Is There Really a Way to Shrink Pores?
Despite what you've been told, it is possible, say the experts—with the correct treatment.
The topic has been debated for a while, but we now have a verdict: There really are ways to shrink your pores. Nothing you do, however, will permanently reduce your genetic pore size, says Dr. Kenneth Howe, MD, a dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in New York City. "Larger pores simply run in families," he says. "Those with thicker skin tend to have large pores. Large pores can be more of a guy thing, too, but that's not always the case. Pore size can be influenced by the presence of acne."
An excess of sebum (or oil) can also make pores look bigger, adds Dr. Robyn Gmyrek, MD, a dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City—which is why those with oilier skin types are often plagued by this issue: "Pores are openings to your hair follicles, and inside them is a sebaceous gland, which produces oil. If a lot of oil is produced, it will fill the pore and make it appear larger. Pores in the T-zone appear larger because they have bigger and more productive sebaceous glands." Other factors to consider, says Dr. Gmyrek, include your age (the collagen and elastic tissue in skin weakens and breaks down over time; this provides less support to the pore openings, making them large and slack) and immediate environment (smoking, environmental pollution, and ultraviolet rays accelerate the breakdown of collagen and elastin, and therefore, increase pore size prematurely).
Whether your large pores are a result of genetics, age, the environment, or all three, there are a variety of ways to remedy them. Ahead, you'll find a mix of in-office and at-home, product-based treatments to try—all approved by the experts.
Lasers produce the longest-lasting improvement, Dr. Howe says, and patients will see results for around a year. He likes the Fraxel Duo, as does Dr. Gmyrek, which uses light to create microscopic wounds in the skin. This stimulates a healing response, which creates new collagen and elastic tissue to tighten pores. Typically, you'll need three to five treatments, spaced three to six weeks apart, Dr. Howe notes. And you should allow anywhere from three to seven days of recovery time from redness and swelling, depending upon the intensity of the treatment.
A few words of caution: This laser is well-tolerated by those with lighter complexions, but if you have darker skin, consider the Aerolase Neo laser instead, adds Dr. Howe.
In-Office: Intense Pulsed Light Treatments
Intense Pulsed Light, or IPL, stimulates the creation of collagen and elastic tissue—and even "stuns" the sebaceous gland to decrease oil production. The results can last for a few months, Dr. Gmyrek says, and you'll probably need anywhere from two to four treatments, spaced a month or more apart, for the greatest possible efficacy. It takes about two to four weeks after each treatment to see results. This treatment is best for lighter skin types, but everyone can try IPL, she says.
Fractionated micro-needle radiofrequency devices—they work on any skin type or tone!—use small needles to penetrate the skin at different depths to deliver radiofrequency energy, Dr. Gmyrek explains. Micro-needling also tightens the skin by stimulating new collagen and elastic tissue. You'll need to go in for a few sessions (think three to five treatments, spaced about a month apart) to see a difference. As for side effects? Mild redness and swelling are fairly common and can last up to three days; some small needle marks may be visible, but they're usually coverable with makeup, she says. (And though you'll feel a small pinch, it's not as painful as it sounds!)
In-Office: Chemical Peels
Glycolic and salicylic acid peels remove dead skin and unclog pores, Dr. Gmyrek explains (and they've also been shown to stimulate new collagen and elastic tissue production). If you have oily skin, salicylic acid peels will be especially helpful, since salicylic acid is oil-soluble, meaning it can penetrate the sebaceous gland to decrease oil production (glycolic acid, on the other hand, is water-soluble, and cannot penetrate oil). "As long as you do not have broken, inflamed, or irritated skin, you should be able to tolerate some form of a light acid peel," Dr. Gmyrek says, noting that you will need to visit your dermatology office or licensed aesthetician every month for maintenance.
At Home: Retinols and Retinoids
Retinols and retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that exfoliate, decrease sebum production, and stimulate new collagen production, which, over time, tightens pores, Dr. Gmyrek explains. She recommends starting with Differen Gel ($12.89, target.com) because it's available over the counter (the majority of medical-grade retinols and retinoids are available only with a prescription!) and is FDA-approved, which means the ingredients are regulated.
Retinoids, however, can irritate your skin, so go slowly: Begin with a pea-sized amount no more than two nights per week, applied to cleansed and fully dried skin. "Pat your skin dry after cleansing and then let it air dry for a few minutes before applying Differin," she says. "Week by week, increase your usage to three times per week, four times per week, and so on. If it gets to the point where you can use Differin every night and you are still oily, then see a dermatologist to get a prescription retinoid."
At Home: Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids
Another option for oily skin? Try a cleanser or serum with beta hydroxy acid—that's salicylic acid—as it will eliminate oil and blackheads, Dr. Gmyrek advises. "It can also tighten pores by promoting collagen and elastin production," she says. If you don't have oily skin, opt for an alpha hydroxy acid, like lactic or glycolic acid. They have smaller molecular structures, which allow them to penetrate a bit deeper into the skin, Dr. Gmyrek says. "I really like SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream ($120, skinbetter.com)," she says. "It's a combination of retinol and lactic acid. The company has done studies that show it is effective and tolerated."
At Home: Mud Masks
According to Dr. Gmyrek, when used once a week, a good old mud mask with clay or charcoal can remove impurities and oil from the skin. "Natural muds have minerals like calcium and magnesium, which combat oxidative damage and improve cell functioning. And clay absorbs impurities and oils from the skin," she says. Just don't use a pure charcoal mask, she adds, as it can be too harsh. Fresh's Umbrian Clay Purifying Mask ($58, sephora.com) or Peter Thomas Roth's Irish Moor Mud Purifying Black Mask ($60, sephora.com) are both good options.
At Home: Sonic Cleansing Devices
Gently washing your face with a sonic cleansing tool like the Clarisonic's Mia Prima Sonic Facial Cleansing System ($99, ulta.com) can help refine pores by removing dead skin cells, Dr. Gmyrek says. Whichever pore-shrinking methods you choose, though, don't forget to wear SPF 30 daily, since all of these options (a more physical option, like the Clarisonic, included!) increase sun sensitivity. And one more tip from Dr. Gmyrek: "Do yourself a favor and get rid of the magnifying mirror—no one sees you magnified fifteen times in real life!"