How Can I Shrink My Pores?

Q: My pores are huge! How can I make them smaller and less noticeable?

A: Try as you might (witch hazel, anyone?), it is not possible to reduce the size of your pores. Like so many other aspects of appearance, pore size is genetically determined. But understanding a little more about them helps uncover what can make them a little less conspicuous.

Pores are actually hair follicles, and each one contains a sebaceous gland that produces oil (sebum). While all follicles contain these glands, the ones in your T-zone—your forehead, nose and chin—are bigger, which is why skin tends to be oiliest and your pores more noticeable in this area of your face. If you’re prone to excess oil, there’s a good chance all your pores will be larger than if your skin is dry, since they have to accommodate releasing your over-production of sebum.

Sebum can turn dark when combined with oxygen, resulting in dark pores (blackheads) that can draw attention and even be mistaken for dirt on your face. And over time, pores can get clogged with a combination of sebum, dead skin cells and impurities from the environment, which can cause them to expand.

Though pores allow things to enter your skin—from a skincare product to a little oxygen—they don’t function like doors in that they can’t open and close (why steaming your skin then splashing it with cold water doesn’t do much; in a facial, steam is used to soften skin, not “open” pores). You can’t shrink your pores or change how they function, but you can prevent them from getting larger and even reduce how big they appear by making smart beauty routine choices:

  • Cleanse regularly. Keeping your pores clear after a day of wearing makeup and exposure to everyday impurities is key. It’s also important to wash your face before and after a workout; sweat mixed with the day’s grime can clog pores and cause them to stretch.
  • Exfoliate. Talk to your dermatologist about how frequently you should slough off dead skin cells based on your skin type. Experts typically recommend exfoliating no more than three times a week, though you might want to do so more often if your skin is especially oily, and less if it’s sensitive or dry. Don’t scrub too hard, though, which can damage skin.
  • Don’t pick pimples. “Popping” a zit or blackhead can actually damage the pore, making it permanently bigger.
  • Wear a silicone-based makeup primer. Wearing a primer under makeup is like prepping a canvas for paint: Not only will it help your makeup stay on longer, but it also creates a smoother surface for your foundation to cover, which can decrease the appearance of your pores. Look for a primer that contains silicone, which smoothes onto skin easily and is especially great at creating a flawless complexion.
  • Use retinol. Taut skin supports your pores. Unfortunately, with age and damage (especially from the sun), skin starts to stretch and sag, making them appear bigger. This superstar anti-aging ingredient boosts production of the protein collagen and aids in cell turnover, which helps skin stay firm, reduces clogs and makes pores seem smaller.
  • Ask your dermatologist about an acid peel... Glycolic acid (a.k.a. alpha hydroxy acid) or salicylic acid peels may reduce the appearance of pores by providing intense, rapid exfoliation and also prompting the production of collagen and elastin, another skin-plumping protein.
  • …or a laser treatment. Laser therapy has been shown to increase collagen production, too. In a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, participants experienced a “significant reduction in pore score” after six laser treatments.
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