Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Pore Strips – Ok to Use? November 3, 2011

Filed under: Acne,Skincare products — askanesthetician @ 5:49 am
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Pore strips are irresistible if you have blackheads on your nose.  Simply apply to your nose, press, and remove.  Viola!  Your blackheads are gone.  But is this really the best solution for removing blackheads?

According to FutureDerm pore strips are among 4 common beauty products to stop using Now:

The pore strip was my original skin sin: I applied it to my face, thinking I would have clear pores. One box of pore strips later, and I have been succumbed to a lifetime of needing to clean out my pores.

The reason?  Pore strips contain a hairspray-like substance on one side. It sticks to the material within your pores, but when you rip the strip off, it stretches the pore. Over time, this leads to enlarged pores, in which material collects, leaving you with a nose filled with blackheads

Paula Begoun has even harsher words for pore strips (pages 256-257 in The Beauty Bible, 2nd edition):

 Pore strips in all their varying incarnations are meant to remove blackheads.  You place a piece of cloth with a sticky substance on it over your face, as you might do with a Band-Aid, wait a bit for it to dry, and then rip it off.  Along with some amount of skin, blackheads are supposed to stick to it and come right out of your nose.  There is nothing miraculous about these products, nor do they work all that well.  The main ingredient on these strips is a hairspray-type ingredient.  If the instructions are followed closely you can see some benefit in removing the very surface of a blackhead.  In fact, you may at first be very impressed with what comes off your nose.

Unfortunately, that leaves the majority of the problem deep in the pores.  What has me most concerned about pore strips is they are accompanied by a strong warning not to use them over any area other than the intended area (nose, chin, or forehead) and not to use them over inflamed, swollen, sunburned, or excessively dry skin.  It also states that if the strip is too painful to remove, you should wet it and then carefully remove it.  What a warning!

On the flip side listen to what Dr. Jessica Wu has to say about pore strips in her book Feed Your Face (page 71):

 Go Ahead, Try It

Biore Deep Cleansing Pore Strips, the popular “blackhead removers” that look a bit like nose bandages, do work.  When you pull off the strip, you’re removing the top layers of dead skin cells as well as oxidized (“black”) oil.  They won’t prevent blackheads because they have nothing to do with your skin’s oil production, but they can temporarily make your pores look smaller.

So whose advice should you follow?  Personally I would recommend staying clear of pore strips.  They are a temporary fix at best so it is better to invest in a salicylic acid product or a retinoid for a long-term solution.  For more tips on how to get rid of blackheads see my post (aptly titled) How to Get Rid of Blackheads.

Further Reading:



How To Get Rid of Blackheads September 1, 2010

Blackheads are a scourge.  I think I’ve had the same blackheads on my nose for the last 20 years; I gently squeeze them out and they come right back.  When I do facials I find that most people, no matter what their age, have blackheads, especially on their noses.  Luckily there are a few different methods for getting rid of blackheads but persistence and patience is needed in order to see results.


What Are Blackheads?


Simply put blackheads form when sebum (oil) and dead skin cells clog the inside of the sebaceous (oil) glands and form a cyst.  Blackheads are open comedones, the word doctors use for blackheads and whiteheads, which means that the dermis has not covered the clogged pore over, and the comdone oxidizes in the air and turns black.  Just because the comedone is black does not mean that it is dirty or that there is dirt there.  This type of blockage starts deep inside the pore and builds up until it reaches the surface.   Blackheads typically grow to between 2 to 4 millimeters and can remain in place for months and even years. 


What Causes Blackheads?


There are few different contributing factors to the formation of blackheads.  One is that your body is producing excessive amounts of sebum or oil and that oil does not exit the pore properly.  Another contributing factor are dead skin cells that also do not exit the pore properly – rather they stick together and get stuck in your pores.  This, by the way, can be a genetic condition.  Certain make-up and skincare products can contain ingredients that can contribute to clogged pores.  Not removing all your make-up at night certainly doesn’t help to keep your pores clear of debris.


