Updated 04/12/22. Everyone has pores, and it’s unrealistic (and unhealthy) to think completely poreless skin is possible. Trying to achieve that standard will only result in frustration, and worse, skin irritation. But with that being said, if you’re dealing with enlarged pores, there are things you can do to achieve a smoother-looking complexion.
First, though, we have to make an important distinction. Enlarged pores are pores that have been physically stretched out by excess oil production or the loss of collagen. You most certainly can shrink these back to their original size. Otherwise, if your pores aren’t enlarged, their size is genetically determined, which means it’s impossible to make them any smaller than they’re meant to be. In this case, you can only minimize their appearance—not their actual size. Got it?
Keep reading to learn short-term and long-term strategies to achieve a smoother, brighter, and younger-looking complexion.
What Causes Enlarged Pores?
Aside from genetics, there are certain factors that can cause pores to become enlarged.
- Excess oil production: Oil and sweat expand the pore walls, causing them to stretch out (athletes may tend to have larger pores for this reason). This is why large pores tend to appear on the nose and in the t-zone on your face.
- Hormonal changes: Pores usually become enlarged during the teen years, which happens due to hormonal changes that trigger oil production. Once excess oil is flowing through the pores and expanding the pore walls, it can be difficult to shrink them back to their original state (but not impossible—especially not if you follow my pores-minimizing advice!).
- Age: Pores will appear larger with age. This is due to the loss of elasticity and collagen that occurs naturally over time. Once we lose some of that natural cushion, pores sink deeper into the face and can look enlarged.
One thing I want to mention is that any pore-minimizing strategy is only effective if the pores are kept clean. As I mentioned, oil and sweat expand the pore walls. If there is hardened oil (sebum) stuck in the pore, it will keep the pore wall enlarged. Simply put, you can’t shrink enlarged pores if there’s something inside them that’s keeping them stretched out.
Short-Term Strategies to Minimize Pores
It’s important to remember that bringing enlarged pores back to their original state requires dedication and a long-term plan. In the meantime, though, these are the best products you can use to instantly make your pores appear smaller. Who doesn’t love instant gratification?
1. Use a Pore-Filling Product
While the long-term goal is obviously to keep pores clear and clean, using a pore-filling product before you apply your makeup is a quick and easy way to achieve a smoother-looking complexion. Benefit’s POREfessional is the best I’ve found for filling indents and openings and giving my skin an even texture. After applying my daily sunscreen, I use a thin layer of POREfessional all over my nose, my cheeks, and my chin. It creates a great canvas for my makeup and definitely improves the appearance of my skin.
2. Use a Makeup Primer
Most makeup primers work a little differently than POREfessional. They aren’t designed to actually fill the pores. Instead, most of them create a barrier between your skin and your makeup so that foundation can’t settle into pores, making them appear larger.
The benefit of using a primer before applying your makeup is that it has a blurring effect, which can help soften the look of large pores to make them less noticeable. I like the Dr. Brandt Pores No More Pore Refiner Primer. Aside from the blurring effect, it absorbs excess oil, which also helps minimize the look of large pores.
Personally, I love the Daily Mattifying Solution. It’s technically a moisturizer, but it also works as a primer. The lightweight gel formula is mattifying (as the name implies) and helps reduce excess oil, which can be helpful in fixing stretched-out pores.
3. Use a Facial Scrub
Facial scrubs are less popular these days. They have a bad rap thanks to harsh, granular scrubs that were used in the past. However, I absolutely believe a gentle facial scrub should be a staple in everyone’s skincare routine. It’s one of the easiest ways to make pores look smaller.
I like to use an analogy for exfoliation to explain this. Imagine gently sanding down a piece of wood to smooth it out. By removing the very top layer of the wood, you’re giving it a smoother appearance without affecting its structural integrity. There are fewer bumps and indentations in the wood, so it looks more uniform. Exfoliating does the same thing for your skin. By removing dead and dry cells that sit on top of your skin, you’re reducing the distance between indentations and the surface, making pores appear less noticeable.
Just be sure to use a gentle facial scrub to avoid scratching the skin and causing irritation. I use the Mint Buffing Beads. I formulated this product with natural, rounded jojoba beads that roll across the surface of the skin, smoothing and polishing it.
