“Dear Team Krya
I have large visible open pores, oily looking skin and craters and blemishes which are remnants of my acne filled youth.
Can you help with this?”
“Dear Team Krya,
I am 35. My skin tends to be normal – oily and has a tendency to break out around my periods. My pores are generally large and oily looking. And this is made extra obvious to me when I visit my parlour, and I am told to try chemical peels or microdermabrasion to minimise this.
Is there any natural, non invasive way to get better skin?”
What are open pores?
Have you been “expertly diagnosed” by your parlour facialist as having open pores? Or has a quick perusal of a beauty magazine suggested this term to you? Does your make-up look cake-y on application and has a makeup expert suggested that this is because of your open pores?
Open pores are our chief complaint at Krya as well, and the reason why so many women write to us asking for a better solution to their skincare woes.
Open pores are a mysterious animal though. While commonly experienced and often self diagnosed by many of us, there is no strict definition from a Dermatology point of view, as to what might constitute an open pore. Neither is there a precise definition of when the pilosebaceous ostia (sweat and sebum expelling openings) are enlarged enough to call them an open / magnified pore.
Clinical dermatological Research on open pores: findings
A study published in the Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology journal in 2015 gives us some clues about these open pores. This study analysed responses from a multi ethnic group of women (Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Brazilian, French etc) of 2400+ women from the age group of 18 – 80.
Some of the conclusions this study drew were as follows:
- There is no one definition of what is a common open pore. Pore sizes varied across ethnicity, age and region
- The lowest variation in pore size was seen in Chinese and Japanese women
- There is a slight increase in pore size from the age of 18 to the age of 40 across all ethnicities and regions. This increase was the most marked among Indians and Brazilians (this increase was not statistically significant nor was it rigorously tested having a reasonable sample size of the full age spectrum in each ethnicity).
Despite not reaching too many statistically significant conclusions, the study concluded that aging affected pore size in some way, and there were differences in pore size across ethnicities. Cultural conditioning and expectations of beauty largely determined each ethnic groups focus on open pores.
Unsurprisingly, the Brazilians and Indians were extremely concerned by their open pores.
Current aesthetic beliefs and practices around open pores:
Despite the fact that open pores are not a serious part of any dermatology text, and that there is no clear research to show what causes their enlargement to take place and despite no common accepted norms on what constitutes an open pore, pore shrinking is a very common beauty service offered at beauty parlours and dermatologists’ practice.
This obviously comes from our own sensitivity to this issue and consumer led demand for products and services that address this complaint.
Opinions among dermatologists vary about the origin of these open pores. Some believe that we are simply referring to old acne scars and pits as open pores. This is explained by the fact that every open pore contains the openings to several pilosebaceous ostia (pores). So what we call an open pore is simply the unevenness of skin.
Dermatologists attached to beauty companies have a different take on this. Many beauty companies believe that open pores are the result of extra oily skin and believe that this is a natural result of skin cells being clogged with dead cells, sebum and cosmetic products. As the ostia are clogged by these toxins, the opinion is that the opening of the ostia widens to help the skin perform its excretory function properly. This explains the slowly expanding nature of the open pore.
Depending upon whose explanation you choose to believe, different kinds of beauty products and services are now available to tackle open pores.
For those who believe in the “clogged pore” theory, products and services designed to “unclog” skin exist. Hence you have exfoliating scrubs, toners, and foaming / non foaming face washes being sold with claim ingredients as varied as tea tree ,rosemary to activated charcoal.
For dermatologists who are still on the fence about the cause behind open pores, services to peel or sandpaper away the top layer of skin are the treatments of choice. Hence chemical peels and micro derma abrasion are suggested to literally sand paper the skin and remove its outer layer and encourage a new and smoother layer of skin to grow back.
The Ayurvedic point of view to open pores:
Let’s start with the most obvious point: Ayurveda does NOT have any point of view on open pores. What Ayurveda does have, is a very strong, well researched point of view on skin health, and several rational explanations to make us understand why our skin texture and nature changes with age.
First, Ayurveda says that “pitta” strikes us at 2 phases in our life: at puberty, when it is triggered by hormonal changes in the body, and second in middle age (defined in Ayurveda and Siddha as the age between 30 – 60). The increase in Pitta in middle age is due to the increase in responsibilities that we face in this period, necessitating the gifts that enhanced Pitta dosha gives us.
Pitta dosha, as you may recall, is the dosha responsible for decisiveness, an ability to complete things, the ability to lead – in short the ability to lead your family, shoulder responsibilities, make financial decisions , plan your career, etc. When we enter Ayurvedic middle age, we throw away the carefree nature of childhood and become responsible – we get married, perhaps start a family, shoulder responsibilities for our parents, take charge of our careers, etc. It is therefore no wonder that we draw upon the qualities of Pitta dosha to see us through this time.
However, as we have read, high use or over use of a dosha, leaves the body vulnerable to the effects of that particular dosha being aggravated. Also, as we have seen in Ayurveda, like attracts like. So when we are overusing a particular Dosha, we often are attracted towards foods that have similar qualities and behaviours that have similar qualities as the dosha.
So in our Pitta phase of life, we may see ourselves gravitating towards sharp, spicy, tangy foods (Chinese hot and sour anyone?), and became more impatient, get stressed out more, and become less tolerant to things not proceeding as per our plan.
Pitta aggravated skin and hair (open pores make an appearance here):
We have seen the basic nature of Pitta dosha before: Ayurveda terms Pitta dosha as “sara” or liquid, “teekshna” or intense, dravya (oily and spreading nature), foul smelling, hot and quick to spread.
