When we think of clogged pores, our first instinct is to think of something that got inside the pore, preventing sebum from being released. This is why we look for products without comedogenic ingredients. However, pore clogging is more complicated than it seems. Today we’ll be looking closely at one overlooked reason why you might have clogged pores.
Abnormal Desquamation can be a cause of pimples
Desquamation is the normal process of your skin shedding off the dead skin cells. This process is a tightly controlled process and it doesn’t “just” happen because they’re dead. Skin pH, humidity, concentration of Ca ions, availability of free water and other factors affect the rate at which our skin sheds. These factors heavily influence how effective our desquamation enzymes (proteases) work. Proteases are divas that help your skin become plump and glowy or they can wreak havoc on your skin causing it to dull, rough and studded with clogged pores. Knowing how they work can help us help them do their job well.
In the upper most layer of the skin (Stratum Corneum), sits a layer of dead cells (Stratum Disjunctum) that are almost detached but not quite (they still have at least one adjacent corneodesmosome). Because this layer is exposed to air, evaporation here is at the highest level (TEWL is high). Proteases need to get to those dead cells to remove those connections so the dead cell can slough off. Here is where the problem happens. Picture this with me. Proteases are like that creature in Guillermo Del Torro’s “The Shape of Water”, it can be good but it can also be bad, and lives in water most of the time.
The Creature from Guillermo Del Torro's The Shape of Water
If your Stratum Disjunctum is dry as a desert, the fish creature won’t be able to access those dead cells so they will remain attached to each other. What ends up happening is that, over time, these dead cells accumulate (abnormal desquamation) leading to rough skin. This abnormal desquamation can lead to a plug being formed around your pores, which can cauase blackheads or acne.
Obviously it is a lot more complicated than that but, aside from the other factors (exfoliating properly, ensuring the skin is acidic), we also have to pay close attention to the hydration level of the skin.
So what can you do?
- Use humectants that can increase the amount of available water so proteases can work properly (Glycerin, Betaine etc.)
- Moisturise the skin with occlusives to increase hydration in the upper layers of the skin. People with oily skin + clogged pores usually avoid moisturising as it may seem to just contribute to the problem. However, it is really important so the solution is to find the right moisturiser that won’t clog your pores.
- Exfoliate the upper layers of the skin: less skin to hydrate = more water available