How to Shrink Pores: 3 Strategies

Katelyn Brenner FNP

Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Published 03/22/2021

Updated 03/23/2021

Ever looked in the mirror to find a dozen little holes staring rudely back? 

Large pores are a common skin complaint, and while they're not acne-level annoying, they can be a pain to have to look at.

Now a little disclaimer: You can't actually shrink your pores. But what you can do is minimize their appearance through proper management options. We'll be showing you how.

But before that, let's take a peek into those little holes to understand the impact pores have on your skin.

What Do Pores Do?

There's a reason the skin is the largest organ on the body — it helps to regulate temperature and makes sure you can feel sensations like hot and cold. The skin is also self-sufficient, as it plays a key role in maintaining its moisturized appearance. Helping to execute two out of three of these functions are the pores.

Pores are tiny depressions on the skin that ensure the input and output of gases or fluids.

They do this by providing an opening for the sweat glands, as well as sebaceous glands which help to produce oil that keeps the skin moisturized.

A little thing you may not know is that your sweat glands can't be seen with the naked eye, and are important for keeping the body temperature regularized. They do this by releasing water to the skin surface when the weather gets hot, or during physical activity — those tiny depressions help with that.

Your pores are mostly hereditary, which means the same way you can’t permanently change your eye color, the size of your pores also can’t be changed indefinitely. 

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What Causes Pores to Increase in Size?

With a whole sub-division of the cosmetics industry dedicated to this condition, enlarged pore sizes may very well be mistaken for a medical issue.

However, while it's no where close to being a health concern, enlarged pores may be a side effect of certain skin conditions. These include:

Increased sebum production

The amount of oil your body churns out could be the reason your pores are getting a little too big for their follicles.

Ethnicities with larger sebum output like African-Americans have been noted to have oily skin and larger pores. In comparison, Chinese women have been reported to have smaller pores and lower oil production.

People produce sebum at different rates, with men noted to have higher sebum levels due to testosterone, an androgen known to encourage the activities of sebaceous glands.

However, before you go looking for ways to stop your body's production of oil, you should know that your sebaceous glands are important for producing androgens, supporting the skin barrier and providing your body with immunity.

Enlarged hair follicles

The size of the hair follicle may be determined by the volume of the dermal papilla. For a quick flash back to biology class, the dermal papilla is located at the bottom of the hair follicle, and is important for hair formation and growth.

When there is an increase dermal papilla volume, this can cause hair follicles to widen. Hair follicles usually enlarge in response to androgen activities, a process regulated by the dermal papilla.

Decreased skin elasticity 

Wrinkles and fine lines may be common giveaways that you’ve been around the block for a minute — but enlarged pores may also stand in as signs of advanced age. 

As you get older, your skin loses its elasticity and some of that youthful spark. This is largely due to the the reduction of collagen, a protein responsible for the structure of the skin, as well as photodamage from enjoying many days out in the sun.

Older, photodamaged skin lacks important components that are needed for elasticity in both the skin layers and the pores. This can lead an increase in pore size.

Also, because acne is the blockage of skin pores with oil, dirt and bacteria (comedones), it is often linked with enlarged pores. Open comedones which break the skin i.e blackheads, are a known risk factor for enlarged pores.

How to Treat Enlarged Pores

If you really want to cut pores down to size, your treatment should focus on reducing oil production, rejuvenating the skin and reducing hair follicle size. You can achieve these using the following approaches:

Topical retinoids

Tretinoin, isotretinoin and tazarotene may not roll off the tongue so easily, but they are an easy choice when looking to minimize pore appearance.

Retinoids are big in the business of skin rejuvenation — they help to increase the production of collagen in the skin, and play a key role in the development of new skin cells. These features help to improve the youthful appearance of the skin. Retinoids also promote the protective abilities of the outer layer of the skin and reduce the excessive loss of moisture in the skin to the atmosphere (aka transepidermal water loss), which can increase the signs of aging on the skin.

These characteristics help to maintain skin structure, prevent sagging and can minimize the appearance of large skin pores.

The ability of retinoids to prevent the formation of comedones, as well as inflammatory processes that encourage the formation of acne, make chemicals like tretinoin and isotretinoin useful for managing acne, and by extension, enlarged pores.

Oral therapies

In addition to helping out with sexual functions, androgens like testosterone can encourage the production of sebum in the body — bad news if you aren’t too excited by large pores.

Anti-androgen medication like spironolactone, which is used primarily for managing high blood pressure, can help regulate sebum production in the body. This is made possible through the presence of androgen receptors in the sebaceous glands.

Because anti-androgens can help to manage oil production in the body, they may also be used in managing severe forms of acne.

Lasers and light therapy

When you think of effective skin care treatments, lasers and LED lights aren’t exactly the first things that come to mind. However, these measures have proven effective in improving the appearance of skin.

Lasers and phototherapy provide the skin with anti-aging benefits. They encourage the production of collagen which improves skin elasticity. They are also useful for decreasing sebum production.

But if you’re a little apprehensive about shooting lasers at your pores, studies have shown that lasers and light therapy have proven benefits in minimizing the appearance of pores. 

To prevent the appearance of large pores, measures like washing the face gently using warm water can prevent inflammation and skin irritation. These can lead to enlarged pores. Likewise, using products that won't clog your skin can help to manage pore appearance.

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The Bottom Line on Shrinking Pores

Enlarged pores aren't exactly everyone's favorite facial feature. This enlargement may be caused by a number of things: increased sebum production, enlarged follicles and aging skin being top causes.

To help with managing their appearance, retinoids, oral therapies like anti-androgen medication and light therapy may prove effective. But don't take our word for it — get the treatment most suited for your face after consulting with a dermatology practitioner.

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