4. Use Exfoliating Acids
Exfoliating acids can instantly minimize the appearance of pores since they offer the same smoothing effect as facial scrubs. They work a little differently, though. Chemical exfoliants work on a deeper level by lowering the pH of your skin, which dissolves the “glue” that holds dead skin cells together. This evens out the surface of your skin and makes indents less noticeable.
Long-Term Strategies to Minimize Pores
These long-term fixes for enlarged pores take time, patience, and dedication. It’s definitely a marathon, not a sprint! But if you can truly commit to these strategies, you’ll be rewarded with smaller-looking pores and smoother-looking skin.
1. Keep Pores Clean
When sweat and oil harden and build up inside your pores, they create a physical blockage that actually stretches out the walls of your pores. That’s why keeping your pores clean is the first step in shrinking enlarged pores back to their original state. There are two main ways to do this—extractions and exfoliating acids.
Extractions refer to manually removing oil and debris from your pores. If you have access and it’s in your budget, getting extractions from a licensed esthetician as part of a pore-cleansing facial is great. If this isn’t an option for you, don’t worry! You can go the DIY route and perform your own extractions.
Exfoliating acids are also important (yes, they can instantly make pores appear smaller, but using them long-term is what makes them really effective). One of the best exfoliating acids to use in this case is salicylic acid. Most exfoliating acids are water-soluble, but salicylic acid is oil-soluble. This means it can actually penetrate into the pore lining and break down oil and debris. I recommend using a salicylic acid serum like the Pore + Wrinkle Perfecting Serum a few times a week.
4. Use Retinol or Retinoids
Retinol is without a doubt one of the best ingredients you can use to minimize the appearance of large pores. Whether it’s a prescription retinoid or over-the-counter retinol, it’s a game-changer. Its effect has been studied and proven time and time again (for example, there’s this study about retinoids and skin aging).
I can speak to this from personal experience and from observing my clients over the past 30+ years. As I mentioned, pores usually become enlarged with age. I have been faithfully using retinol for the last 10 years (I got a late start) along with doing retinoid peels, and I can honestly say my pores look so much smaller now than when I was younger (Take THAT, genetics)!
If you’re new to retinol but want to start reaping all of its benefits, get started with my beginner’s guide to retinol and retinoids.
5. Get a Peel
There are two types of peels that can minimize the appearance of pores and/or bring enlarged ones back to their original state.
Professional Chemical Peel
I’ve already talked about the importance of using exfoliating acids in your routine, but if you’re serious about your pores, consider a professional chemical peel. Professional peels give more dramatic results by using higher percentages of exfoliating acids to re-texturize the skin. Because these peels tend to be pretty potent, it’s important to get them from licensed skincare professionals.
Make sure to get a consultation beforehand. There are many different types and strengths of peels and your provider should evaluate your skin carefully to determine which will be the best fit. I recommend getting a professional peel anywhere from four to eight times a year.
DIY Retinoid Peel
While some spas do offer this service, this is actually a great DIY option if you have access to a prescription retinoid! For regular use, you should only use a pea-size amount of a retinoid product to avoid dryness and irritation. But if you want more dramatic results, you can perform an at-home retinoid peel. This is best done over a long weekend or when you know you don’t have anything important coming up in the next few days. To do a retinoid peel, you simply apply the product with a heavier hand than you normally would (roughly a dime-sized amount).
6. Try Microneedling
If enlarged pores are a big concern for you, microneedling is another professional treatment you can consider. This should be done at a cosmetic dermatologist’s office.
Microneedling works by causing micro-wounds to the skin. Because the wounds are so superficial, they don’t cause lasting damage, but they do trigger the skin’s natural healing response. This boosts collagen production. Over time, this helps plump out the appearance of indentations, including enlarged pores. Once again, be sure to consult with a trusted skincare professional.
There you go. Whether it’s temporarily making pores look smaller by using a quick scrub and a primer or minimizing their appearance in the long-term by using retinol regularly, you can definitely make improvements if you commit!
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Her hands-on experience as an esthetician and trusted skin care expert has created a real-world solution — products that are formulated for nine different types of skin so your face will get exactly what it needs to look and feel its best. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”