The best way to get a feel for how obsessed we are with our pores is to look at the numbers. Take, for example, a Google search for “how to clear pores,” which yields 21 million results, compared to one for “who really killed JFK,” which turns up a mere 715,000. Dr. Pimple Popper, who’s become a bona fide internet celebrity thanks to her graphic feed of grotesque blackhead extractions (and so much more), has racked up 2.4 million Instagram followers; the Obama Foundation has a fraction of that at 216,000.
The statistics don’t lie: Our fixation on those teeny-tiny holes in our skin, and all the shit that may or may not be inside them, is borderline pathological. How else do you explain the millions of people who genuinely enjoy watching pus and sebum and even blood being evacuated from the faces of strangers? Those same people will be delighted to know that there’s another form of skin-care voyeurism they may be missing out on — but not for long.
Members of the SkincareAddiction community on Reddit have a word for it: grits. Grits are supposedly what you're left with when the oil and debris clogging your pores comes out, leaving bits of dirt and dead skin cells and God knows what else that feel “gritty” to the touch behind. You can find countless references to this phenomenon on the forum, where users describe the steps they took to get their grits out and share gross-out photos of their results. (That said, they’re child’s play to the seasoned Dr. Pimple Popper viewer.)
The Redditors who swear by the existence of grits use a special cleansing method to bring the gunk to the surface: First, you use an oil cleanser, followed by a clay mask, then a second round of oil cleanser, using your fingers to massage vigorously this time around. This, they say, is when blackheads and sebaceous filaments break free and the grits slide right out, black on one end from oxidation. Basically, it's all the stuff that comes out of your pores when you squeeze black- and- whiteheads, without the potential for broken capillaries and other skin damage.
Naturally, the idea that you can physically see and feel the stuff that was once in your pores being cleared out that effortlessly is not without its non-believers — one particularly impassioned thread begins by stating, “None of those are grits. It's all 100% lint and dead skin.”
But dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, isn’t so sure. She says that rigorous physical exfoliation, as with your fingertips during the second oil cleanse, can indeed dislodge clogged pores and whatever’s inside them — and the clay mask can bring the congestion to the surface to make it possible. “Clay is known to have the ability to grab the debris and then lift it out of pores,” Dr. Tanzi explains. “But people with sensitive skin should be very careful with this type of treatment, since the combination of clay (which can be drying) and rigorous exfoliation could be way too irritating.”
So the grits myth — the ability to actually see with your own eyes the stuff that was once inside your pores just by rubbing it away — may not really be a myth. Maybe it isn't just lint and dead skin after all. (Why would you even have that much lint on your face to begin with?) But if you're suddenly feeling inspired to give the three-step removal process a try, keep Dr. Tanzi's expert advice in mind. It's not worth scrubbing off the first layer of your skin just to have the grits experience — as satisfying as it may be.