Your Complete Guide To Shrinking Pores

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Large or small, the pores on your face serve an incredibly important role in the health and function of your skin. "Pores are tiny openings on your skin," Dr. Harish Kautam explains to SkinKraft. "These openings allow your skin to breathe. Each pore contains a hair follicle and sebaceous glands." These glands are responsible for maintaining the skin's smooth texture, keeping the body cool by secreting sweat, and producing the sebum necessary for protected, hydrated, and moist skin. Pores are also the reason your skincare products can penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin.

Despite this, pores — particularly large ones — are only thought of as ground zero for acne, extra oily skin, and unpleasant skin texture. It cannot be denied that large pores can be an inconvenience from an aesthetic standpoint. Some people believe noticeable pores make them look older, while others simply want to control the excess oil their larger pores are secreting because it's causing clogged pores.  As a result, it seems as though every influencer and skincare brand on the market wants to help you make your pores disappear, and each claims their way is the best. But is that even possible? Should you try it? Learn everything you need to know to shrink your pores in the guide below.

Why do pores look big?

Before you can take steps to refine the appearance of your pores, it is important to understand the reasons why they look large in the first place. For better or worse, genetics is one of the biggest factors in determining the size of your pores. If your family members have large pores and oily skin, odds are good your skin will also share these features — and there isn't anything you can do about it. "It's a pre-determined development, an ethnic, genetic, phenotype-programmed event," celebrity dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer tells The Cut. 

There are a number of other factors that can have a direct impact on the look of your pores that have nothing to do with your family tree, including your age and gender, environmental conditions like sun and pollution levels, season of the year, and hormones, to name a few. As you age, your skin's desquamation process, or the natural creation and shedding skin cycle, begins to slow, meaning more oil and bacteria end up sitting in your pores and stretching them out. Using comedogenic skincare products or makeup contributes to large, clogged pores as well, and can cause blackheads and acne. Sun damage is responsible for interfering with the skin's collagen and elasticity, leading to saggy skin and larger-looking pores over time. Women may experience larger pores during different stages of their menstrual cycle, while the higher levels of androgens (i.e., testosterone) men possess can lead to increased sebum production and larger pores. 

Can you shrink your pores?

If pore size is fixed by genetics, age, and gender, the answer to the age-old question "Can I shrink my pores?" is, unfortunately, no. You can't. Contrary to perpetuated beauty myths, you cannot physically close your pores or change their natural size, even with the help of ice cubes, face steamers, or expensive skincare products. "Pores are not muscles," dermatologist Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse tells The Klog. "Hot water and steam will not open your pores, and cold water will not close them. A quick, cool rinse before popping out of the shower will definitely leave your skin looking less pink (it will close the blood vessels), but it won't change your pore size." 

Before you give up all hope of having the smooth skin of your dreams, there is some good news. You can target enlarged pores with the use of temporary treatments, like microneedling or lasers, or through the use of a regular skincare routine that focuses on cleansing, non-comedogenic products, and skin protection. These methods can improve the appearance of pores by removing trapped oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria clogging the pores and making them look stretched out. Although the terms "open" and "closed" are often used by experts to describe the skincare process of removing gunk and keeping pores clean, remember that you don't actually want your pores to operate like an elevator door, considering how necessary they are for the skin's normal processes and health.

Use a gentle cleanser

If you want to reduce the appearance of your pores, a gentle cleanser should be the first step in your daily skincare routine. You may be tempted to run out and purchase a harsh exfoliating cleanser, but doing so can irritate the skin and cause microtears and scarring, potentially making acne and the appearance of your pore size worse. However, a mild cleanser is not only kinder to dry and sensitive skin but is effective at keeping your pores clean of gunk that would normally stretch them out. 

Depending on your skin type, starting your routine with a gentle oil-based cleanser can help cleanse and clarify the pores of makeup and sebum while simultaneously hydrating the skin. "Cleansing oils usually contain an oil base, along with a traditional skin-cleansing ingredient called a surfactant, which helps bind to dirt on the skin and remove it without disrupting the skin barrier," board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD shares with Allure. This formula, alongside additional ingredients like moisturizing oils and soothing, skin-friendly botanicals, is a great way to keep your skin looking and feeling fresh. 

For extra pore minimizing power, consider the double-cleanse method. "Gently massage the [formula] into your skin with clean fingers, lie down, and cover your face with a warm face cloth for several minutes to help open pores," Erika Arguello tells Byrdie. "Rinse the washcloth, and gently wipe away any excess oil. If you have time, repeat the process for even better results." 

