Face Time: Can You Shrink Pores?
by Vicki Santillano
I suspect that a large number of women out there have an exaggerated idea about the size of their pores—pore dysmorphia, if you will. They look at their faces and see large, gaping holes where microscopic dots should be, and so they slather their skin with every pore-refining cream available, desperate to shrink them into obscurity. If you ask any woman, regardless of skin type, whether she’d prefer her pores to look smaller, the answer is most likely going to be yes. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be nearly as many pore-minimizing products on the market. But is it actually possible to permanently reduce their size?
Why Pore Size Is Permanent
Ladies with the supposed gaping holes on your faces, brace yourselves: it’s impossible to shrink them. That’s because their size is a result of how big your oil glands within them are, and the size of oil glands is determined by genetics. If your parents gave you naturally oily skin, your oil glands are more active and therefore require a larger opening to release all that oil. (On the plus side, having oily skin might also make your skin less wrinkled later in life.) As a result, your pores appear more dilated than the pores of dry-skinned folks do.
Age also plays a factor in pore size. Skin loses elasticity as it ages due to weakened collagen. Collagen helps keep pores small and tight, so when it breaks down, the pores are able to relax and expand more. Many anti-aging products contain ingredients like retinoid to encourage collagen production because that’s what keeps us looking fresh and youthful. Similarly, pore-refining cleansers and creams use the same kinds of ingredients to temporarily combat enlarged pores.
Whether you’re male or female might be a factor in pore size as well, at least according to a study published in a 2006 edition of the British Journal of Dermatology. Researchers found that men tended to have bigger pores than women do, but that women’s pore size “significantly increased” when they ovulated.
Bad Habits That Make ’Em Even Bigger
We can’t always place blame solely on genes and the natural aging process, though. There are also actions within our control that probably contribute to large pores. For example, clogged pores will look noticeably bigger than non-clogged pores. When dirt and bacteria enter a pore, they block the oil glands from pushing oil and dead skin cells out of the small space. The glands don’t stop producing oil; rather, the pore expands to make room for all of the excess that can’t be secreted. If it doesn’t expand enough in time, a pimple will pop up instead. And should you pick at and pop that pimple, chances are it’ll spread out the diameter of the inflamed pore even more, and that may lead to a permanent scar.
Overexposure to UV rays could also affect pore size, since UV rays break down collagen and make skin look older than it really is. Excessive sun damage irritates and inflames facial skin cells, which also creates a magnifying effect on the pores they surround. A good skincare regimen should include daily application of sunscreen, or at least a facial moisturizer with SPF15 or higher.
Fake It Until You Make It
There’s not much we can do about the genes we’re given or the fact that our bodies age with time. However, there are things we can do to make pores appear smaller than they really are, or to prevent them from clogging up and dilating beyond their natural size. First and foremost, adopting a good skincare regimen is essential. Use noncomedogenic products (the kind that are clinically proven to not clog pores) and always be sure to at least rinse your face in the morning and definitely wash it at night. For those with oily skin, face wash with salicylic acid will curb oil production a little, but it might be too harsh and drying for other skin types. Oil- and acne-prone women should also opt for oil-free lotions and moisturizers.
There are a variety of pore-minimizing products with beneficial ingredients like retinol and vitamin C (which also increases collagen growth), but with so many to choose from, selecting one can be overwhelming. A dermatologist can help you find the best match for your skin type, and she can prescribe products with stronger doses of retinol that aren’t available over the counter. Otherwise, researchers from the Good Housekeeping team came up with a few recommendations after testing numerous products over a four-week period. They found that Patricia Wexler MD Skin Brightening & Pore Refining Serum and Perricone MD Intensive Pore Minimizer both yielded a pleasant “soft-focus effect.” There was only one product that actually reduced the appeared size of pores, though: Murad T-Zone Pore Refining Gel.
It’s important to note that it took weeks for any of the products to make a noticeable difference during the study. So even if we can’t permanently shrink pores, at least we can make them look smaller with the right products and skincare habits—and with a little bit of patience. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, Rome-size pores won’t shrink down in a day, either.