As an esthetician (licensed skin care specialist), I hear often from facial and makeup clients wondering how get "flawless skin", and how they need to “get rid of their blackheads,” “erase their pores,” “shrink their pores,” or need copious extractions from their “gross” pores. Inevitably, I will take a look at their skin under my magnifying lamp and maybe see one or two areas of concern, but rarely do I see an issue of the magnitude that they have just described.
What I do see? Their skin has pores. You know, like every human being. So, why are women everywhere unhappy about the natural state of their skin?
As a skin care professional, I’m worried about us. Too often we find ourselves comparing what our skin looks like to those of advertisements, social media makeup artists, models, and celebrities. We forget that they use professional makeup and lighting kits (not to mention the use of editing and filtering images); we forget that what we are seeing isn’t quite reality. It’s easy to get caught up in a world of fixes, treatments, and special formulas, but at what cost? Now more than ever, we are a society that is deeply uncomfortable about our natural appearance. Beyond weight or dress size, we are literally uncomfortable with the very skin that we are in.
There’s a lot about our skin that should be celebrated—for starters, how hard it works to keep us protected from outside elements. Before you doubt yourself because of something you saw online, think about what your skin really is. Our skin is the largest organ of the human body. It helps protect our organs and tissues from all the fun stuff in the environment (think bacteria, viruses, and particles) that can harm us. It also holds in and absorbs the nutrients we need. It’s the body’s largest elimination system (think: sweat and oil) and sensory organ (touch, temperature), as well as the protective layer of our body.
And those pesky pores you speak of? Many times what we see as a pore is actually a hair follicle, and others are smaller openings where sweat glands reside. Hair follicles are generally where sebum is produced. Sebum is a natural part of the excretory system of the skin, and it may be conditioning and hold moisture to the skin. Sebum also generally takes dead skin cells along the follicle shaft out of the pore with it.
The point here is that despite our skin doing all of this to protect us, women everywhere still want “flawless” skin. If you ask me, skin is already doing a pretty flawless job at being skin, so why do we want our skin to not look like skin—to be pore-less?
Of course, problems pop up that we would prefer not to deal with. When skin cells over-shed or -produce and block the opening of the pore, we see a buildup of sebum beneath start to occur and the appearance of those blackheads you want so much to be rid of. As an esthetician I do enjoy performing extractions—given the chance to extract true blackheads and comedones, I am gloved and ready. But when I hear clients with good skin complaining about having visible pores, there is a bigger issue at play.
Without calling out specific social media personalities (there are plenty to go around), it is easy to begin thinking that these women are naturally poreless, flawless beauties. Even their “no makeup” photos and videos seem to have a sheen that radiates perfection. What you won’t see, however, is how their genetics, skin care routine, diet, and camera setup affect the product that the consumer witnesses. Take their makeup, for instance. Have you noticed that makeup labeled “Camera-Ready” and “High-Definition”? Many of these are formulated with ingredients to work with (in varying degrees of success) intense lighting, from on set in a studio to flashes of a photographer’s lighting kits.
When someone has learned how to manipulate these formulas effectively or has used a thicker stage- or film-quality makeup to work with their light source, the result is a flawless (or nearly so) complexion. Have you ever seen what goes into makeup tutorials that recreate “camera-ready” looks? Often, the before and after shots are startling, and it’s hard to believe it’s the same person giving the tutorial. When layering a moisturizer, a BB cream or foundation primer, foundation, concealer, color correctors, and powder, it’s no surprise that the visibility of the pore is lost.
In person, though, this makeup looks as heavy as it sounds. If you’re looking at a photo on Instagram, you can be sure it has been tuned using the app itself or an external app and has a filter aiding in its delivery. Even YouTube artists oftentimes have special lighting aimed a certain way to give their face a warm glow and a smooth appearance.
The truth is, many of us are left choosing between accepting our real skin and seeking the fantasy skin we see in images all around us. A lifetime supply of facials won’t turn you into an airbrushed advertisement. If I can shed light on anything to you as an esthetician, then let it be this: The skin you’re in is awesome. It’s doing a great job protecting your body from the environmental threats it faces every day, and it’s shedding old skin cells to keep you glowing. If it starts to lag behind? Sure, give it a little extra care with an at-home facial or one by a professional. But just remember: Pores are normal.
A little smoke and filters can take away the appearance of pores in a photo, but not in real life. We are so quick to remember that Photoshop is responsible for the lack of cellulite on even the thinnest of models, yet so quick to forget that everyone’s skin breathes and protects itself in an extremely effective way. We owe it to ourselves, our sisters, daughters, and friends to stop seeing our skin as the enemy and to finally embrace and love the skin we’re in.
Photo Credit: Mariam Sitchinava