Exfoliate regularly

You can help your skin's pores by properly exfoliating the dead skin cells, dirt, and grime. While it is a complete myth that exfoliating face scrubs are great for your skin over the long term, there are other ways to exfoliate to reduce the size of your pores and achieve beautiful-looking skin. 

While physical exfoliators like dry brushes and dermaplaners are effective, using chemical exfoliation on the face is especially useful for minimizing the look of large pores. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid work at a cellular level to break up the gunk that keep your pores stretched out.  "Chemical exfoliants penetrate the skin, loosening the intercellular cement — the sticky glue component that holds the skin cells together," Glenise Gomez tells HeyDay. "The enzymatic action is going to loosen those tight bonds to allow dead skin cells to dissolve and fall away." In addition to unclogging pores and preventing acne, AHAs and BHAs can decrease skin inflammation, improve skin texture, and can even help smooth out the appearance of fine lines and surface wrinkles. 

Neither acid is better than the other. Ultimately, which one you use will depend on your skin type and its specific needs. People with enlarged pores and skin texture issues often benefit from the hydrating powers of an AHA, while people who suffer from acne may find BHAs more useful. Because they target different skin concerns, they can also be used together, in moderation. 

Use a topical retinol

Applying a topical retinol to your skin is ideal both for fighting acne and reducing signs of aging. Like AHAs and BHAs, retinol is a form of chemical exfoliant. This form of vitamin A is the overachiever of your skincare cabinet, unclogging pores, increasing skin cell production, and improving the production of collagen for more youthful-looking skin with each application. This plumping effect also makes larger pores appear smaller and less noticeable. Retinol even addresses discoloration issues like hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone, reduces the inflammation of an active breakout, and heals mild acne scars.  It can be found in certain makeup and skincare products but is often used in serums or lotions. 

Be aware that there are cons to using too much retinol. Some people experience a mild burning sensation after their first application, with the potential for extra dry or mildly peeling skin. It will also increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun, making it necessary to wear a strong sunscreen. However, as dermatologist Dr. Corey L. Hartman tells Insider, "There are too many benefits of using retinol daily, that it is hard to justify skipping that step." 

Don't forget to moisturize

It is a common misconception that people with oily skin, and subsequently larger pores, should avoid using a moisturizer. After all, why should you introduce lotions and creams onto your face if it already feels like an oil slick? Won't that make the problem worse? 

Turns out, moisturizing is an essential part of maintaining balance in your skin. Not only do they hydrate and soften dry skin, moisturizers help regulate the amount of oil your skin is producing. In an effort to find balance on its own, dry skin will often over-produce oil, leading to clogged pores and breakouts. Appropriately cleansing and moisturizing is a simple way to prevent this, and subsequently allows you to enjoy clearer, smaller-looking pores. 

You should still be selective with the moisturizer you use and choose one that suits your skin's unique needs. For most individuals with large pores and oily skin, light, water-based moisturizers draw moisture deep into the skin without causing an unpleasant greasy feeling on the surface. "Choose an oil-free, lightweight moisturizer and ingredients like ceramides or hyaluronic acid," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rachel Nazarian tells Well + Good. "These will help make your skin stronger and to maintain more water and hydration with continued use." 

Wear sunscreen

You already know you should be wearing sunscreen on your face every day to help prevent sun damage, skin cancer, and premature signs of aging. But did you also know that wearing sunscreen is a great way to prevent your skin from resembling the surface of the moon? 

When it's applied correctly, sunscreen uses UV filters to block the majority of UVA and UVB rays responsible for damaging your skin. Without this protective barrier, free radicals are able to penetrate the skin and irreparably damage the skin cells. The resulting damage breaks down collagen, ultimately altering the skin's firmness and elasticity that keep pores looking small. 

Broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher is generally recommended by dermatologists to protect skin. Oil-free, non-comedogenic sunscreens might be a better option if you suffer from frequent breakouts or have oily skin. No matter what SPF you use, it is important to remember that putting it on once before you leave the house, especially if you plan to be in the sun or water all day, isn't enough. "The protection provided by most sunscreens is temporary and only lasts between two to three hours," Dr. Massick tells Self.  Reapplying every couple of hours will keep your skin's elasticity in place and your pores from getting stretched out prematurely. 

Invest in the right makeup

The type of makeup you use is a major factor in both the state of your skin and the size of your pores. If you have oily or combination skin, using makeup products containing coconut oil, cocoa butter, petroleum, or lanolin can cause clogging and contribute to larger-looking pores.  Using oil-free formulas or makeup labeled as "noncomedogenic" helps reduce the amount of oil and grime. These products may contain ingredients such as almond oil, jojoba oil, and glycerin. Not only are they ideal for supporting pore health, these non-irritating ingredients possess hydrating benefits that will keep your skin balanced. 

