In my 30 years as an esthetician, the thing I’ve been asked most is how to shrink pores. Most everyone wants smaller pores—and for good reason! Small pores make the skin look smoother, brighter and younger.
Before we get started, let’s clear something up: despite what you may have heard, you absolutely can change the size of your pores. I’ve seen this with my very own eyes and know it to be true. While this is easier said than done, there are plenty of short and long-term strategies you can use to achieve smaller-looking pores. Read on!
What Causes Large Pores?
First, let’s start with some facts about pores:
- The size of your pores is genetically determined. Those with fairer skin generally have smaller pores than those with deeper skin tones. This is because fairer skin tends to produce less oil.
- Those with oilier skin (another genetic trait) will have larger pores. 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.
- Pores start to get enlarged during the teen years. This happens because of hormonal changes that trigger oil production. Once more oil is flowing through the pores, they don’t tend to shrink after that (unless of course, you follow my pores-shrinking advice!).
- Pores will appear larger with age. This is due to loss of elasticity and collagen. Once we lose some of the natural cushion in the skin, pores sink deeper into the face and start to look more enlarged.
- Any pore-shrinking strategy is only effective if pores are kept clean. As I mentioned, oil and sweat expand the walls of the pores. If there is hardened oil (sebum) stuck in the pore, it will keep the pore wall enlarged. Simply put, your pores can’t shrink if there’s something inside them keeping them stretched out.
Short-Term Strategies to Instantly Shrink Pores
It’s important to remember that actually shrinking your pores requires dedication and a long-term plan. In the meantime, though, these are the best products you can use to instantly make your pores look smaller. Because who doesn’t love instant gratification?
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. Since I’m someone who does have enlarged pores (I’m a skin type #2), I’m constantly on the lookout for something to make them look smaller. 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, on my cheeks and on my chin. It creates a great canvas for my foundation makeup and definitely improves the appearance of my skin.
Use Makeup Primers
Most makeup primers work a little differently than POREfessional because they aren’t designed to actually fill the pores. In fact, a lot of them work to create a barrier between your skin and your makeup so that foundation doesn’t settle into pores. 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 helps minimize the look of large pores. I will use POREfessional in my t-zone and then use a thin layer of this primer all over my face.
Use a Facial Scrub
Although they are less popular these days and have gotten a bad rap from some, I absolutely believe a facial scrub should be a staple in everyone’s skincare routine (read why in this post). Using a facial scrub is one of the easiest ways to make pores instantly look smaller, and here’s why: imagine sanding down a piece of wood to smooth out indentations. This is a good analogy for exfoliation because by using sandpaper to remove the very top layers of the wood, you would be giving it a smoother appearance overall. When you exfoliate your skin, it’s the same concept. By removing that top layer of skin, you reduce the distance between indentations and the surface of your skin, making pores appear less noticeable. Of course, you’ll want to use something much gentler than sandpaper on your face.
Use an Exfoliating Acid with Pore-Clearing Benefits
Exfoliating acids can instantly shrink the appearance of pores by having the same kind of “sanding” 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 keeps dead skin cells attached. This evens out the surface of your skin and makes indents less noticeable.
Long-Term Strategies to Shrink Pores
These long-term fixes for big pores take 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 pores and smoother skin.
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. None of the strategies you use to shrink your pores will be effective if you don’t try to keep your pores clean. There are two main ways to do this:
An extraction refers 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 still shrink your pores going the DIY route by doing your own extractions.
I’ve mentioned this twice now, and for good reason. While a hit of exfoliating acids can instantly make your pores look smaller, using them faithfully in the long-term is an important step if you want to actually shrink your pores. One of the best ingredients to look for is BHA, also known as salicylic acid. While most exfoliating acids are only water-soluble, BHA is oil-soluble. This means it can actually penetrate into the pore lining to break down oil and debris. Use a leave-on product with salicylic acid like BHA Clarifying Serum or Pore + Wrinkle Perfecting Serum a few times a week to keep pores clear.
Use Retinol or Retinoids (Vitamin A)
Without a doubt, retinol is the best product you can use to shrink large pores. Whether you use a prescription retinoid or an over the counter retinol, vitamin A is a game-changer and will absolutely make your pores smaller over time. This has been studied and proven for years (read this study about retinoids in the treatment of skin aging). I can also speak to this from both personal experience and from observing my clients over the past 30 years. While pores usually become enlarged with age, I have been faithfully using retinol for the last 8 years (I got a late start) along with doing retinoid peels, and I can honestly say my pores are so much smaller now than they were when I was younger. I come from a large-pored family and by far, mine are much smaller than the rest. (Take THAT, genetics!) If you’ve never used retinol before, I definitely recommend starting with an over the counter product like Advanced Resurfacing Serum and slowly working your way up to prescription-strength retinoids.
Pro Tip: If you’d like to start using a prescription-strength retinoid but can’t make it to a dermatologist, check out Dear Brightly. This company offers online consultations with a doctor who can prescribe a retinoid-based on your needs and skin type. (I heard about them from Fat Mascara podcast but I don’t have personal experience with them.)
If you’re new to retinol but want to start reaping all of its amazing benefits, get started NOW with this Beginner’s Guide to Retinol and Retinoids.
Get a Peel
There are two types of peel that can help shrink pores over time:
Professional Chemical Peel
I’ve already talked about the importance of using an exfoliating acid in your at-home routine, but if you’re serious about shrinking your pores, consider a professional chemical peel. Professional peels kick things up a notch and give more dramatic results by using higher percentages of exfoliating acids to really re-texturize the skin. Because these peels tend to be pretty potent, it’s important to get them only from a licensed skin care professional you trust. You’ll also want to have a consultation beforehand. There are many different types and strengths of acid 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.
While some spas do offer this service, this is actually a great DIY option for shrinking pores if you have access to a prescription retinoid. (Like, maybe one that you get a prescription for and didn’t follow through with using it very often due to the drying effects.) Typically for regular use, you should only use a pea-sized amount of your retinoid product to avoid dryness and irritation. But if you want more dramatic results, you can do a retinoid peel at home. This is best done over a long weekend or when you know you don’t have anything coming up 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).
If enlarged pores are a big concern for you and you haven’t had luck with other treatments, microneedling is another professional treatment you can try. 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 any lasting damage, but they do trigger your skin’s natural healing response, which includes the production of collagen. Over time, this helps plump out indentations like acne scars or big pores. Once again, be sure to consult with a trusted skin care professional to determine whether microneedling would be a good strategy for shrinking your pores.
So there you go. Whether it’s temporarily making pores look smaller by using a quick scrub and a primer or changing their size long-term by using vitamin A regularly, you can definitely make some improvements if you really commit! For me, keeping my pores small is a top priority for keeping my skin looking smooth!
Read: Skin looking dull? Here’s how to make your skin look brighter.
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. 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.”