Does it seem like every time you look in a mirror these days, large pores are staring back at you? If you’re wondering how to minimize those suddenly very noticeable pores, you’re not alone.
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Conspicuous pores are a common complaint as people age, says dermatologist Jane Wu, MD. It seems everyone wants the fine, flawless skin of childhood when pores were seemingly invisible.
But as you go through puberty and adulthood, pores tend to stand out more. Their appearance varies from person to person and depends on several factors. Dr. Wu explains what enlarges pores and how you can shrink them.
Why do your pores look so big?
Genetics mostly determines your pore size. Pores are openings that allow sweat and sebum (oil) to exit from glands onto the surface of your skin. So, if your parents have large pores, chances are, you will, too.
But other factors also contribute to enlarged pores, says Dr. Wu, including:
- Oil production: Pores appear more prominent in the center of your face. That’s because more oil-releasing sebaceous glands are located there.
- Sex: People who are assigned male at birth (AMAB) tend to have more sebaceous glands and oilier skin, leading to more visible pores.
- Aging: Collagen and elastin are proteins that provide structural support for pores. You lose collagen and elastin in your skin as you age, which allows your pores to widen.
- Sun damage: Overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays breaks down collagen and elastin, the building blocks of skin. This reduces skin firmness, allowing your pores to grow larger.
- Hormonal changes: Pores become more visible beginning in puberty when hormonal shifts cause sebaceous glands to produce more oil. People who are assigned female at birth (AFAB) may notice that their pore size also changes during their menstrual cycle, a time when they often get acne breakouts.
Can you reduce pore size?
As your pore size is mostly a result of your genetics, you can’t permanently shrink them. However, you can minimize their appearance by keeping them clear of oil and debris and boosting your skin’s collagen and elastin. These steps also prevent pores from growing larger.
In your quest for spotless skin, avoid excessively squeezing your pores or using an extractor tool to unclog them. “This can cause scarring and harm the skin,” notes Dr. Wu. “Instead, use products to gently clear out pores without causing additional trauma.”
Seven ways to minimize pores
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to shrink pores naturally. It’s true that running an ice cube or a chilled skin roller over your face helps. But the tightening effect lasts only a few minutes and lessens once your skin warms back up.
Another trend is red light therapy applied through a wand or mask. But Dr. Wu says the research hasn’t proven that this is an effective treatment to reduce pore size.
So, what should you do? Dr. Wu suggests these ways to minimize prominent pores:
1. Follow a good skin care regimen
Use a gentle cleanser to wash your face in the morning and evening. To keep pores clear of excess oil, make sure you only use products labeled oil-free or noncomedogenic (meaning they won’t clog your pores).
2. Apply sun protection
Protection from the sun’s rays is a must to avoid losing collagen and elastin from skin damage. Use broad spectrum sunscreen in your daytime skin care routine. Hats and other physical blockers can also help protect your face from UV rays.
3. Do a chemical peel
Clearing pores of dead skin cells and excess oil helps them appear smaller. An occasional at-home chemical peel can do the trick. “You can use most over-the-counter peels every two weeks and sometimes weekly, depending on the type of peel and depth of skin cells it removes,” says Dr. Wu.
Peels use alpha or beta hydroxy acids (AHA or BHA) to remove the top layer of dead skin cells. Hydroxy acids unclog pores and boost collagen production. Look for:
- Glycolic acid, a common AHA.
- Salicylic acid, a popular BHA.
- Daily skin care products — like toners, serums and treatments — that contain these acids in smaller doses.
4. Use retinol
Retinol is a do-it-all skin care ingredient famous for fighting acne and wrinkles. Retinols are derivatives of vitamin A, with over-the-counter and prescription-strength options. Like hydroxy acids, it helps clear out dead skin cells, unclog pores and reveal fresh skin.
Retinol also increases the production of collagen, which keeps skin supple.
It’s best to apply a retinol serum or moisturizer at night, as it can increase your skin’s sun sensitivity. (Read: You’ll burn faster.) Start slowly by applying a thin layer twice a week, building up to daily use since retinol can also cause some initial skin irritation.
5. Ask about prescription medications
If over-the-counter products aren’t working, consider seeing a skin specialist (dermatologist). A dermatologist can prescribe stronger retinoid products, like Retin-A® (tretinoin), which are more powerful than over-the-counter options.
“For patients who also have concerns about active acne, we can prescribe oral medications such as Accutane® (isotretinoin) or spironolactone to treat it,” says Dr. Wu. “These medications decrease oil production, which decreases the appearance of pores.”
6. Try microneedling
Your dermatologist can perform a microneedling procedure, an effective way of plumping up skin to shrink pores.
“We use a microneedling device to make tiny punctures in the skin with very small, sterile needles,” explains Dr. Wu. “This creates micro-trauma in the skin, which stimulates a wound-healing response. That triggers collagen production, which strengthens the supportive structure around pores.”
Scared of needles? Don’t worry, the procedure isn’t painful. You might experience a bit of discomfort, though. Afterward, your face may (temporarily) look and feel like you have a mild sunburn.
You can purchase microneedle facial rollers over the counter. However, the results you get from microneedling depend on the depth you can go with your microneedle — and at-home kits come up short, notes Dr. Wu.
At-home devices typically have needles that are 0.5 millimeters long or less. The ones dermatologists use are 1.5 to 2 millimeters long. So, you can expect better results from the procedure your dermatologist does.
7. Consider lasers to shrink pores
Dermatologists can administer laser therapy treatments to resurface your skin. This in-office procedure can help with a variety of skin woes, including reducing the appearance of large pores.
The laser exfoliates the top layer of skin and encourages collagen to form below. You typically need a series of laser treatments, with appointments scheduled once every four to eight weeks.
Laser treatments can make a more noticeable difference than some at-home treatments, says Dr. Wu. The results are longer lasting, too, depending on the type of laser.
The bottom line
Pores help your skin function. But if you’re unhappy with your pore size, there are effective ways to minimize them. And many of these steps will help you get healthy, glowing skin, which is a win no matter what.
But perhaps the best thing you can do for your pores is to step back from the mirror.
“People tend to fixate on their pores and look at them with a magnifying glass,” says Dr. Wu. “Then they think their pores are gigantic. My advice is to get rid of your magnifying mirror. No one else is looking at your face that closely.”