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Is skin scrubbing the answer to finally banishing large pores?


Dermascraping, or sonic skin scraping or skin scrubbing as it’s also called, may not be quite what you think it is. Not to be confused with dermaplaning, which amounts to a close shave with a scalpel to remove downy hairs and dead skin cells, or microdermabrasion, which blasts the skin surface with crystal particles to smooth it, or good old facial scrubs, dermascraping is done with a sort of vibrating spatula that loosens debris and gently pushes gunk out of pores.

Very satisfying and potentially helpful for tackling those infernal blackheads that blight or lives and noses, it puts technology previously only available to facialists in our greedy little hands. But as with any tool and potent skincare potion, use it wrong or over-enthusiastically, and it can do more harm than good. So we asked holistic aesthetic doctor Rabia Malik to take us through the dos and don’ts of effective pore purging – with or without a whizzy gadget.

Sonic vibrations do all the work

These ‘scrubbers’ rely on ultrasonic, high-frequency soundwaves to ‘shake and rattle’ your pores, loosening dirt and sebum; it’s basically a gentle but effective way to exfoliate that, despite the name, has little or nothing to do with ‘scrubbing’. Facial cleansing brushes such as the Foreo (£249, FOREO) and Clarisonic have long relied on sonic vibrations to aid the deep cleansing process, so skin scrubbers are a bit like cleansing brushes without the brush, scooping debris up in a spatula instead.

“But the key is that the vibrations disrupt the blackheads and other impurities, so you ought to do let that element of the device do most of the work,” says Malik. “Using it to aggressively scrape oil or flakes off the skin can disrupt the skin barrier, with dry, irritated skin as a result.”

This is not for squeezing spots

Gliding your scrubber along your nose or other blackhead-heavy areas can result in a satisfying number of them getting purged, but don’t get obsessed trying to eek out every last tiny blackhead or popping spots. “Poking and pressing hard with the edge of the device can lead to inflammation or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (brown spots),” says Malik.

Again, scrubbers are mainly exfoliation devices that, used as directed, are gentler than rough face scrubs or microdermabrasion (which should be avoided by those with ultra-sensitive, rosacea-prone or acneic skin types). Like any exfoliant, warns Malik, “don’t use it more than three times a week.”

Don’t use it on dry skin

The most effective way to deep-cleanse skin with a skin scrubber is to “choose a sulphate-free facial cleanser, apply it to the skin with water like you normally would when washing you face, use the device, then rinse,” says Malik. Don’t put neat, undiluted cleanser on your face before passing the scraper over it, as some devices seem to suggest: unless it’s a cleansing oil or balm, this can dry skin out. And never use the device on dry skin: water allows the sonic vibrations to form and build. Without it, you’ll drag the skin and won’t get the de-clogging benefits of the vibrations.

It helps actives penetrate – a bit

These devices have an ‘infuse’ or ‘enhance’ mode that can be used every day, where the rounded back of the spatula becomes as a gentle massage device to work serums and creams deeper into the skin, enhancing their benefits. But is that a claim that can be substantiated? Slightly, says Malik: “the device’s oscillation helps to remove surface debris from the surface of the skin, and that allows active ingredients in products to penetrate more evenly.

Plus, there’s one study (funded by L’Oreal in support of their Clarisonic devices) that suggests that massage gadgets at certain frequencies can amplify the anti-wrinkle effect of products they are combined with.” So yes, scrubbers may boost your skincare somewhat, although Malik cautions that more research and data are needed to verify their efficacy.

Gently purging pores is key to keeping them ‘small’

You can’t ‘shrink’ pores: their size is genetically determined. But if they consistently pump out a lot of oil (which happens if you have oily or combination skin), they get blocked more easily, dilating them and making them look larger. Skin scrubbers, provided you keep them scrupulously clean, can keep these blockages at bay. Alternatively, gently exfoliating, sebum-dissolving, skin-calming salicylic acid is a pore purifying go-to for skincare professionals. “Congested pores definitely respond well to a salicylic acid-based cleanser, says Malik.

“You can combine that with regular (once or twice a week) exfoliation with a fruit enzyme (derived from papaya, pineapple or pomegranate) or alpha hydroxy acid-based mask. Lactic acid is my favourite as it is gentle and doesn’t dry out skin too much.” Acid-based exfoliation and regularly using a scrubber is overdoing it – but you can combine your device with products containing 2% niacinamide which, Malik says, is backed by “some research that suggests it can help to reduce sebum production, which can contribute to congested pores.”

Your go-to ingredients for tightening pores

Age and collagen loss slacken the pore walls, making them more dilated over time. “Enlarged pores respond well to retinol products: they stimulate skin cell turnover, helping to reduce congestion and build-up,” says Malik, “They also help to stimulate collagen and elastin at the base of sebaceous glands, which in turn helps them appear smaller.” Alternatively, niacinamide in high concentrations can be quite effective at tightening lax pores and visibly minimising them – without irritation.

Pore patrol

This lot will make mincemeat of your visible pores.

Here are some of the products and tools you will need to get on your skin scraping journey…

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