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Pores are essential for releasing natural skin oils (sebum), but they’re also responsible for most of the things that go wrong with your skin – pimples, blackheads, ingrown hairs. Enlarged pores are on the milder end of the “things that can go wrong with your skin” scale, and probably one of the things that are most difficult to treat (and whether it’s even worth bothering with is a whole issue in itself).
You can’t reduce number of pores in your skin, but there are a few things you can do to minimise their appearance. When pores are clogged with dirt, oil and dead skin cells, they become stretched out, and more noticeable. Chemical exfoliants such as alpha and beta hydroxy acids can help unstick skin cells, even inside of pores, and reduce the chances of clogged pores.
However, in Australia, it’s really difficult to find budget-friendly leave-on drugstore products containing AHAs or BHAs. That’s why I was so excited to hear that Neutrogena would be releasing their Pore Refining range in March. The range includes the Daily Cleanser, Exfoliating Cleanser and Toner.
All three products contain both alpha and beta hydroxy acids – specifically, glycolic acid as the AHA, and salicylic acid as the BHA.
The Daily Cleanser ($14.99 for 198 mL) is your standard foaming cleanser. The surfactant (foaming chemical) is sodium laureth sulfate, which I usually find to be a bit drying, but not with this product – I think the high glycerin content helps with that. Salicylic acid is quite far down on the ingredients list, and glycolic acid is even further. If you’re looking for a chemical exfoliant to incorporate into your routine, I wouldn’t recommend this as your main source, but it’s a decent cleanser otherwise, and comes in a convenient clear pump bottle.
The Exfoliating Cleanser ($14.99 for 198 mL) is a creamy cleanser with polyethylene scrubbing beads. I really like the gentle cleansing base, but again, salicylic and glycolic acid are quite far down the ingredients list.
The Toner ($14.99 for 250 mL) was the product I was looking forward to trying out the most. It’s a leave-on product, which is the only type of AHA or BHA product that I think is actually effective – AHAs are very water soluble and easily washed away if they’re in a cleanser, BHAs are less water soluble, but the washing action is likely to rinse most of it away too.
There’s also a much higher percentage of glycolic acid (AHA) in this product, compared to the other two. I can’t remember what percentage of glycolic acid there was in the product (I asked a Neutrogena rep, but unfortunately forgot), but the salicylic acid is present at a concentration of 1%, which is an effective amount.
However, there is a LOT of alcohol in this product. I don’t think I’ve ever smelled such strong fumes in a product – I felt like I was getting drunk just applying this toner (and I used to pour litres of solvent on a daily basis in lab!). I’m not 100% against alcohol in face products, for the reasons explained in Futurederm’s post here, but at such a high concentration I thought there would be some danage for sure. Surprisingly though, even after 3 weeks of daily use on my oily T-zone, it didn’t noticeably dry out my skin or cause irritation at all. I think the high humectant content (glycolic acid, sodium PCA, sodium lactate, aloe vera are all crammed into the top of the ingredients list) helps prevent dehydration, much like glycerin does when added to acetone nail polish remover. If you have dry or sensitive skin though, I would proceed with caution.
Out of curiosity, I tested the pHs of three of the leave-on hydroxy acid chemical exfoliants I own. AHAs generally work best at pH 3-4, while BHA is best around pH 3. Neostrata’s Gel Plus (15% glycolic acid) has a pH of 3-4, Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid and Neutrogena Pore Refining Toner both sit at around pH 3.
While I’m glad that there’s finally going to be an affordable leave-on chemical exfoliant widely available in Australian stores, unfortunately it’s not very suitable for dry or sensitive skin, and those are the ones that really need chemical, rather than harsher physical, exfoliants. On the plus side, it does seem quite good for oily skin, which is the type that tends to require deep pore cleansing. For those of you who are sensitive to alcohol in skincare but would still like to try leave-on AHAs or BHAs, I would recommend looking at Olay Regenerist Night Resurfacing Elixir (~10% glycolic acid, but a bit pricey), Paula’s Choice products, or Stridex’s Alcohol-Free 2% Salicylic Acid Pads (very affordable, – you can use my code NUD131 for 10% off your first iHerb order, or you can get it at Amazon, Walgreens or drugstore.com).
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