce sebaceous gland activity and stop the buildup of dead skin cells that cause pores to block and appear larger.
Not all retinols are created equal though, so it is best to discuss prescription products with your GP or dermatologist. If you’re keen to get started on an over the counter product whilst you wait for an appointment, there are several great ones (mild strength: here, intermediate: here, strong: here and here).
Ed’s note: a word of warning – retinols are a superstar ingredient but they can come with a downside of irritation and flaking whilst you get used to them. If you want more information or a plan to introduce retinols, contact me here.
Lasers and lights
There have been multiple well-designed studies showing that selected laser and light treatments are effective and safe in reducing the appearance of enlarged pores. This table shows these studies – look in the ‘Intervention’ column for the name of the laser or light that was used in each study. It’s also worth noting that multiple treatments were required for each intervention to achieve the results listed (sorry folks, no miracles here, just consistency).
You can hear more about laser treatment for pores in our Instagram livestream with laser specialist dermatologist Dr Shoban Manoharan (see highlights in our Instagram, or on the website - scroll to the bottom of the home page).
The choice of laser or light therapy, and what length of treatment is suitable for you, is ultimately one you would discuss with your dermal practitioner.
And finally – wrinkle relaxers!
This procedure (now available in Australia) involves multiple painless intradermal injections of botulinim toxin (BTX, normally reserved for wrinkle relaxation).
We established in the first article in this series that pores don’t have muscle in their walls, so how on earth do wrinkle relaxers minimise pore size? Well, the BTX works to reduce sebum production, hence minimises conspicuous pores, and the science is compelling.
HOW this actually occurs is not clear, mainly because the science of how the nervous system causes sebaceous glands to secrete sebum is unclear. However the same receptors that bind BTX on muscle are also present in human sebaceous glands, so the bet is that BTX works by binding to these receptors and modulating sebum production.
Jung HJ, Ahn JY, et al. 2018, Analysis of the number of enlarged pores according to site, age, and sex, Skin Res Technol, 24:367-370.
Lee SJ, Seok J, et al. 2016, Facial pores: definition, causes, and treatment options, Dermatol Surg, 42:277-285.
Min P, Xi W, et al. 2015, Sebum production alteration after Botulinum Toxin Type A injections for the treatment of forehead rhytides: a prospective randomized double-blind dose-comparative clinical investigation, Aesth Surg J, 35(5):600-610.
Mizukoshi K, Takahashi K. 2014, Analysis of the skin surface and inner structure around pores on the face, Skin Res Technol, 20(1):23-29.
Pandel R, Poljšak B, et al. 2013, Skin photoaging and the role of antioxidants in its prevention, ISRN Dermatol, 930164.
Shaiek A, Flament F, et al. 2017, A new tool to quantify the geometrical characteristics of facial skin pores: changes with age and a making‐up procedure in Caucasian women, Skin Res Technol, 23(2):249-257.
Zheng Q, Chen S, et al. 2013, Investigation of age-related decline of microfibril-associated glycoprotein-1 in human skin through immunohistochemistry study, Clin Cosmet InvestigDermatol, 6:317-323.