We don’t know if it’s the Korean glass-skin trend, Dr. Pimple Popper, or ever-improving cameras and TVs, but these days, people seem fully obsessed with their pores—cleaning them out, and making them vanish
Pores are little openings in the skin that let substances out of the body—sweat pores allow sweat to evaporate and oil pores release dead cells and sebum. Their size is basically genetically determined, so it’s not really possible to shrink your pores, still less make them disappear. Nor would you want to. Pores release oil onto the surface of the skin to keep it protected, helping maintain moisture levels.
“When skin doesn't get enough moisture, it gets dry, chapped, flaky and cracked,” explains Collective Skin Care owner Kathryn Sawers. “People who suffer from very dry skin may have nearly invisible pores, but they have to deal with the discomfort of dry skin issues—not to mention getting more fine lines and wrinkles than their oily skin counterparts. So having larger, more visible pores isn't really such a bad thing after all, and thankfully there are some things you can do to manage them.”
Aside from genes, pores can become enlarged due to oiliness and clogged with sebum and dead cells. “Clogged pores happen when the rate of oil secretion and dead skin shedding is greater than what can flow out of the pore,” explains Dana Rook, senior brand manager for Bioré. “Inflammation can intensify this issue, making the clog worse. Further, the arrival of bacteria can result in an acne breakout.”
Pores tend to become more visible as we age because skin gets less firm. Béatrice Tymen, scientific director for Canadian brand Reversa, says that hormonal changes like puberty/menopause, environmental factors, ineffective or excessive cleansing, an unhealthy diet, and summer weather can also make the pores look larger. That means a pore-friendly skincare regimen could contain cleanser, exfoliant, masks and sunscreen.
“Astringents and facial masks can tighten and refine pores, however, this is not a lasting or permanent effect,” says Rook. “Exfoliating products with micro-crystals or microdermabrasion work to smooth away the outer layer of skin. The pore opening is usually largest at the outer layer, so with that removed, what is left behind is a more narrow and less apparent pore opening.” She also advocates keeping the pore clogs at bay with a weekly pore strip.
There are some particular ingredients Tymen recommends. “Retinoids encourage skin cell turnover and prevent the buildup of dead skin cells in pores. They also stimulate collagen synthesis to reduce skin sagging and the appearance of pores,” she says. “Salicylic acid has the ability to penetrate the oil that’s clogging the pores. It exfoliates the surface of skin and will also do the same inside the pores. And glycolic acid exfoliates dead cells that accumulate on the epidermis and also stimulates collagen synthesis.”
In terms of professional treatments, Tymen and Sawers agree that anything that boosts the skin’s renewal process is helpful, including microneedling and laser. Sawers also suggests using treatments that contain vitamin C, and professional chemical peels combined with gentle extractions. “I’ve also noticed the collagen and elastin synthesis that results from microcurrent treatments can help refine pores,” she says.
Ultimately, Sawers says, getting pore paranoia does no one any good. “I think unfortunately we can all have a tendency to be overly critical of ourselves, and using a magnifying mirror doesn't help the situation either,” she says. The message? Do what we can to have healthy and beautiful skin, and be thankful for the little (or not so little) pores that keep it that way.
Here are seven products that may help improve the appearance of your pores...
1. CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser
Suitable for all skin types, including sensitive, this cleanser has salicylic acid to exfoliate, plus repairing niacinamide and ceramides, as well as hydrating hyaluronic acid. It’s gentle enough for every day, and you can even use it on the body if you tend to get clogged pores or acne there.
$15.99, London Drugs
2. L’Occitane Radiance Scrub
For those who prefer a ‘scrubbier’ exfoliation, there’s this, which contains fruit powder to slough away dead skin cells, plus pomelo extract, which is rich in vitamin C and AHAs. Use once or twice a week.
3. Midnight Paloma Detox Mask
This mask contains oil-absorbing white clay and charcoal, as well as soothing oats and rose petals. Mix it with water if you have normal skin, honey, if your complexion is drier, and yogurt if you tend to be oily or breakout prone—the lactic acid in the yogurt helps to dissolve dead cells and make pores look smaller. Use once or twice a week.
$18, for a limited time, you can get a free three-pack of masks and application brush (click here for your trial
4. Bioré Ultra Deep Cleansing Pore Strips
Utterly gross and delightfully satisfying! Apply to your nose and dampen, then leave for 10 to 15 minutes. Pull off and you will see all your little blackheads stuck to the strip. This extra-strength version of the classic Bioré product has menthol, witch hazel and tea tree oil—the brand says they’ll pull out twice as much deep-down dirt as the OG strips. Use once a week.
$14.99, London Drugs
5. Reversa Radiance Cream SPF30 with 4% Glycolic Acid
This light cream protects against UVA and UVB rays and contains glycolic acid to exfoliate and stimulate collagen production. It’s also good for people who have hyperpigmentation or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (dark spots caused by acne scarring).
6. Dermalogica Overnight Retinol Repair
As well as retinol, this product has many of the experts’ favourite anti-agers, including peptides and vitamin C, plus ceramides and polysaccharides for hydration. Because retinol can be harsh on skin that’s not accustomed to it, the brand recommends mixing it with the included Buffer Cream at first, and thereafter applying it before or mixed into moisturizer.
$125, Collective Skin Care
7. Laline Face Thermal Mask
Self-heating masks like this one contain ingredients that react with the water on your skin’s surface and cause a chemical reaction that produces heat. This can help melt hardened clogs of sebum, and also boosts circulation so that other ingredients can be absorbed more easily. This twice-weekly wonder has anti-aging vitamins A and E, plus chamomile to soothe skin.