People of all ages cite large pores as one of their top skin woes, to the point that the term “porexia” was born. A research study revealed that while over 53% of men never notice the size of pores on a woman’s face, more than one in ten women think about the size of their pores on their face seven-plus times a week — even while on a date. If that weren’t shocking enough, 23% would give up alcohol, and 17% would forgo social media for an entire year if it meant they’d have smaller pores. One of the driving forces behind the obsession to reduce pore size is the fear of looking older, so dermatologists, makeup artists, and estheticians often face challenging questions regarding enlarged pores.
While pores can be annoying, we’ve got five million of them (with approximately 20,000 on our face alone), and they have a purpose other than causing stress and anxiety. Pores play a vital role in letting our skin breathe and helping the body get rid of toxins. Our skin is made up of sweat pores and oil pores — which are actually hair follicles. Sweat glands are almost minuscule, so it’s the oil pores that typically become clogged.
Of course, large pores are more susceptible to becoming blocked. You may even be asking yourself why you’re still getting breakouts as an adult. Although fluctuating hormones could be to blame, there could also be some bad habits that are putting your large pores in jeopardy. Let’s take a closer look at the factors that cause large pores and the various treatment options to help minimize their appearance.
What Causes Large Pores?
For the most part, pore size is genetic, but another driving cause is high sebum (oil) production and decreased skin elasticity that comes with age due to collagen and elastin loss. There are also personal habits that can make large pores worse. For example:
- Picking and Digging: Picking at pimples spreads bacteria, which causes even more breakouts and blackheads to form. You’re also encouraging skin inflammation that considerably affects pore size for the long haul. While it may be a bad habit that’s hard to break, make a conscious effort to keep your hands off your face.
- Dirty Sheets: Research suggests the average person washes their sheets every 24 days. However, most experts agree that you should clean them every one to two weeks instead — every three-to-four days for pillowcases. Bedding is a breeding ground for dirt, oil, bacteria, dead skin, sweat, and pet dander. In short, your pores are only going to be as clean as your sheets. Invest in a few sets, so it’s easier to keep up with the cleaning and changing process.
- Touching Your Face: You need not be a picker or a digger to get clogged pores. Simply repetitively touching your face can have adverse effects, too. Unfortunately, studies show that we touch our face an average of 23 times per hour. That’s disconcerting considering all of the things we encounter throughout the day: door handles, public transportation, cash, sinks, the toilet flusher, elevator buttons, our phone, computer keys — the list is endless. Get into the habit of sanitizing your hands regularly, which should be a little bit easier thanks to the sanitation practices of COVID-19.
- Hormones: From teen years to menopause, our hormones fluctuate, which can affect pore size. When hormones spike (such as during ovulation), pores can become quite large, but they’ll go back to their regular size as hormone levels decrease. The rollercoaster of hormones during pregnancy or menopause can also cause pores to appear larger. Note that it’s not the actual pore size that’s changing; rather, the pore is sometimes dilated — more on that in a bit.
- Sun Exposure: Studies indicate that one of the leading causes of large pores is a decrease in elasticity due to collagen and elastin breakdown. The main culprit for these changes? Sun exposure. Collagen is the cornerstone of healthy, toned, and resilient skin. When we start to lose it (at a rate of 1% per year starting in our early 20s), the skin loses its tone, making pores appear larger — large pores are not just a teenage problem. The best solution is to wear a non-comedogenic (a formula that doesn’t clog pores) sunscreen that covers UVA and UVB rays daily.
- Your Cell Phone: Considering how connected we are to our mobile devices, are you ready for an unsettling statistic? According to Southern Phone, the typical mobile phone “is carrying over 25,000 bacteria per square inch. This is dirtier than a kitchen counter (showing 1,736 bacteria per square inch), your dog’s food dish (2,110 bacteria per square inch), and even the common doorknob — 8,643 bacteria per square inch.” To prevent clogged pores, opt to go the hands-free route or wipe down your screen once a day (at a minimum) with a disinfecting wipe.
- Lighting Up: Along with sun exposure, another cause of premature aging is smoking. Research suggests that smoking severely damages skin by weakening its elasticity and strength, leading to premature aging. The nicotine in cigarettes causes the blood vessels to constrict in the outer layers of the skin, which in turn impairs blood flow. Decreased blood flow means your skin isn’t getting as much oxygen or vital nutrients like vitamin A.
- Wearing Makeup While Working Out: Sweating is your body’s natural air conditioning system as it’s a way to cool down your skin when you become overheated. Wearing makeup while working out can cause clogged pores because sweat and bacteria are trapped underneath a layer of foundation. Makeup can also aggravate acne, so it’s best to go au naturale when you hit the gym.
