What Are Pores?

Illustrated cross section of the skin
Oil pore and sweat pore, illustrated. Image: BSIP / UIG

In the skin care industry, there seems to be an obsession with pores.  Everyone wants pores so tiny they can't be seen, and definitely pores that aren't blocked or clogged.

But have you ever stopped to wonder what exactly are pores?  And do they perform any specific functions for our skin (besides driving us crazy when they are looking enlarged.)

What are pores?

The term pore is used to describe the small openings in the skin in which oil and sweat reach the surface from their respective glands below.

  You actually have two different types of pores: oil pores and sweat pores.

Oil pores are also known as your hair follicles.  You have these hair follicles over your entire skin, except for the skin on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet.  

You also have sweat pores over your entire skin.  Sweat pores are really tiny.  Since we typically can't see these pores with the naked eye, most people don't give them much thought.   

It's the oil pores, or hair follicles, that capture most of our attention because they can be large enough to be seen.  When we talk about having “large pores” or “blocked pores,” we’re actually referring to the oil pores.

What do our pores do for our skin?

Our pores, in fact, have a very important job.  The hair follicle allows the oil generated in the sebaceous glands (AKA oil glands) to reach the surface and lubricate the skin. The skin’s natural oil, called sebum, helps keep the skin supple, moisturized and healthy.

Sweat pores work in much the same way.  These pores allow for sweat to travel from the sudoriferous, or sweat, glands to the surface of the skin. 

What do pores have to do with acne development?

In a word -- everything!

Acne itself is a disorder of the pore, sebaceous (oil) glands, and sebaceous (oil) duct.

  Altogether these make up the pilosebaceous unit

Typically, your pore does a great job of sweeping out oil, dead skin cells, and other gunk that may end up there.  But sometimes this process goes awry.  Instead of being cleared up and out of the pore, oil and dead cells become trapped in the hair follicle. 

All acne blemishes, from blackheads and milia, small pimples to large inflamed breakouts, begin as a pore blockage.  To get acne under control, a treatment that keeps pores clear is a must. 

Incidentally, sweat pores can become blocked too, although an acne blemish doesn’t form. Instead heat rash or “prickly heat” develops.

Even though they're small, your pores are an important part of your skin!

Next Steps:

Getting To Know Your Pores

What Causes Large Pores?

Can You Close Your Pores?

Treating Enlarged Pores

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