Ah, pores: such an important part of our skin that we love to hate. Our pores keep our skin and hair moisturized by secreting sebum (oil), which is why those of us with oilier skin tend to see our pores as “bigger.” We can hide them with makeup, Instagram filters, and by airbrushing photos, but that’s given us the unfortunate belief that poreless skin = beautiful skin. Not only is that untrue, it’s not possible! So let’s give our pores some much-deserved love and debunk the myths so we can better understand them, learn to live with them, and hopefully stress out less in the process.
This is a myth, mainly because of an optical illusion! When you rinse your face with warm water or “steam open” your pores, they may appear more open, but that’s just because the surface skin cells over the pores have been cleared away or “melted.” It may also have something to do with how the skin absorbs water or steam; or, maybe it temporarily looks expanded from the heat. Whatever the cause, those pores aren’t open for business any more than usual. And contact with cold water or a compress might visually appear to “close” pores, but that’s just your skin tightening up a little from the cold!
Most of us want smaller pores, but in reality, we can’t really change the size of them. Pore size is genetic; you can't shrink them or make pores go away.
“It’s possible that certain topical treatments, like retinoids, can indirectly help with pore size… or at least their appearance,” says Allison Buckley, NP, a Curology provider. “The logic behind this ‘guesstimate’ is that retinoids like prescription tretinoin can increase cell turnover and help control acne breakouts.”
Some in-office dermatology treatments claim to reduce pore size, and this is only partially true. For example, lasers or intense pulsed light treatments may help reduce the appearance of large pores by building up collagen in skin around the pores, increase skin cell turnover, and help the skin be less oily. To maintain these results, however, it takes multiple treatments and then occasional maintenance treatments over time. It’s a significant investment, but these treatments can help with things like acne, sun spots, fine lines, acne scars, and skin tone, too, so consult with a cosmetic dermatologist near you if you’re interested.
Our pores are also hair follicles, so what you see when you over-analyze your face in a magnifying mirror might not be blackheads or clogged pores—just fine hairs or sebaceous filaments (the result when skin cells meet sebum).
"Sebaceous filaments are tough to clear, as they often come right back!” Buckley says. “That said, there are ingredients in some Curology medications that can allow them to be more easily removed, which gives the appearance of the pores being smaller."
Gentle exfoliation, glycolic acid and/or salicylic acid can help reduce sebaceous filaments (and clogged pores, for that matter) and make pores look clearer. Just try not to overdo it with pore strips, toners, or scrubs, all of which can irritate your skin.
Myth-busting aside, it’s not hopeless if you want to improve how your pores look or at least prevent them from looking bigger. Here are some pro tips:
Treat acne breakouts properly—do not pick or squeeze blackheads or pimples, which can leave scarring and make pores look larger.
Wear sunscreen every day. Sun exposure breaks down collagen, which is the support structure surrounding the pores. Wearing sunscreen everyday is a good idea anyway, but it can help keep pores from looking any larger in the long-run.
The important thing to take away is that it’s completely healthy to have visible pores. Our collagen production naturally slows down as we get older, so it’s typical for pores to appear a bit larger as the years go on. If you don’t like the way your skin looks, there are skincare and makeup products out there—from serums and creams to primers and foundations—that visibly blur the appearance of pores, so you can always experiment to get the look you’re going for. But as always, we encourage everyone to embrace their skin’s unique and natural quirks!
If you’re dealing with clogged pores, enlarged pores, acne, overly oily skin, or any other skin woes, sign up for a free trial of Curology to get checked out by one of our medical providers.
Your free trial bottle of Curology custom cream will be delivered to your door—you just pay $4.95 for shipping and handling—plus, you can try our non-comedogenic cleanser and moisturizer if you wish! Clean pores are happy pores, and whether big or small doesn’t really matter. Keep calm and remember: you’re probably the only one who notices them.
Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C