Despite what the influx of ultra-edited Instagram photos might lead you to believe, everyone has pores — a scene from Mean Girls comes to mind, when the girls are taking turns picking apart their appearances, and Regina George complains about how huge her pores are. And in a beauty market flooded with everything from potent serums to “miracle-workers,” there are definitely a lot of products out there that claim they know how to get rid of large pores.
As someone who grew up with excessively oily skin, I spent most of my adolescence obsessively looking for the drugstore solution to clear my face and shrink my pores. Unsurprisingly, the combination of super harsh astringents and obsessive scrubbing didn’t do much to curb the state of my face, and often made the problem much worse.
If I could go back in time to give little Lauren some advice (aside from warning her not to get blonde chunky highlights), I’d want to share some of these tips on how to deal with large pores.
First, what are pores?
Pores (technically hair follicles) are small openings in your skin that release oil and sweat. Their purpose is to help sebum travel up the hair follicle and onto the surface of your skin, ensuring it stays properly moisturized. These functions mean that pores have a big impact on the overall look, texture and health of your skin.
While they’re usually the most visible on your face, you actually have them all over your entire body, aside from your palms and the bottom of your feet. And for anyone who’s ever been a teenager, I can safely assume you’ve probably spent a few hours obsessing over the size of your pores, or skin texture in general.
Why do some people have larger pores?
While it’s not a super satisfying answer, genetics plays a large part in determining how big your pores are. In general, people with light skin tones and a drier complexion tend to have smaller pores, while those with oily or darker skin tones lean toward having more visible pores. Aside from this, they can appear larger when they become stretched out from being clogged.
You probably notice your largest pores concentrated in your T-zone — that’s because this area tends to have more sebaceous glands, which increase the likelihood that your pores become clogged and look stretched out. And since collagen plays a large part in the elasticity and “plumpness” of your skin, things that cause collagen loss like aging and UV damage from sun exposure can also make your pores appear larger.
Can I shrink my pores?
Technically and unfortunately, no. Despite what the thousands of “pore shrinking” products out there might lead you to believe, the pores you were blessed with at birth are the ones you get. I’ve even convinced myself in the past that all I needed was a strong toner or tanning session to snap my pores shut, but sadly those were just disappointing skin myths. But there is good news!
Skin care changes to reduce the appearance of pores
While we currently don’t know how to get rid of large pores completely, you do have some control over how large your pores appear, while also helping to prevent them from getting clogged.
The first step: assessing your current skin care routine to see if the products you use are actually making large pores look worse. You probably already have a plan of attack once you see an unwanted pimple or cluster of black heads pop up, but it’s important to make sure these skin care steps aren’t leading to your skin producing more oil than necessary.
By focusing on getting the right balance of oil on your skin, removing built-up dead skin cells and helping to stimulate the production of collagen, it's relatively easy to learn how to get rid of large pores. Here are the essential skin care products you’ll need to get the job done.
- Cleanse twice a day
A proper cleansing routine will help to reduce the amount of oil on your skin, unclog build-up, and eventually reduce the appearance of the pores themselves. Ensuring that your pores stay as clear as possible is the key to keeping them looking their natural size, not filled with grime and build-up. Start your morning and bedtime skin care routines by washing your face with a cleansing cream, making sure to use warm water and gentle cleanser.
Anything too abrasive can irritate and inflame your skin, which can make your pores even more noticeable — products specially designed to deal with oily skin tend to have salicylic acid in them, which dries out the skin and can make pores look larger. So stick to a gentle cleansing cream two times a day, and make sure to monitor your skin condition over time.
While daily cleansing is essential, sometimes your skin needs a deeper clean. Things like sebum, makeup, and build-up from dead skin cells can lead to clogged pores, so you should incorporate exfoliating into your skin care routine a few times a week to counteract this. Use an exfoliating cleanser to gently remove pollutants and dead skin cells for smaller-looking pores and a brighter, smoother complexion. But remembering to only exfoliate a few times a week is very important: over-scrubbing usually leads to your pores being triggered to produce more oil.
- Use a retinol
Since larger pores generally come with aging, it’s important to use products known for their powerful anti-aging properties. That’s where retinol comes in. Apply a natural retinol serum to cleansed skin, before moisturizing, preferably before bed; this will help to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, while improving firmness and making your pores look smaller. Be sure to check out our article on how to use retinol to make sure you’re maximizing its benefits in your skin care routine.
