How to Reduce the Size of Your Pores

Enlarged pores are a beauty concern for women of all ages and many of us spend a lot of time and money on products that claim to shrink them. For every dermatologist-recommended treatment option, it seems that there are just as many myths and gimmicks that aren’t going to be very effective at all. Pores are the openings of hair follicles that contain oil glands (also called sebaceous glands) that lie below the skin’s surface.  Oil glands are more plentiful in the T-zone which is why most enlarged pore problems are concentrated around the nose, forehead and chin. The face has 400 to 800 pores/cm2 compared with 50 pores/cm2 on the arms and legs. Oily skin types are more likely to have enlarged pores.

Pointers for Reducing Pore Size and Improving the Appearance of Pores

  1. Heaped up dead skin cells on the skin’s surface reflects light poorly.  This emphasizes the openings on the skin’s surface making them look larger. Smooth skin reflects light and helps conceal the pores.  For this reason exfoliation with hydroxy acids or facial scrubs may help improve the appearance of the pores.  Using a salicylic acid cleanser or peel can help remove oil and debris from the pore which also helps the skin look smoother.
  2. Thickening the walls of the pores goes a long way toward decreasing their visibility. Products that increase collagen production like vitamin C, hydroxy acids and retinoids are good choices.
  3. Products that cause swelling within the skin deliver temporary improvement for large pores. This is how most “pore minimizing” products work, and many of these rely on vitamin C or glycolic acid to achieve their goal.
  4. Another way to minimize the appearance of large pores is to reduce the size of oil glands. Retinoids, especially in the form of the oral medication Accutane (isotretinoin), are effective. However, the side effects of Accutane outweigh the benefits strictly for reducing pore size, so this medication is reserved for severe acne that is resistant to other treatments. Most topical retinoids are unable to penetrate deeply enough to reach the oil glands, but stronger versions such as Tazorac (tazarotene) may offer mild improvement.
  5. Retinoids also help prevent the build-up of dead skin cells and oil inside the hair follicle that leads to dilation of the pores in the first place.  When the hair follicle is clogged with dead cells and is not open to the surface, it is called a closed comedone or white head. When this worsens and gets bigger it is called a milia. When the dead skin cells clogged in the pore turn dark and the follicle is open at the surface, the lesion is called a blackhead or a open comedone.
  6. Eating foods rich in vitamin A, which is the precursor to retinoids, may help to reduce oil gland activity, thus reducing the appearance of large pores.  However, consuming over 10,000 IUs of Vitamin A a day can lead to hair loss.
  7. Using antioxidants will prevent the dead skin cells inside the pores from turning black and becoming more visible.  The darkness inside a clogged pore occurs when lipids in the oil (sebum) that is mixed with the dead skin cells becomes oxidized. Using an antioxidant can prevent this darkening making the pores look smaller.

What Won’t Work

Many women try to resurface their way to smaller pores with office-administered laser treatments. Anatomically, the base of the pore beneath the skin is actually larger than the pore on the surface, so resurfacing with lasers such as the Fraxel can actually make pores appear larger. Some people believe that washing the face with cold water “closes” pores but I cannot find any scientific proof of this. Steaming the face or aapplying hot wet towels seems to open the pores and make it easier to extract the debri, but this has also not been proven in any scientific manner that I know of.  if you can find a reputable peer reviewed scientific publication that demonstartes this, please post it at

Procedures to shrink pores

The size of the pore or follicular orifice seems to be related to the size of the underlying sebaceous gland. For this reason, the sebaceous gland should be the target of any treatments.  One option is photodynamic therapy (also called PDT).  In this treatment, a prescription medication (called Levulan) is applied by your doctor and allowed to soak into oil glands for about 45 minutes.  Then a special light is shined onto the skin.  The light reacts with the medication leading to shrinkage of oil glands, removal of precancerous and cancerous skin lesions, and improvement of skin appearance and texture.  The pores often get smaller as well.  Another treatment that I have found to improve the appearance of pores is the Vbeam Vascular laser by Syneron.  This 595nm laser is used to target blood vessels in the skin.  At this time the belief is that the 595nm laser affects the mitochondria of the cells in some way.  Although we are not certain of the mechanism of action, pores seem to be improved after using this laser. Microneedling combined with PRP is used to shrink pores but there is not yet enough data to say if this is effective or not.

Preventing Enlarged Pores

Believe it or not, a few skincare and lifestyle changes can keep your pores tight and undetectable, avoiding the need to seek treatment options. To help prevent the appearance of enlarged pores:

  1. Avoid environmental assaults that break down collagen and elastin, including sun exposure and cigarette smoke. Although our cells are capable of producing more collagen, they lose their ability to produce elastin after puberty. Without this elasticity, pores sag open and become more visible. Using sunscreen prevents the production of the enzymes that break down collagen and elastin. Retinoids, hydroxyacids and antioxidants (especially Vitamin C) can help as well.
  2. When pores get clogged with dead cells, makeup and oil, they stretch and appear larger. Dimethicone is an ingredient in sunscreen and makeup that can clog pores and hold sweat and oil on the skin’s surface. This is why you must always wash your face at night!
  3. Avoiding skincare products with pore-clogging ingredients is another way to minimize pore appearance. Comedogenic (comedone causing) ingredients include some forms of coconut oil, isopropyl myristate, isopropyl palmitate, and olive oil.

The Bottom Line

Using the proper skincare regimen every day is the best way to protect your pores.  Once they seem enlarged, see your dermatologist for treatment options. You can find a dermatologist trained by me at


Dr. Leslie Baumann, M.D. and her team at Baumann Cosmetic Dermatology believe in proof, not promises. World-recognized for both cosmetic and general dermatology, our treatment strategies rely exclusively on evidence-based, scientifically verified products and procedures that promote skin health and a natural appearance. We combine effective medical procedures with individualized instruction on proper skincare, nutrition, supplementation and lifestyle in order to maximize the health of the skin and body as a whole while minimizing the effects of aging. For more, visit Dr. Baumann’s blog for daily updates Monday through Friday, or inquire about an appointment through

January 11, 2017 Skincare