What Are Pores and How Do They Contribute to Acne?

Woman looking at skin in mirror
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If you believe the skincare ads, everyone wants pores so tiny they can't be seen, as well as pores that aren't blocked or clogged. You may wonder how you can reduce the size of your pores and whether you simply want to eliminate them. Learn how your pores keep your skin and body healthy and what can go wrong to contribute to acne.

Two Types of Skin 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: These are also known as your hair follicles. You have these hair follicles all over your entire skin, except for the skin on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. It's the oil pores that capture most of our attention because they can be large enough to be seen. When people talk about having large pores or blocked pores, they are typically referring to the oil pores.
  • Sweat pores: You also have sweat pores all over your entire skin. Sweat pores are really tiny. Since you typically can't see these pores with the naked eye, most people don't give them much thought.

How Healthy Pores Work

Your pores have a very important job. The hair follicle allows the oil generated by the sebaceous glands (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.

You don't want to stop production of sebum or shrink away pores, but rather to keep them functioning normally to have healthy skin.

Sweat pores work in much the same way. These pores allow for sweat to travel from the sudoriferous glands (sweat glands) to the surface of the skin. Sweat helps you maintain your body temperature by evaporative cooling.

Sweat glands come in two varieties. The eccrine glands produce most of your sweat. The apocrine glands in your armpits and groin produce a thicker and oilier type of sweat that is prone to causing body odor.

Blocked Pores and Acne Development

Acne is a disorder of the pore, sebaceous (oil) glands, and sebaceous (oil) duct. Altogether these make up the pilosebaceous unit.

Typically, your pores do 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 begin as a pore blockage. This includes blackheads, milia, small pimples, and large inflamed breakouts. To get acne under control, a treatment that keeps pores clear is a must. 

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

A Word From Verywell

Even though they're small, your pores are an important part of your skin. You don't want to close your pores as that would prevent their proper functioning. There are various cosmetic treatments for enlarged pores. While pore size is largely genetic, exfoliating treatments can help minimize their appearance.

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