Large Pores and Ethnicity
Be it large pores on the nose or the cheeks, our pores’ size is also linked to our ethnicity. Studies revealed that African Americans have substantially larger pores than East Asian, Caucasians, Indians, and Hispanics. Another study indicated that Asians had the smallest pores, compared to Caucasians, Africans, and Hispanics. An additional analysis disclosed that Chinese women had the lowest pore densities versus Indian, Caucasian, and Japanese women.
How to Get Rid of Large Pores
Before you go to YouTube for blackheads and large pores videos, you’ve got to understand fact versus fiction. Here’s the thing: You’re never really going to get rid of large pores, but you can minimize their appearance. It’s a myth that pores open and close. Pores dilate, much like a camera lens. While steam can help loosen dirt and oil inside the pores, it’s not actually making the pore open up. Another myth is that blackheads are composed of dirt, and that’s why you see black dots. What you’re really looking at is oxidized oil that’s possibly mixed in with a little dirt and dead skin too. Here are some of the best treatments and products for conquering large pores on the face.
Dermatological Treatments for Large Pores
- Ablative and Non-Ablative Fractional Laser Resurfacing: While there are copious laser treatments, these particular ones help exfoliate the skin, increase cell turnover, and stimulate collagen and elastin production, which in turn tighten the skin and makes pores appear smaller. Note that the difference between the two is that ablative lasers such as the carbon dioxide (CO2) laser, the erbium laser, and combination systems) target the top layer of skin by removing it, whereas non-ablative lasers safely heat the underlying layers to stimulate collagen growth. Keep in mind that non-ablative laser resurfacing is less invasive and requires less recovery time, but it’s not as effective as an ablative treatment.
- Microneedling: Another treatment that targets pores due to a loss of elasticity is microneedling. Also known as collagen induction therapy, this treatment involves creating microscopic holes in the skin to stimulate collagen synthesis to fill in fine lines and wrinkles. It’s conducted by a dermatologist who uses a microneedling pen (or a derma roller), both of which are outfitted with small needles that puncture the skin in the area(s) of concern. Microneedling isn’t a quick fix treatment. You’ll likely have to have at least three to six additional sessions.
- Chemical Peels: Chemical peels are aqueous solutions that are administered by a dermatologist or (medical) esthetician with the intent of reducing age spots and wrinkles, as well as minimizing pore size. They typically consist of various prescription-strength acids, such as salicylic, glycolic, or retinol, to remove dead surface layers of skin while cleaning the pores at the same time. There are various peel grades depending upon your goal and tolerance level — work with your skin professional to determine which is best for you.
The peeling process typically begins 48-72 hours after your treatment and can last anywhere from 2-5 days. It’s imperative not to pick at your skin as you can cause damage such as scarring. Regularly applying a gentle moisturizer is the best thing you can do to keep flakes at bay while protecting delicate skin. As with all treatments, you have to keep up with your peels if you want to maintain the results, so plan on getting a peel every month.
Skincare for Large Pores
When crafting a skincare routine to combat large pores, look for products that stimulate collagen synthesis, which means they can penetrate beneath the epidermis. Retinoids — synthetic forms of vitamin A — are favored in this case. By increasing cell turnover and decreasing oil and bacteria, retinoids can curtail pore dilation. Other exfoliating active ingredients to look for include alpha and beta hydroxy acids. Of course, you can’t forget the sunscreen or moisturizer — yes, even if your skin is oily, you still need to hydrate it. Otherwise, it will overcompensate for the dryness by producing even more oil — who needs that?
- REN Clearcalm Clarifying Clay Cleanser: Every skincare routine begins with a good cleanser. Those with large pores will appreciate this non-foaming formula composed of a kaolin clay base to draw out excess oil and impurities and treat blemishes without drying out the skin. The addition of willow bark extract helps to minimize pores.
- Perricone MD Exfoliating Pore Refiner: Exfoliating is vital if you want to keep pores clean and refined. This gentle scrub is made with Dr. Perricone’s patented Nrf2 Antioxidant Support Complex, which is specifically formulated to treat large pores and ward off free radicals and environmental aggressors — bonus points for evening out skin tone and banishing dullness.
- SECRETKEY Lemon D-Toc Peeling Gel : If your large pores are accompanied by acne, a scrub may not be the best choice to remove dead skin cells as it can aggravate the condition, so that’s where this refreshing peeling gel comes in handy. It encourages cell turnover and removes toxins from the pores while keeping the skin hydrated at the same time. To use, dispense an adequate amount of the peeling gel on clean, dry skin and gently massage it all over the face until residue forms — you’ll be able to see the dead skin cells come off before your very eyes.
- Dr. Brandt Skincare Pores No More Vacuum Cleaner Mask: As its name suggests, this mask is formulated to suck out dirt, oil, and other impurities like a vacuum, thanks to glycolic acid, vitamin A, zinc, and salicylic acid. Also, it feels refreshing on contact, absorbs excess oil, and minimizes the appearance of large pores.
- belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb: As mentioned, it’s still important to hydrate your skin even if it’s oily. The trick is to choose an oil-free formula, such as this light gel moisturizer that refreshes skin on contact while giving it a non-greasy surge of moisture at the same time. In addition, it minimizes pore size, evens out the skin tone, and works to neutralize free radicals, thanks to lady’s mantle and malachite.
- Thann Shiso Facial Sunscreen SPF 30: While you might shy away from sunscreen because you’re afraid it’s going to clog your pores, the same rule applies when choosing an SPF as with a moisturizer: go oil-free. This unique, fast-absorbing sunscreen from Thailand is formulated with shiso extract, white tea, extract, and polyphenols to protect against free radical damage and reduce skin irritation associated with sun exposure.
- Formulyst Clarifying AHA Cleanser: Formulated to gently cleanse and exfoliate the skin while removing dirt and makeup, this cleanser helps refine pores, control excess oil, and smooth away any surface-level roughness. It’s enriched with alpha-hydroxy acids and a complex blend of soothing citrus and botanical extracts to actively dissolve dead surface cells, draw out pore-clogging impurities, and remove excess oil.
- Caudalie Vinopure Pore Minimizing Serum : This potent serum is formulated with a high concentration of a natural salicylic acid to penetrate deeply and purify the pores. However, the unique aspect is the grape seed polyphenols that help prevent the oil in your pores from oxidizing, which gives that “blackhead” appearance.
- Dr. Jart+ Dermaclear Micro Milk Peel: Part chemical peel, part moisturizer, this dual-phase milk power peel harnesses the power of lactic acid to remove dead skin cells, purify pores, and hydrate the skin. Coconut water and dead sea salt provide additional antibacterial and disinfecting properties. It’s gentle enough to be used daily on cleansed skin; remove after one minute.
- Banila Co. Clean It Zero Cleanser: Fact: In some cases, you can fight oil with (non-comedogenic) oil to balance the complexion. This sherbet-like balm cleanser gently removes makeup and grime with little effort, and the solid oil formula makes it mess-free. Botanical extracts, including rosemary, chamomile, and hollyhock nourish the skin while removing excess sebum.
- MISSHA Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence: Not to be confused with a toner, an essence comes after the toning step, prepping your skin for the rest of your routine — and no, it doesn’t have to be a ten-step K beauty regime. Korean essences typically contain an active ingredient, and this best-selling essence contains 80 percent fermented yeast concentrated to brighten, clarify, and energize the skin while restoring its elasticity.
- Kanebo Suisai Beauty Clear Powder: This Japanese cult favorite is a water-activated enzyme powder cleanser and exfoliator that removes dead skin cells and oil, minimizing pores’ appearance. The box contains 32 individual treatments, so it’s great for travel or trips to the gym.
Makeup for Large Pores
You don’t want to undo all of your hard work by slathering on pore-clogging cosmetics. Look for non-comedogenic formulas that work with your large pores, not against them.
- DHC Velvet Skin Coat: The best primer for large pores minimizes their size while controlling oil and giving your makeup a little extra staying power. Dimethicone and organic olive oil are the driving forces behind this gel-based makeup primer that instantly creates a flawless complexion without clogging your pores.
- Gressa Minimalist Corrective Serum Foundation: The best foundation for large pores doesn’t have to be overly thick. This formula from Gressa is a cosmetic and skincare treatment in one. It provides lightweight, flawless coverage while delivering botanical nutrients to balance the skin and promote a radiant and clear complexion.
- innisfree No Sebum Powder: This loose finishing powder controls oil while keeping skin soft and hydrated all day long. The unique formula contains natural minerals and mint from Jeju (the third largest island off the Korean Peninsula coast) to balance and refresh your complexion while keeping makeup intact.
Pores play a vital role in letting our skin breathe and helping the body get rid of toxins. For the most part, pore size is genetic, but another driving cause is high sebum (oil) production and decreased skin elasticity that comes with age due to collagen and elastin loss. Personal habits such as smoking, not wearing sunscreen, picking and touching your face, hormones, dirty sheets, and your cell phone are also contributing factors. The size of our pores is also linked to our ethnicity.
While you’re never really going to get rid of large pores, you can minimize their appearance. There are dermatological treatments such as microneedling, chemical peels, and ablative and nonablative fractional laser resurfacing. Proper skincare also plays a vital role in pore health. Speak to a dermatologist or esthetician if you need help crafting the best regimen and treatment schedule for your skin.
“New Survey Results from the Brand Uncovers the Power of Pores,” PR Newswire, June 2014
“Facial Skin Pores: A Multiethnic Study,” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, February 2015.
“Ovulation: Parallels With Inflammatory Processes,” Oxford Academic, November 2018.
“The Dirty Truth: Our Mobile Phones are Crawling With Bacteria,” Southern Phone.
“Laser Resurfacing,” Mayo Clinic.