Is it possible to shrink large pores?

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If you've ever looked at yourself too closely in the mirror, the large number of pores on your face may have stood out. The skin on the human face has thousands of pores, and sometimes they appear to be more prominent. You may have wished you could do something to shrink your pores, and chances are you've heard of various techniques to do so, such as washing your face in hot water.

Pores are small openings in your skin. Because pores can cause problems such as acne and oily skin, it can be hard to remember that they actually exist for a good reason. Hair follicles, sweat glands and oil glands end in pores. They provide a way for your body to flush out toxins, regulate temperature and moisturize dry skin. Without them, we wouldn't be able to sweat, and our bodies would overheat. However, excessive dirt and oil buildup can cause acne, and large pores can make your skin look older [source: American Academy of Dermatology].


It's important to know that you can't actually "shrink" your pores. They're nothing but small openings in the skin -- because they don't have muscles, they can't open or close. So although you can't physically change the structure of your pores by making them smaller, there are things that you can do to minimize their appearance.

Large pores are caused by a variety of factors, and if you know what they are, it can be easier to decide what treatment options will be helpful to you. There are also some makeup tips and tricks you can incorporate into your routine to make pores look smaller and less noticeable. Finally, there are some preventive measures you can take so you don't make the problem worse.

Read on to learn the main causes of large pores, and find out why your pore problems might get worse as you age.


What Causes Large Pores?

So what exactly causes large pores? Dermatologists have studied several factors, and there are three main causes: oily skin, age and sex [source: British Journal of Dermatology].

Our bodies produce sebum, an oily substance we secrete to make the skin waterproof and to keep it from drying out. People who have naturally oily skin tend to have larger pores. This happens because when oil and dirt collect in your skin, your skin swells and your pores look larger than they normally would. Some people may also associate large pores with severe acne, but this isn't always the case. Even though people with oily skin tend to be prone to acne, that doesn't mean acne is a secondary factor in the appearance of large pores. One reason for the misconception may be that small divots formed by acne scarring may look like enlarged pores.


Another contributing factor is age. As you get older your skin loses its elasticity, which can cause your pores to look bigger. Sun damage, which typically accumulates with age -- the older you are, the more you've been exposed to the sun -- also affects the appearance of pores. It makes your skin thicken, causing skin cells to collect around the edges of your pores, which stretch them out.

The third main factor is sex. In general, males tend to have larger pores than females. Women might experience enlarged pores more often during hormonal changes, however, particularly during menstruation.

Genetic predisposition may also be a contributing factor when it comes to pore size. If one or both of your parents have large pores, you might also have or eventually experience a similar condition.

Since several of the factors that contribute to larger pores can't be changed, you may be wondering whether you can do anything about them. Read on to learn how you can help create the illusion of smooth skin.


Treatments for Large Pores

Contrary to claims made by the labels on many creams, cosmetic products or skin treatment advertisements, large pores cannot actually shrink. That doesn't mean, however, that there is nothing you can do. The appearance of pores can be temporarily reduced, and there are several things you can do to avoid exacerbating the problem.

To reduce the appearance of large pores, start by keeping them clean. Use a gentle cleanser twice a day, but you should also use it after you sweat to prevent oil from building up. Just be careful not to scrub too much: When you over-wash, your skin responds as if it's dried out, so it produces more oil to compensate. That just makes your problem worse. For the same reason, be sure to not scrub your skin with a washcloth or other abrasive materials. Using an exfoliating cleanser once a week will also help, because it breaks down dead skin cells that clog pores and can give your skin a smoother appearance. Pore-minimizing creams contain ingredients that boost the skin's production of glycoaminoglycans, which help to firm the skin around pores, minimizing their appearance [source: Crawford].


Next, take some preventive steps to eliminate or avoid factors that contribute to the appearance of large pores. By applying a topical retinoid solution, you can not only reduce the appearance of large pores, but you can also dissolve bacteria that cause acne and treat sun damage at the same time -- two factors that contribute to pores looking larger than usual. And, of course, you should always use sunscreen to protect your skin and keep large pores from becoming worse [source: Villett].

You may be tempted to simply cover up your large pores with makeup. Before you do, read on to learn about choosing the best makeup for skin with large pores.


Best Makeup for Large Pores

If you're plagued with large pores, your instinct might be to try to cover them up with cosmetics, or you may go the opposite route and think makeup is something to avoid. But if you pick the right products and follow a few tips, you can wear makeup without making your large pores worse -- and you just might be able to make them appear smaller.

Start with an oil-free noncomedogenic moisturizer. Anything that's labeled noncomedogenic is specifically designed to not clog pores. Moisturizer helps to maintain your skin's elasticity and smooth out its appearance -- which helps to minimize the look of large pores [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Then use a pre-foundation skin primer. Skin primers help to even out your skin tone while absorbing oil so that it doesn't seep through your makeup [source: DocShop].


Next, use oil-free noncomedogenic makeup -- not just foundation and powder, but blush and eye shadow as well. Because these products don't clog pores, they can help keep them as clean as possible. It's also a good idea to use oil-free hair products, particularly if you have long hair or wear bangs, because when your hair comes in contact with your face your pores can absorb any product that's sitting on the hair shaft [source: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases].

Some manufacturers claim that mineral makeup -- a popular trend in cosmetics -- is better for skin with acne or large pores. While these products are made of the same basic ingredients as most other types of makeup, typically they're perfume-, preservative- or dye-free, which many dermatologists consider advantageous. Additionally, mineral makeup is noncomedogenic, so it's usually a safe bet for people with problematic skin [source: Bouchez].

For many, large pores are inevitable, but if you take care of your skin and follow the steps above, you can put your best face forward. For lots more information on additional ways to minimize the appearance of large pores, see the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Acne Awareness." Dermatology Insights. Fall 2000. (Sept. 8, 2009)
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Skin Care for People with Acne." (Sept. 9, 2009)
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Treating Acne in Skin of Color." (Sept. 9, 2009)
  • Bouchez, Collette. "The Lowdown on Mineral Makeup." WebMD. (Sept. 9, 2009)
  • Crawford, Holly. "Your Skin: Are You Doing Too Much or Too Little?" WebMD. (Sept. 8, 2009)
  • DocShop. "Large Pores." (Sept. 9, 2009)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Folliculitis Causes." (Sept. 9, 2009)
  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. "What Is Acne?" (Sept. 9, 2009)
  • Roh, M., Han, M., Kim, D., Chung, K. "Sebum output as a factor contributing to the size of facial pores." British Journal of Dermatology. 155(5):890-894, Nov. 2006. (Sept. 9, 2009);jsessionid=KyvTD4rYLYJVcdry04py3QpcK619Jxgf2NMzJTGmTh6H4D8hqhL6!-1910442030!181195629!8091!-1
  • Taylor S., F. Cook-Bolden, Z. Rahman and D. Strachan. "Acne vulgaris in skin of color." PubMed. (Sept. 8, 2009)
  • Villett, Michelle. "Face off: Can you really banish large pores?" Elle Canada. (Sept. 8, 2009)