Can You Actually Shrink Your Pores? An Expert Weighs In
Poreless ≠ perfect.
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Thanks to airbrushing, face filters, and overall unrealistic beauty standards, we've somehow been taught that having visible pores is bad. Heck, even Charlotte York in Sex and the City admitted to studying her pores in a magnifying mirror for an hour each night—and we can sadly relate. Old wives' tales have told us that a healthy splash of ice-cold water after cleansing might help reduce them or even—dare we say—shrink them for good. Plus, tons of products on the market claim to do everything from shrinking pore size to nearly eliminating pores completely.
But can you actually shrink or erase your pores? In short, no—and they're an integral part of your skin's barrier, so you do need them. But don't just take our word for it. We talked to Diane Madfes, M.D., FAAD, a certified dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, to get the scoop on what pores are, how they work, and if it's possible to shrink them temporarily. You can put down the magnifying mirror.
What are pores?
The word "pore" literally means "a minute opening in a surface." So, if your skin is the surface, your pores are those small openings in the very top layer that release sebum (your body's natural oils) to keep the skin barrier healthy and moisturized. Each pore contains its own tiny sebaceous oil gland and is also connected to a hair follicle, though it may or may not visibly grow hair. Studies show that the average adult has five million pores on their body, with about 200,000 of them on the face, so we're therefore fixating on a relatively tiny amount of them.
What causes big pores?
Certain pores may be more noticeable where the sebaceous glands are naturally a bit bigger (most commonly on your forehead or nose), but generally, Dr. Madfes tells us that genetics determine our pore size and appearance. However, our pore size may look different due to blemishes and acne, which can permanently stretch them out and make them look bigger than they really are. Additionally, Dr. Madfes tells us that people who experience increased production of sebum (aka those with oily skin) may notice larger pores simply because their oil glands are naturally bigger. The accumulation of sebum, dead skin cells, and oils may also temporarily cause pores to appear enlarged.
Aging is another factor that contributes to pore size. Dr. Madfes says that as we age our cellular turnover slows, cellular debris collects more easily, and pore openings enlarge. "The supporting structures around pores—namely, collagen and elastin—weaken with time and UV exposure," she says. Because of this, always wear SPF to keep your pores healthy.
Can you shrink your pores?
"It's not possible to permanently shrink pores, as the glands live in the lower part of the dermis," says Dr. Madfes. According to her, we need the glands for oil production to maintain our epidermal barrier and prevent water loss. Plus, we now know that pore size is genetic, so your current healthy pore size is something you're born with.
What are some ways you can diminish the look of pores?
Okay, so you can't permanently shrink your pores, but you can do a lot to reduce the size of their appearance. You won't be changing the natural makeup of your skin, but you can keep your pores clean, improve skin cell turnover, and camouflage the look of them. To do this, Dr. Madfes recommends choosing good exfoliating products that contain acids (such as salicylic, glycolic, and mandelic) as these will loosen any dead skin cells that can clog or block pores.
She also tells us that products with clay or charcoal bases can work to absorb some of the oils within pores, which can help make them appear smaller.
Finally, aside from in-office procedures like chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and microneedling (which may stimulate supporting collagen around the pores), you can always use a pore-minimizing primer. These usually contain silicone, which temporarily fills in the pores without clogging them, effectively smoothing out your skin's surface and blurring the look of any visible pores.
"Remember: There is no permanent way to shrink the pores, but sun protection, exfoliation, cleansing every night, and retinol will keep them looking healthy and small," says Dr. Madfes.