As someone who spent many years (improperly) battling oily skin, I know that your instincts will probably tell you to avoid moisturizing to keep unnecessary additional oil from your skin. But moisturizers actually help to maintain a proper balance of hydration in your skin, boosting your sebum’s ability to penetrate the skin effectively. And as I learned the hard way, skipping the moisturizing step usually leads to your skin producing even more oil to compensate for the perceived lack of moisture, which leads to enlarged pores. So after you cleanse and apply your serums, moisturizing is a must. Just look for lighter, water-based formulas, since anything too heavy has the potential to have a clogging effect on your pores.
- Apply sunscreen
Elastin and collagen are responsible for keeping the fibers around pores firm — sun damage decreases their production, which is how you end up with looser skin and larger looking pores. So along with the increased risk of skin cancer and earlier signs of aging, add “large pores” to the list of reasons why it’s absolutely essential to use sun protection every day! Make sunscreen application the last step in your skin care routine, to allow all of the other active ingredients in your serums and moisturizer time to fully absorb into the skin.
Other ways to make your pores appear smaller
Want additional information on how to get rid of large pores? Now that your skin care routine has been streamlined, there are a few other things you should remember to reduce the appearance of your pores.
We’ve already moisturized your skin to boost its hydration levels, but it’s important to also do so from the inside. Drinking water hydrates your skin internally, helps to clear out debris and toxins from your pores, and makes your skin look fuller. It seems like such a beauty cliché, but staying hydrated is such an essential step toward getting clear, beautiful skin (and yes, smaller looking pores).
- Ask a dermatologist.
You just can’t beat advice from the experts. If you’re feeling frustrated with your skin even after making these changes, meet with a dermatologist to see if they recommend any prescription skin care to target your specific needs. There’s always the potential that you’ve been fighting your large-looking pores the wrong way, or targeting the wrong source. I struggled for years with oily skin before a dermatologist prescribed me with the right medication to help decrease oil production; even if your situation doesn’t necessitate medication, getting advice from an expert can’t hurt.
- Buy the right makeup.
When you’re on the hunt for new makeup products, try to look for items marked as “non-comedogenic,” which means they won’t clog your pores. I’m personally a big fan of pore-minimizing primers and light, serum-y foundations, since they help to mask my pores and are relatively easy to take off at the end of the day. And that’s the main thing to remember here: regardless of what kind of makeup you use, remember to remove it at the end of the day! Nothing is worse for clogged pores than letting your makeup sit on your skin overnight, so make sure to remove everything before you hit the hay for the evening.
Book regular facials.
You can be putting forth your best efforts at home, but just like with the dermatologist, it can be a wonderful boost to your skin health to let a skin therapist work their magic. And take it from me: I’m notoriously thrifty when it comes to spending money on non-essential things, and facials had always seemed like an unnecessary purchase when I already had a streamlined skin care routine. But after my first session, the results were noticeable… and I was hooked! Facials give you an opportunity to get an even deeper clean, as well as customized advice for at-home maintenance. Even if you can only schedule an appointment every few months, it's a smart investment in the overall health of your skin (and appearance of your pores).
- Try additional skin treatments.
Professional skin treatments like microneedling, chemical peels or laser light therapy are other ways to help reduce the appearance of your pores, offering targeted and potent care. Chemical peels and microneedling smooth the outermost layer of the skin, improving its appearance and texture, which makes your pores appear smaller. Red light therapy from laser treatments stimulates collagen production in your skin, which as we mentioned plays a big part in how large your pores appear. While these extra treatments can be a little pricier, it can be a nice occasional concentrated treat for your skin. And as a plus to save you time, they can usually be added onto an existing facial appointment.
While not being able to actually shrink the size of your pores is annoying, there are concrete steps you can take to reduce their appearance and prevent them from getting any bigger. For anyone trying to figure out how to get rid of large pores, just focus on streamlining your skin care routine, staying hydrated, and considering other skin treatments to smooth its appearance and texture. And when all else fails: shrug and say “well, we all have them. Even you, Facetuned influencer.”
By Lauren Hannel, staff contributor