It’s officially October, and you know what that means: Halloween is fast-approaching, my friends. For me, this means spending the next four weeks planning a “unique” Halloween costume, only to panic, realize I set my goals too high (again), and settle on a lazy man’s costume. Two years ago, I decided to go as a mullet – business in the front, party in the back — by dressing in business attire and the attaching ballons to my back to make it a party. Needless to say, it wasn’t my best-executed look.
Embarrassing anecdote aside, we’re celebrating Halloween all month here with our Home Remedy Trick or Treat series, which focusses on the actual science behind popular beauty myths. Some are great, some not so much.
Today’s Trick or Treat? Using hot or cold water to open or close pores.
The Myth: Hot Water to Open Pores, Cold Water to Close Pores
I’ve heard this one a million times growing up, particularly from popular magazines. According to this legend, using hot water will open up your pores, and cold water will close them. More specifically, this logic advises you to start your cleansing with hot water so the ingredients will penetrate faster, and then advises you to seal the deal by using cold water to make your pores smaller. But what does the science say?
The Basics: You Can Thank Your Parents (and Your Lifestyle) for Your Pore Size
Pores are those tiny little hair follicles in your skin that allow you to sweat, thereby regulating body temperature, and secret sebum, which naturally moisturizes your skin (Discovery Health). One common concern for an individual is the size of their pores, but unfortunately, the size of your pores is determined by genetics. As a general rule, those of a fairer complexion have less-visible pores, while darker or olive skin tones have larger pores. Dryer skin will also have smaller pores, and those with oily skin will have larger. Pores are also larger where oil is secreted the most – on your nose and forehead (Real Simple).
Another large factor in the size of your pores is how well you take care of your skin. As skin ages, pores will look larger due to the degradation of collagen and elastin in your skin, which keeps your skin taut; UV exposure can accelerate this. Even pimples can contribute to pore size due to the collection of debris stretching it out (Real Simple, Livestrong) Additionally, those pore strips you’ve been using for years? They can also enlarge your pores over time.
The Science: What Hot and Cold Water Can Do to Your Pores
Unfortunately, you can’t really change the size of your pores to make them smaller, or “open” them up. According to Dr. Mary Lupo, “Cold water can keep your pores from producing excess oil, but they will never close. Alternately, steam won’t cause them to open, but it will stimulate the oil glands.”
Cold water isn’t really going to do much for your pores, but hot water might. According to esthetician Melanie Vasseur, hot water will soften your skin and improve blood flow, allowing for easier exfoliation and permeability of ingredients (Under My Skin). For example, transdermal delivery systems will work better on steam-softened skin (Journal of Control and Release).
Moist heat is also pretty great for your skin, as shown by a study in the Archives of Dermatological Research. When compared with dry heat, moist heat increased skin moisture levels by 43.7% and blood flow by 386% after fifteen minutes; meanwhile, dry heat didn’t change skin moisture and only increased blood flow by 282.3% (Archives of Dermatological Research). This was also shown by a study in Anesthesia & Analgesia, where participants who used a steam towel for fives minutes had better results with topically-applied Lidocaine than those who hadn’t; researchers cited increased skin permeability for the reason (Anesthesia & Analgesia). So while hot water isn’t exactly opening your pores (and it won’t perform the exact same as steam), it is increasing skin permeability, which allows for your skin care products to enter your system better.
There isn’t a way to change the size of your pores. Hot water will allow for increased permeability, but it’s not actually opening your pores, or making them larger. Additionally, cold water isn’t going to shrink your pores, although a splash of cold water to the face might wake you up early in the morning.
If you’re looking to minimize your pores, your biggest tactic is to take preventative measures, or, at the very least, start them now to stop your pores from getting larger. Make sure to use non-comodogenic makeup and skin care products, as comodogenic products will clog your pores and cause breakouts, enlarging them over time. If you’re prone to such breakouts, use a salicylic acid cleanser, such as Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash ($24.99/3-pack, amazon.com) to prevent future blemishes and help with exfoliation.
Even if breakouts aren’t generally a concern for you, you still should exfoliate a few times a week with alpha hydroxy acids or a retinol, like our FutureDerm Time-Release Retinol 0.5 ($54.95, futurederm.com). And no matter your skin type, wear a sunscreen every day, like the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock with Helioplex SPF 70 ($9, amazon.com), to prevent your skin from accelerated signs of aging.
Stay tuned throughout the month of October for more Home Remedy Trick or Treats!