Once you have found the right makeup for your skin, you can use it to temporarily minimize the look of your pores. Working with a noncomedogenic primer designed to mattify and blur the look of pores will give your complexion a flawless appearance. Layering that with other matte products like foundation, blush, and bronzer will keep large pores hidden. Top with a translucent setting powder for a light, airy finish that will smooth out any texture issues resulting from large pores. 

Try face masks

Face masks may be a go-to activity for high school slumber parties or lazy self-care Sundays, but they are also an incredible tool for combating large pores. Cream and sheet masks containing ingredients like salicylic acid, charcoal, or zinc help purge pores. Activated charcoal is absorbent, soaking up the impurities in your skin like a sponge. According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman, zinc is also surprisingly effective at purifying your pores. "Zinc reduces the inflammatory response to bacteria [and] helps with clogged pores," she told Dermstore

Clay masks are another great choice for pore minimization. Clay is a naturally occurring earthy material made up of plant life, animals, and minerals found in areas where water or steam exist. It has been used for thousands of years in beauty routines around the world to brighten and preserve the complexion. Clay does this well, as it naturally clings to oil and dirt trapped on your skin and brings it to the surface, similar to charcoal. 

There are hundreds of different masks available to choose from, some of which contain dubious ingredients. If you're unsure of which mask to use, consult your dermatologist before making a spontaneous Instagram ad purchase. "Just because a product is expensive, doesn't meant it's better," Dr. Shilpi Khetarpal tells Cleveland Clinic. "Fancy and exotic ingredients in some face masks have not been studied in clinical trials and we don't know if they're safe yet." 

Limit your use of pore strips

Anyone who has ever used a pore strip knows how addicting they are. Nothing is quite as satisfying as removing a nose strip and seeing all the gunk you've freed from your pores. However, in recent years, pore strips and their aggressive adhesive qualities have come under scrutiny for their safety and efficacy. "They occasionally do a fair job at removing keratin buildup in pores, but the pores will fill right up again," dermatologist Nava Greenfield tells Byrdie. "The underlying issues, which are enlarged pores and overactive oil glands, are not addressed with the strips." Too much use can irritate your skin, especially if the strip contains astringents, and the pulling motion to remove them can traumatize the skin, leading to further enlarged pores.

So should you use pore strips at all? The answer lies somewhere in the middle. "Pore strips are not necessarily bad for your skin, but it is important to have realistic expectations when using them," board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick tells Real Simple. "Many can help temporarily improve the appearance of blackheads, but they are not designed to prevent breakouts or keep blackheads from forming." To address those issues, it is necessary to incorporate chemical exfoliants like retinol or salicylic acid into your skincare regimen. 

Like most things in life, moderation is key when it comes to pore strips. While they are decidedly not a long-term solution for minimizing the look of pores, people with oily skin may benefit from their occasional use. 

Remove your makeup every time you wear it

One of the cardinal rules of makeup is that you must wash your face to remove the products before you go to sleep. Skipping this vital step can cause you to develop rashes or infections and suck the moisture from your skin, making it appear dry. Naturally, makeup can also clog pores, making them appear larger, and lead to inflammation and breakouts.

Failing to remove your makeup before bed will also make your complexion appear dull, exacerbating the look of existing pore issues. "Oils and dead skin cells on the outermost layers of the skin are matted up against the pillow all night, and natural turnover of this dull epidermal layer is diminished," celebrity dermatologist Dr. Annie Chiu tells Good Housekeeping. "Regular cleansing and exfoliation are integral to revealing healthy new skin cells and allowing the natural repair processes of the skin to occur." 

Avoid touching your face

Using the right makeup and skincare products is of the utmost importance if you want to shrink the appearance of your pores. However, you can help yourself and your skin out by avoiding touching your face. While simply brushing your cheek or resting your chin in your hand does not directly cause acne, picking at your skin and squeezing the blackheads around your nose will make acne and pore size worse. 

It's tempting to pop an unsightly pimple or scrape the trapped dirt and oil out of the pores of your nose. But, as board-certified dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi explained to Allure, picking at your skin "allows bacteria that is normally present on the skin to penetrate to a deeper level, leading to a breakout." The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends only touching your face with clean hands when you need to apply sunscreen, makeup, or wash your face, especially if you are prone to oily skin. 

Of course, it is unrealistic to expect yourself to never touch your face again. Doing so won't stop acne from forming or pores from getting clogged, either. It is only a small part of the problem. Instead, focus on building a strong and consistent skincare routine with products that suit your needs for lasting results.