How Can You Get Rid of Blackheads?


Two things are important to remember about blackheads when you go to treat them.  One is that the oil and dead skin cells that are blocking your pore and have lead to the formation of a blackhead have accumulated deep inside your pore so you need pretty powerful ingredients that penetrate deeply into pores in order to dislodge the stuck debris.  Simply cleaning your face with a scrub or rubbing away at your blackheads will not help dislodge them since the debris is stuck deep down in your pore.  Secondly, as I wrote above blackheads can stick around for months or even years which means that you need patience and persistence when you want to remove them.

The two best ingredients for getting rid of blackheads are salicylic acid and retinoids.  Salicylic acid is oil soluble which means it can penetrate into your clogged pore and help to dissolve the oil trapped in the pore.  Retinoids help to regulate skin cell turnover and prevent the dead skin cells from sticking together and staying in your pores.  Many people might find it too strong to use products simultaneously with those ingredients so I would choose one or the other ingredient.   But be sure to be patient!  The blackheads formed over time and it will take time to remove them.  (For more information and product recommendations please see my earlier posts Ingredient Spotlight: Salicylic Acid and All About Retinol).


Should You Squeeze Your Blackheads?


It is extremely tempting to squeeze your blackheads, but if done improperly you can actually cause quite a bit of damage to your skin.  Ideally if you want to get rid of blackheads go get a facial.  During a facial the esthetician properly prepares your skin for extractions and then knows how much to squeeze and for how long.  For instance, don’t go squeezing your skin for more than 10 minutes since that will just end up causing trauma to the skin in the end.  If you insist of doing your own extractions at home I suggest doing them immediately after getting out of the shower and after having washed your face.  Make sure your hands are cleans and wrap your fingers in clean tissues.  Squeeze gently and don’t keep poking at your face for more than 10 minutes.  If you can’t dislodge the contents of a clogged pore easily leave it alone!  Pushing and pushing will just damage your skin.  Finish your extractions by wiping your face with toner or witch hazel oil. 


Sources and Further Reading



How Acne Forms February 22, 2010

Filed under: Acne — askanesthetician @ 7:26 pm
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Acne forms over the course of several weeks and through a series of complex events in the skin. The pimple that you see on your chin as if it appeared overnight, has in fact been hard at “work” below the surface of your skin for weeks before you see it.   Below I’ll describe the entire process of how acne forms.

Acne begins its life in the hair follicle or pilosebaceous unit.  This unit consists of the hair follicle itself and an attached sebaceous gland which produces sebum or oil.  There are three types of hair follicles: vellus, terminal, and sebaceous.  In the first two types of follicles the hairs (though at different stages of development and appearance) fit closely into the follicles which is to say that the diameter of the growth channels are the same as the hairs themselves.  Because of this tight fit there isn’t room for debris or sebum to remain in the follicle and subsequently form a pimple.  But what then happens in the sebaceous follicles?  The hairs in those follicles are small and frail leaving more than enough room for debris and sebum to accumulate and get stuck there.  These sebaceous follicles are concentrated on the face, neck, shoulders, upper chest, and back subsequently explaining why these are the areas where people experience breakouts.  Furthermore, these follicles are largest and most numerous on the face. 

People who are prone to acne tend to produce abnormal amounts of sebum; this production of sebum is triggered by hormones known as androgens.  There are different types of androgens but the significant one in terms of acne breakouts is testosterone which circulates in the body via the bloodstream and reaches the hair follicles that way.  In the hair follicle an enzyme changes the testosterone into a chemical called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT for short, which then signals the sebaceous glands to start producing sebum.  Just because you suffer from oily skin or acne does not necessarily mean you suffer from a hormonal imbalance or an overabundance of DHT.  Typically it just means that your sebaceous glands are very sensitive to the above mentioned hormones and then your oil production becomes excessive. 

