While we strive to reply to queries posted to us, we may not be able to answer all individually. Many of the questions you pose may be of general interest to our readers and will be addressed here.

Do pores on the skin need to breathe?

pores on the skin shown in drawing of skin|Credit: Jessica Kraft

Drawing showing pores on the skin where hairs and ducts of sweat glands come to the surface.
Credit: Jessica Kraft


Pores on the skin represent openings of hair follicles and sweat ducts.  These pores do not ‘breathe’ in the usual sense – our lungs take care of that need.  Yet, it can help to keep your pores open.  Sweat gland openings can become obstructed – for example, by wearing skin tight clothing when we exercise.  This can result in an itchy heat rash, or miliaria,  Hence, it is advisable to avoid overdressing when it is hot, and to remove sweaty clothing and shower as soon as possible after exercising.  The widespread plugging of sweat (or ‘eccrine’) glands can result in heat intolerance – with the risk of heat stroke.  Individuals who have one of the skin disorders called ichthyosis,  where the outermost layer of skin, the stratum corneum, is too thick over most or all of their body, often experience overheating because their sweat ducts are obstructed by scales.

Similarly, when the pores of sebaceous glands on the face, chest and back become plugged with sebum and keratinous debri, we develop blackheads.  These are often an early sign of acne and an indication that it’s time for a visit to our dermatologist.  While blackheads are not caused by too infrequent face washing, they can be produced by some of the products we put on our skin, such as oily cosmetics.  Look for the label “non-comedogenic” on cosmetic products, which will indicate a safer product to use.  And avoid oily scalp pomades.pores

Is it true that drinking more water would be good for my skin?

glass of water

We are frequently told that we should drink more water.  Consider too, that skin’s most important task is to prevent the escape of our precious body water – this is our critically important skin permeability barrier.  This might lead one to conclude that drinking more water would indeed be good for our skin – just as it is purported to be for the other parts of our body.  But at the heart of this lies a misconception about water and how our body handles this precious resource. [Read more…]

What Is Ichthyosis?

Ichthyosis is the term used for a family of skin conditions that are characterized by a thickened stratum corneum and/or visible scales covering most or all of the body surface. Most ichthyoses are inherited – yet paradoxically, often people with ichthyosis know of no one else in their families with their condition. This can happen if the genetic change that produces the skin condition began with them – that is, if it was a new mutation. [Read more…]

What Is the Best Lotion for My Dry Skin?

The best treatment for dry skin may not be a lotion at all.  Dry skin is the result of a problem with the stratum corneum and it’s ability to hold water within the tissue.  Many times this can be the result of a deficiency in the quantity or types of lipids (fats) that the skin employs to waterproof our bodies.  In the past it could be easily said that  lotions are mostly water and they would not deliver sufficient quantities of lipid to the skin to improve its waterproofing abilities.  These lotions typically felt good when they were initially applied to the skin, but they often had the net effect of drying it out – leaving the skin drier than ever.  As the water in the lotion evaporates from the skin surface, it pulls some of the skin’s own water with it. Although lotions tended to be easier to spread over the skin, dermatologists often preferred to recommend products in a cream or ointment base, because these types of emollients would supply more of the moisture trapping lipids.

With advances in the technology of formulations, this paradigm has shifted somewhat. Currently, some lotions can be quite lipid-rich and some creams quite watery.  In addition to  the lipid content of emollients, another consideration is their pH.  The optimal pH for skin care products would be in the acid range. Yet most consumers will have little information to guide them in their choice of emollient, either in terms of its water content or its pH. A recent study by Shi and coworkers   examined the pH and water content of a number of emollients available in the US. We have summarized this information in our free booklet, Taking Good Care of Your Skin.

Do blackheads mean that my face is dirty?

Blackheads bear no relationship to your personal hygiene. They result from the oxidation of sebum (the oily material produced by sebaceous glands) and keratinous material (outer skin cells) that fills the dilated pores with exposure to the air. Regular use of a scrub cleanser can help to reduce the size and numbers of blackheads by removing some of the follicular plugs. But more importantly, blackheads are usually an early warning sign of acne. Treatment of acne  at this stage – when the pores are plugged and forming blackheads (‘open comedones’) and small flesh-colored bumps (‘closed comedones’) – can prevent the later development of pimples (‘inflammatory papules and pustules’). If you have more than a few blackheads, you probably need to make an appointment with your dermatologist.

What Are Lipids?

‘Lipid’ is the scientific term for fats or oils. Lipids are organic molecules (i.e. carbon-containing molecules derived from living or once living organisms) that are defined by their solubility. They are (relatively) insoluble in water and other ‘polar’ solvents, and soluble in ‘nonpolar’ liquids, such as ether or chloroform. Cholesterol, triglycerides and fatty acids are examples of lipids.