If we interpret this in skin terms: we see that Pitta afflicted skin is oily, sweats easily, reacts quickly to disturbances in pitta (quick skin rash), is usually warm to touch or flushed looking, and can have a foul odour (b.o anyone?).
On hair and scalp we see something similar: pitta afflicted hair has an oily scalp, can sweat easily, and hair is usually prematurely grey, and has reddish tints in it naturally (like Agni / fire).Pitta aggravated hair thins easily especially in the parting and the hair is usually fine and not very thick.
All of these symptoms should be seen as a spectrum of symptoms – so your skin could be pitta aggravated even if you do not have every one of those symptoms described. Or your skin could be suffering from an increase in pitta dosha (where the increase is higher than what your body normally is used to).
High pitta in the body tends to dilate the blood vessels, and heat up skin. In this scenario, you will have a greater amount of sebum being secreted. This can make your scars and pits look larger, and generate a lot of excess material which should be removed gently from skin.
How is Pitta skin treated in Ayurveda?
We have mentioned before, that all Ayurvedic skin and hair care starts with the right diet and regimen. So, there is no point in treating pitta aggravated skin, if your diet continues to have chillies, tamarind and salt in excess, and if you continue to stress yourself out and drive everyone around you crazy. Unless the underlying diet and behaviours are changed, there will be no long term reversal to skin health.
Once we have tackled the diet, and adopted the right lifestyle practices to control excess Pitta, we look at specific herbs and products that Ayurveda recommends for Pitta aggravated skin.
Pitta aggravated skin is treated extremely gently in Ayurveda. This is because pitta reactions start very fast and spread in an uncontrolled manner through the skin (imagine a forest fire raging out of control, and you will get this analogy). So Ayurvedic skin care for pitta problems (open pores, oiliness and acne) has a very gentle approach.
The original Ayurvedic equivalent of ostia is the Srota. We have seen how Srota are present all over skin and help in heat exchange, excretion of sweat and toxins and also produce minute amounts of sebum to help skin stay at the right pH and well moisturised. Ayurveda says it is critical to cleanse these Srotas properly to ensure they are debris and clog free and open to doing their job well.
Srotas have to be cleansed with the adsorption and pressure method as per Ayurveda. As Ayurveda says each Srota is like a tube, we have to scoop out debris and dirt from inside the tube (think of cleaning a slim plastic straw). Soaps and face washes use surfactants that only clean the opening of the srotas. By this action, the sebum secreted by the Srota is dissolved, but the dirt and debris lodged inside is not addressed.
So a mixture of grains and lentils and herbs that are ground and sifted to a very small particle size are used. By the gentle pressure they exert on the skin surface, the Srotas are encouraged to open up and dislodge dirt trapped inside. The cleansing base adheres to this dirt and excess sebum and sponges off the dirt and debris by skin.
As there is no surfactant use, there is no stripping of sebum from skin.
Use of pitta balancing, cooling herbs
To counter excessive pitta, Ayurveda suggests using specific, pitta balancing herbs. These herbs counterbalance Pitta in the skin surface by using sweet and bitter qualities to pacify aggravated Pitta. Therefore herbs famously used for Pitta aggravated skin are Usheera (Vetiver), Chandana (Sandal), Sariva (Indian Sarsaparilla), Avartaki (Cassia auriculata), Bilwa, etc.
These herbs counter the warm and hot nature of Pitta aggravated skin and bring a soothing, cooling effect on skin, besides balancing Pitta and improving the complexion.
Use of bitter, anti bacterial and anti fungal herbs
Because of the nature of Pitta to generate so much liquid (sweat and sebum), it tends to create an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, especially when there is a lot of debris and dead cells to feast on. Hence all Ayurvedic formulations for pitta prone skin use bitter, anti bacterial herbs to help keep invasive micro organisms out of skin. Obviously, these herbs do not work like standard synthetic anti bacterial ingredients like Triclosan do. Read here for why Triclosan and similar ingredients are very bad for skin and health.
Instead, Ayurvedic herbs work along with the body’s microbiome layer and helps keep invading organisms out by boosting conditions for friendly organisms, and working on keeping out only harmful micro organisms. Most importantly, we do not develop resistance to anti bacterial herbs – like we often do to ingredients like Triclosan.
Use of complexion improving and blemish correcting herbs
Ayurveda classifies many herbs as “Kantivardhaka” herbs, which means complexion improving. When we use the word Kanthi vardhaka, we mean something that is very different from skin lightening like a synthetic fairness cream. As we have said before, there is no premium put in Ayurveda on “fair skin”. Skin is only measured for its health aspects and ability to function well – so smoothness, quality and evenness of complexion, etc are all ways of understanding the underlying balance of skin.
Kantivardhaka herbs work to improve micro circulation of the skin and boost cellular repair thus promoting an even skin tone, good texture and good elasticity in skin. Some of these herbs include Kushta , Punarnava , Durva, Ashwagandha, etc.
To sum up:
We have, in this post, discussed the phenomenon of open pores, and tried to appreciate the differences between how open pores are treated by Western Cosmetic ‘Science’ and Ayurveda.
As we often say, Ayurveda focuses on holistic living and looks at the sum of everything an individual is doing to treat problems that may arise. Therefore, we read about how the right diet, right lifestyle practices combined with the right herbs and skin care routine can help look after pitta prone skin.
We haven’t yet touched upon how pitta prone skin should be treated, cleansed and looked after. We will do so on Wednesday. For tomorrow’s post we will look at how a few simple modifications in what you eat and how you eat it can make a huge difference to Pitta prone skin.