How To Shrink Your Facial Pores Naturally (A Derm’s Guide)
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Enlarged facial pores are a common skin problem faced by millions of people around the world. People have searched for ways to shrink pores naturally for decades. Unfortunately, there are no miracle creams that can actually shrink your pores, no cleansers that contain natural pore shrinker ingredients, and no creams to DIY shrink pores.
Pores are not made of muscle so there are no ways to shrink pores or tighten pores naturally or otherwise. However, many products on the market can help make them look less visible and give the appearance of shrinking your pores.
What are pores?
Pores are tiny openings in the skin which connect to hair follicles and sebaceous glands (1, 2). Hair follicles are where the hair grows from, and they are located in the fat layer of the skin (innermost layer) and dermis (middle layer of the skin).
Hairs extended through the dermis to emerge from the pore (opening) in the epidermis of the skin (top layer). Sebaceous glands, where oil or sebum is produced, reside in the dermis of the skin, attached to the hair follicle. Sebaceous glands secrete oil out through the pores and onto the surface of the skin.
What causes oil to be produced?
When the sebaceous glands, or oil glands, receive a special signal, they secrete oil through the pore and onto the skin (3, 4). This is a normal and necessary process. Oil serves not only to keep the skin moist, but it also lubricates and protects it from the harsh environment. You need oil to be produced to keep the skin functioning properly and to keep it healthy.
The problem arises when excess oil is produced which causes pores to enlarge leading to blackheads and acne. Blackheads form when excess oil and dead skin cells do not get removed from the skin.
They build up in your pores and cause the pores to swell/enlarge and become either blackheads (open comedones) or whiteheads (closed comedones). If bacteria get trapped in these comedones, this can lead to inflammatory acne bumps. If left untreated, these inflamed lesions can cause scarring and discoloration of the skin.
What causes pores to enlarge?
Enlarged pores can result from a variety of reasons (3, 4). Genetics plays a large role in the size of pores. Unfortunately, the genetically predetermined size of your pores cannot be changed. The genes that you inherit from your parents dictate your skin type. However, these enlarged pores can be made less visible.
Pores can also enlarge through hormones, age, sun, improper use of products, and poor hygiene. These can be controlled to some extent.
- Proper use of sunscreen and sun protection can keep pores from enlarging. Sun causes degradation of collagen and elastin. This leads to sagging of the skin which makes your pores look bigger.
- If you have oily skin, you must use oil-free, non-comedogenic products otherwise your skin’s oily condition will worsen. If you put more oil into already oily skin, this will just cause more oil to get stuck in your pores and enlarge them even more.
- Proper hygiene, consisting of washing your face twice a day and moisturizing twice a day, at a minimum, is also necessary. You need to wash your face twice a day to remove the dirt and oil that can clog pores and enlarge them. Twice daily moisturizer is a must. If you do not give your skin moisture, it will think it is dehydrated and produce extra oil, making your enlarged pores even larger.
Are there any products that can shrink pores or make them look less visible?
There are several ingredients you should look for when searching for products to help minimize the appearance of pores.
Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A, that were first discovered by a dermatologist, Dr. Kligman, decades ago (3-5). Since then retinoids have been nicknamed “the wrinkle cream”. However, they can benefit the skin in many other ways.
Retinoids have anti-aging benefits because they help rebuild collagen to minimize fine lines and wrinkles and fade dark spots. By revitalizing your collagen, it makes your skin sag less and makes your pores less visible.
Retinoids are a very effective acne treatment as well because they get rid of dead skin cells and decrease oil production, both of which lead to blackheads and acne formation. By getting rid of oil and debris, it cleanses out the pores and makes them look less visible.
Differin gel or Adapalene Gel by La Roche Posay are effective over-the-counter retinoids that help with unclogging pores, controlling oil production, and treating acne.
2. Glycolic acid
Glycolic acid (GA) is an alpha hydroxy acid, which helps decrease oil production, exfoliate dead skin cells, and smooth out fine lines and wrinkles (3, 4, 6). As your skin ages, the sloughing off dead skin cells slows down and they are allowed to buildup on your skin.
Not only does this clog your pores but it also gives your skin a dull, rough, and aged appearance. By exfoliating your skin, GA delivers anti-aging and pore minimizing benefits. Some people with sensitive skin may need to start out using it infrequently and at the lowest strengths available, then, after a period of time, they can build up to regular daily use at higher percentages.
Based on your preferences, you can find GA in various delivery systems, such as peels, cleansers, toners, creams, and lotions.
Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight Cream by Skinceuticals contains 10% GA to help exfoliate dead skin cells and decrease oil while reducing fine lines and wrinkles.
3. Salicylic acid
Salicylic acid (SA) is a beta hydroxy acid, which helps unclog pores and makes them look less visible (3, 4, 7). It does this by getting rid of dead skin cells and decreasing oil production. SA has anti-inflammatory properties, which usually makes it well tolerated and helpful for the treatment of acne.
However, some people with sensitive skin may need to start out using it infrequently until they can fully tolerate it. SA can be found as an ingredient in toners, cleansers, creams, or peels, so there is something for everyone.
Oxy Pads contain 2% SA. They help control oil production as well as treat acne.
4. Benzoyl peroxide
Benzoyl peroxide (BP) is one of the most popular acne treatments because it is very effective (3, 4). It also works by getting rid of dead skin cells, decreasing oil production, and killing the bacteria responsible for causing acne, P. acnes. It unclogs pores and cleans them out, and thus makes them appear smaller.
