Then I got woke — in the Olay skin research lab in Cincinnati, OH. That's the thing about privilege: You go through life blissfully unaware of yours until you get a metaphorical bucket of ice water thrown in your face.
The lab technician had asked who in the group of beauty editors wanted to try out a machine that compares your actual age with your skin age. I've never leapt in front of a camera faster. I was feeling pretty cocky, figuring my skin age would be, like, 11, what with all the Botox and zillion-dollar creams I use. The computer scanned my face, processed for a minute, then spit out the result: 27. Cool, so... my exact age. Cue the emoji huffing smoke out of its nose.
But while I was busy questioning whether the machine was malfunctioning, another beauty editor was zoning in on the results of my scan. "Wait, look at your pores!" she exclaimed. We clicked open the analysis tab, which delivered the news: My pores are in the 97th percentile. Meaning, they're really small. Tiny. Invisible. Top of their class. Someone in the room wow-ed. I felt like one of those kids who unexpectedly gets into every single school in the Ivy league.
"We're more pore-obsessed than ever," says dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD. "Over 50% of my patients bring up pores at some point during one of their first two appointments." She attributes the fixation on the little openings on our face to social media and filtering apps that deliver poreless skin with the click of a button. "People see Instagram posts and think that's real. I'm in people's faces all day long and I can tell you from firsthand experience that it's not real. Almost all of my patients have visible pores somewhere on their face."
Pore privilege — I can see mine clearly now. And I'm sorry for not understanding the problem because the problem didn't affect me. But, at the risk of sounding like a man signing reproductive health bills into law, hear me out, if you will.
We need our pores. If we didn't have pores, we wouldn't have any hair. We'd look like naked mole rats and no one wants that. (And lest you think my small pores mean I can't relate to the pain of an upper lip wax or the annoyance of a thick, black chin hair, think again. I'm Italian.) We'd also have internal systems clogged with fat, proteins, cholesterol, inorganic salts, and dead skin cells that have no way of escaping. That'd be gross. Plus, larger pores produce more oil, which sounds shitty, but actually has its perks, one of which being that oily skin is thicker than dry skin, which means it shows fewer fine lines.
Sure, you could buy all the charcoal and clay masks your heart desires, and they'll certainly help release sebum, but they're never going to shrink your pores. Not even the most expensive lasers and peels and microneedling treatments will; they'll only temporarily reduce the appearance. So your best bet might just be to take Dr. Bowe's advice: "Throw away the magnifying mirror." But what do I know? I'm just the asshole with exceptional pores.