Big, bad pores happen to good people. Some skin types are genetically predisposed to larger pores, but even if your mother wasn't plagued with pockmarks, pore size generally tends to increase with age. As your skin loses elasticity and accumulates impurities, facial pores can slacken and even collapse. And when acne-causing oils and environmental dirt and debris get clogged in the pores, your face can turn into a minefield of visible blackheads and blemishes.  Sothys Pore Refiner System sets out to raze this minefield- or prevent it from being formed in the first place. By tightening the skin grain and illuminating the complexion, this four-part system aims to treat the cosmetic woes of combination-oily skin afflicted with enlarged pores and a shiny complexion.

As an exemplary specimen of these skin conditions, I tested the Mattifying Refiner Solution (about $83), which is designed to be used in tandem with the complementary Smoothing Refiner Solution. At certain times of the month (or year), my nose becomes a magnet for blackheads. It also becomes an object of intense scrutiny, as I spend an inordinate amount of time poring over my microscopic plugs of debris in a magnifying mirror. I eagerly hoped that Sothys would not only purify my pores and polish my skin, but also spare me the monthly mirror showdown.

The instructions on the packaging do not make it clear whether the Mattifying Refiner Solution is meant to be used as a sort of leave-on moisturizing base or a rinse-off cleanser. So, I tried it both ways. The solution's consistency is velvety and creamy, so much so, that it feels more likely to clog pores than clear them. Instead, whether the product is left on or rinsed off, my skin feels softer and my blackheads seem less noticeable. A small squirt of the taupe-hued solution spreads out evenly and gets absorbed instantly as its barely perceptible microspheres tame shine, leaving a soft, matte finish.

However, a first impression can be very different from a final assessment. After using the Refiner Solution for several weeks, it became clear that my blackheads weren't going away but were rather being dulled by the product's "mattifying" effect. In fact, my skin broke out much more than usual. When I looked over the ingredients, I could barely believe my eyes. How could so many controversial and suspect components make it into a single formula? It's no wonder my skin rebelled with a barrage of blemishes.

The subtle, powdery scent that I at first enjoyed left me uneasy when I noticed that it was entirely artificial and highly concentrated. Synthetic fragrance, which can be made up of numerous additives besides the linalool, limonene, benzyl salicylate, and hydroxycitronellal present here, is the number one cause of contact dermatitis, as well as a host of other internal and external evils. More disturbingly, there are enough chemical preservatives to make this product outlast your pore problem. The combination of phenoxyethanol, tetrasodium EDTA, and five parabens can add up to adverse skin reactions, organ system toxicity, and environmental damage. As if that's not enough to keep microorganisms at bay, chlorhexidine digluconate and sorbic acid are thrown in for extra protection from bacterial growth.

Higher on the ingredients list than the artificial fragrance is talc, a suspected carcinogen according to fifteen studies. There is currently a petition for the FDA to regulate cosmetic talcum powder use. Synthetic polymers and silicones do your skin no favors and may even exacerbate clogged pores. The petroleum-derived propylene glycol not only can cause cancer, irritation, and immunotoxicity, but it also enhances the penetration of all the other baddies. Likewise, the emulsifier polysorbate 80 and the film former styrene/acrylates copolymer come with a host of cancer and toxicity concerns. After using Sothys Refiner Solution, you might have more to worry about than a few engorged pores.

Sothys's signature H2CR complex, which purportedly consists of a messenger peptide plus an antioxidant, is supposed to "boost the pool of healthy cells and extend the efficacy of the other active substances." Unfortunately, the only legitimate actives appear to be two extracts from the fruit of rosa multiflora and meadowsweet. Polyphenols in these extracts have antioxidant properties and astringent effects but are hardly capable of single-handedly shrinking pore size.

Even if it can screen blackheads and suppress shine, the Refiner Solution can't conceal pores the size of small craters nor can it wipe out a blackhead colony on your nose. Regardless, there is no good reason to coat your skin with a layer of potentially toxic or inflammatory chemicals. Plenty of products use beneficial ingredients to address enlarged pores. Instead of spending $83 on a paltry 1 oz. of decidedly unwholesome ingredients, you'd be better off putting that money towards a facial or investing in a set of products that tighten skin, sap excess oil, and eradicate dead cells. Later this week, we'll extract some pore-minimizing solutions that actually work. In the meantime, I've decided that my pores deserve better than Sothys lackluster system.

Ingredients:

Water, cyclopentasiloxane, glycerin, methyl methacrylate crosspolymer, dimethicone, aluminum starch octenylsuccinate, talc, butylene glycol, styrene/acrylates copolymer, hydrogenated polydecene, acrylamide/sodium acryloyldimethyltaurate copolymer, polysilicone-11, ammonium acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP copolymer, caprylic/capric triglyceride, isohexadecane, propylene glycol, inulin lauryl carbamate, polysorbate 80, acrylates copolymer, fragrance, tetrasodium EDTA, sorbic acid, spiraea ulmaria (meadowsweet) extract, sorbitan oleate, methylparaben, gossypium hirsutum (cotton) extract, chlorhexidine digluconate, decyl glucoside, rosa multiflora fruit extract, glyceryl oleate, silica dimethyl silylate, ethylparaben, phenoxyethanol, butylparaben, benzyl salicylate, propylparaben, sodium dodecylbenzenesulfonate, trideceth-8, trideceth-50, linalool, isobutylparaben, caprylyl glycol, quercetin caprylate, limonene, hydroxycitronellal, hexylene glycol.