Yet even if you have oily skin you might never breakout and even people with dry skin can breakout.  So how does that happen?  The main cause of acne are comedones or blocked pores.  The pores or openings that lead down into the sebaceous glands are the issue here.  Comedones are formed when something goes wrong with the skin cells lining the follicular channel.  If the skin processes are working normally then the sebaceous glands are continually expelling dead skin cells or keratinocytes onto the surface of the skin along with the normal flow of sebum.  But this process can malfunction and two things can happen – the follicle can actually step up its production of keratinocytes thus creating a huge amount of debris or dead skin cells and then secondly, that excess amount of cells stick together much like if they were cement.  So instead of leaving the follicle as they should these dead cells remain where they are and mix together with the sebum already in the follicle.  This produces a microcomedo.  Doctors call these microcomedones “precursor lesions” to acne, and if you suffer from acne your skin is full of them.  The microcomedones take about six to eight weeks to form and by the end of that time period enough dead cells and oil have accumulated in the follicle in order to produce a closed comedone which feels like small bumps on your skin (you can see them as well).  This closed comedone can mature into what is known as an open comedone or a blackhead.  As it grows the comedone presses the pore open at the surface, and then the accumulated oil and dead cells oxidize turning black.  Some sources say that the skin pigment melanin is what accumulates at the top of the pore and turns black.  Blackheads can grow to anywhere between 2 to 5 millimeters and remain in place for months and even years.  Inside the follicle of a blackhead cell production slows down considerably and the sebaceous glands all but stop secreting oil.  Another form of a comedone is a whitehead which like a blackhead in that the pore is filled with oil and dead cells.  But unlike a blackhead the accumulation takes place beneath the surface of the skin and the mixture of materials does not oxidize.  People who have what is called non-inflammatory acne suffer from a mixture of whiteheads and blackheads and rarely form the red bumps most people associate with acne. 

Having now explained non-inflammatory acne it is time to explain inflammatory acne.  This type of acne is characterized by pimples, papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts.  Inflammatory acne is caused by a rod-shaped bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes or P. acnes for short.  This bacteria thrives in places without oxygen and as such is found deep in the skin which explains why many acne products cannot destroy this persistent and tough bacteria.  P. acnes multiplies quickly inside closed comedones and additionally excretes chemicals that damage the lining of follicle.  In addition to this damage these toxic chemicals attract the attention of the body’s immune system which seeks to destroy the bacteria.  It is at this point that one feels a slight elevation under their skin and/or a tenderness.  The P. acnes find their targets in the follicles and release enzymes which destroy part of the follicle’s wall creating a rupture or break.  Sometimes the body repairs the break quickly and what might have been a major pimple in the making does not occur.  Other times the rupture will become a papule – a raised, red spot without a visible head.  The redness of the papule comes from a network of blood vessels, and the swelling is caused by lymph and other fluids. 

If the body does not repair the follicular rupture quickly then the contents of the follicle spill out into the surrounding tissue.  The contents of follicle include sebum, hair, bacteria, and skin cells.  The body then sends neutrophils to the area to isolate and destroy the foreign materials.  As they go about their job the neutrophils destroy more of the follicle wall and the surrounding tissues’ dermis.  This activity will produce a pustule or a white or yellow capped acne lesion filled with pus.  The pus contains white blood cells, bacteria, and other debris.  Eventually the top of the pustule breaks and the pus escapes taking along with it the remnants of comedone.  Sometimes this could be the very end of the pimple, but if bits of material are left behind another pimple could form in exactly the same spot and so the cycle of breakouts continues.   

Nodular or cystic acne is most severe type of acne.  It consists of large, painful, and solid acne lesions that are lodged very deep in the skin with only a small opening to the surface of the skin where the follicle exits the skin.  They can feel hard to the touch, and these lesions can last for months leaving behind crater like scars when they finally heals.

Now that you have a better understand of how acne forms you can determine how to treat your acne is a more effective manner.  The two keys to treating acne are unclogging pores and killing the acne bacteria.  Gentle and regular exfoliation can help unclog your pores, and benzoyl peroxide can kill the acne bacteria.


Sources and Further Reading



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