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How can I shrink my pores? Why are my pores so big? Can you recommend skincare to make my pores disappear? My pores are so much larger now than they used to be, what can I do?
These and similar questions reach me on all platforms, pores and pore size really seem to be a topic you are concerned with.
So, let’s talk about it! One thing right in advance though: You can’t really shrink your pores or make them disappear. But there are things you can do to reduce their appearance.
What are pores?
Pores are physiological openings in the skin surface. They have hair follicles inside, even though you don’t always see the hair, and act as opening for the sebum our sebaceous glands produce to be distributed on our skin. They are different from sweat glands that are also openings on the skin surface, but secret sweat, not sebum.
You have pores all over your body with the exception of the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet, where you only have sweat glands. That explains why you can’t make pores disappear – they have a vital function in the skin.
They also don’t have a muscle around their opening, so they can’t change their size through that.
What influences pore size?
First of all: genetics. Some of us have natural larger pore openings than others, just like some of us have curly hair and others have straight hair. Pores also tend to be bigger in people born male..
The second most important factor are our hormones. Why? Because hormones influence the amount of sebum produced and this sebum collects in the pores before it is excreted onto the skins surface. More sebum produced means the pore gets filled up more and expands, less sebum means the pores stay smaller.
This is why the oilier your skin, the bigger your pores look and why pores are usually an issue in the t-zone more than at the rest of our face.
The third factor is the skin structure. Pores don’t have a muscle around them, so if your skin gets looser due to a lack of collagen and elastin or due to a lack of hydration, the opening gets wider as well.
And lastly, your skincare and makeup habits. When you pores get clogged because the skin cells don’t shed like they should or because you don’t cleanse your face properly, that can block up the pores, meaning the sebum gets trapped inside and the pores appear larger. (More info: What is the best way to exfoliate on strong retinoids?)
Why do look my pores bigger now than they did a few years ago?
So when everyone has pores, why is it that a baby’s skin doesn’t show them? And why get yours more noticeable with age? Well, babies do have pores too, they are just so small and their skin so bouncy, you don’t really see them.
Once you hit puberty and the hormones kick in, you’ll produce more sebum and your pores get more visible.
And with age in general your skin gets looser, more saggy due to loss of collagen and elastin and also less bouncy because of the reduced ability to retain moisture, and all these changes lead to the pores looking bigger, simply because the surrounding tissue allows them to relax more.
What can I do to make my pores appear smaller?
We said that pores that are clogged or filled with sebum appear bigger, so regular exfoliation and anything that reduces sebum production will make them appear smaller. The same goes for well hydrated skin that has bounce.
You might have also noticed that your pores are more visible in the summer heat, so using cooling devices can make them temporarily look smaller.
There are also makeup primers specifically designed to fill up the opening you can see on the surface, so your skin appears pore less. Using these requires good cleansing afterwards though, so they don’t make it worse in the long run by clogging up the pores. (More info: Do you really need to Double Cleanse? and Which cleanser is best for your skin type?)
How can I prevent my pores from looking big (again)?
For long term results, you’ll need to first and foremost prevent the loss of collagen and elastin by… wearing sunscreen. Sunscreen really is the answer to all your skincare problems, that is not a joke!
Along the same lines is the use of Vitamin C and retinoids to stimulate collagen and of course the focus on a lifestyle that promotes general as well as skin health: no smoking, no excessive alcohol, anything that regulates your stress levels. (More info: The benefits of Vitamin C in skincare explained and Your handy guide to different retinols)
And another important point: Don’t squeeze them! Although that might loosen what is trapped inside, it also might destroy the structure around the pore making things worse in the long run.
Which ingredients help with pore size?
As far as skincare ingredients go, there are a few that can help maintain pore size. A gentle cleanser for a good and effective cleanse is of course a given, and for regular exfoliation both AHAs and BHAs have their benefits.
BHAs are what usually is recommended, because they exfoliate inside the pores, so are especially effective when clogged pores are the issue. AHAs, especially when used in context of a chemical peel in office, not only exfoliate, but can also stimulate collagen production.
For sebum control clay masks can help, at least short term, by absorbing excess oil from the skin. Others like Niacinamide and Green Tea Extract might help control the amount of sebum produced in the first place. (More info: The benefits of Niacinamide in skincare explained and The benefits of Green Tea Extract in skincare explained)
And then there are of course retinoids, with especially the stronger ones, helping with unclogging the pores and stimulating collagen production. While oral Isotretinoin also has an effect on the sebaceous glands long term, that is not true for topical retinoids, although they can help for the duration of the treatment.
If all that doesn’t bring the wanted benefits, there are also invasive treatments like lasers and microneedling that can help reduce the appearance of pores. (More info: The limitations of skincare)
Pore size is determined by your genes and influenced by hormones, age and lifestyle factors. While you can’t shrink your pores, you can make them appear smaller by making sure they aren’t clogged – do this by cleansing well and exfoliating regularly – and by reducing the amount of sebum on your skin, both by absorption of excess and by reducing the production through Niacinamide.
Protect your skin’s collagen and elastin with SPF, retinoids and Vitamin C and by quitting cigarettes and alcohol and your pores will look the best they possibly can.
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