Sometimes BP can irritate the skin, especially for people with sensitive skin. Always start with the lowest strength possible and use it infrequently. You can always build up to higher strengths and more frequent use. Depending on what mode of delivery you would prefer, you can find BP in cleansers, creams, lotions, and spot treatments.
Panoxyl Wash is a 10% BP wash that is great for controlling oil and treating acne. It comes in a foaming or creamy wash.
5. Alcohol, such as isopropyl or denatured
These alcohols are great astringents used for controlling oil and reducing shine immediately (3, 4). Alcohol can also help other products penetrate better. However, you need to exercise caution. Alcohol can over-dry your skin which will lead to compensatory excess oil production.
People with sensitive skin will not likely be able to tolerate this product because it is too drying and irritating. These types of alcohols should not be confused with cetyl or stearyl alcohols, which are fatty alcohols that serve as emollients and do not dry out the skin.
La Roche Posay Effaclar Astringent Toner for Oily Skin combines denatured alcohol with salicylic acid and lipo-hydroxy acid to create a powerful astringent that cleans the skin, instantly controls oil and prevents acne.
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How to shrink pores naturally?
While there is no such thing as a natural pore shrinker, there are a variety of natural ingredients to look for when you are purchasing products. Here are some natural ingredients that can help to minimize pores naturally and make them less apparent.
1. Jojoba oil
Jojoba oil is one of the “good” oils, which will not clog your pores (3, 8, 9). In fact, this oil actually can help control oil production and decrease it. It also makes an excellent non-comedogenic moisturizer. In addition, jojoba oil also helps remove dead skin cells so they will not clog your pores and enlarge them.
As a bonus, it also contains the antioxidant vitamin E to protect your skin from free radical damage by the sun and thus prevent wrinkles. Its anti-inflammatory effects aid in the treatment of acne.
ZELEN Life Cleanser works well on all skin types. It is strong enough to control oily skin but gentle enough for sensitive skin. It contains jojoba oil, aloe vera, and sunflower oil in addition to other anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial ingredients.
The medicinal form of charcoal is activated charcoal, which has been specially treated to make it safe for human use (10, 11). Activated charcoal has long been used in hospital emergency rooms for the treatment of poisonings and overdoses because of its ability to attract the poison and remove it.
It is great at absorbing the oil in the same manner as it does poisons. It acts like a magnet to soak up the oils in your skin and give your skin a matte finish. By removing the oils, it makes your pores less visible. It also acts as an exfoliant to remove dead skin cells and clean out pores, which makes them less visible.
Boscia Detoxifying Black Charcoal Cleanser is a unique warming cleanser that contains charcoal to absorb oil as well as vitamin C to protect your collagen from destruction by the sun and artichoke leaf extract to calm and soothe inflamed skin.
Clay, which is similar to charcoal, is able to absorb enormous amounts of oil to leave your face shine-free (11, 12). It is also a gentle exfoliant, which removes dead skin cells. Bentonite and kaolin clays are great for all skin types including sensitive skin, while red clay is better for acne-prone and oily skin.
Skinceuticals Clarifying Clay Mask contains kaolin and bentonite clay to absorb excess oil and reduce shine, glycolic acid to exfoliate dead skin cells, and aloe to soothe the skin.
Cucumber is an amazing ingredient. It has so many uses. It is an astringent which removes excess oil, as well as an anti-inflammatory agent, anti-oxidant, and diuretic (3, 13-15). This ability to remove excess oil will keep your pores from filling with oil and enlarging and can also help to treat acne. Cucumber also helps lighten dark spots on the skin. Using cucumber will leave your skin feeling cool and refreshed.
Mario Badescu Cucumber Cleansing Lotion contains not only cucumbers to help your pores, but also exfoliants and isopropyl alcohol to really mattify your skin.
5. Witch hazel
Witch hazel is also a great astringent that controls oil production (3, 4, 16, 17). It also has some anti-inflammatory capabilities, making it less irritating than alcohol. However, just like alcohol, it is not good for people with sensitive skin. It can over-dry and irritate your skin. Also, excessive use can over-dry your skin and lead to excessive oil production to compensate.
Mario Badescu Witch Hazel and Rosewater Toner combines the astringent properties of witch hazel to cleanse the skin and remove oil from the pores, with soothing aloe and anti-oxidant rose oil.
6. Geranium and Lavender
This powerhouse duo is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory making them helpful in treating acne and keeping the skin clean and free of oil (3, 18-24). By regulating oil production, it prevents clogged pores and minimizes their appearance. These ingredients are even gentle enough for people with sensitive skin.
ZELEN Life Toner combines these 2 ingredients with honey, which is also an anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory agent that helps treat acne, in order to deliver shine-free skin as well as anti-aging benefits.
Are there any natural DIY remedies for enlarged pores?
While there are no home remedies to shrink pores, there are several different pore-minimizing home remedies that are thought to help decrease the size of enlarged pores and make them less noticeable. DIY products can be harmful if they are not prepared properly and have bacterial contamination. I always recommend using quality store-bought products that have been tested in OSHA-approved facilities.
1. Egg whites
It is believed that egg whites can shrink enlarged pores and tighten the skin (25). Eggs whites consist of mostly water and a little protein. There are no studies to validate the claim that egg whites shrink pores. Egg whites are a humectant that can bind and hold water in the skin to make the skin look plumper.
Properly hydrated skin may make the pores look less visible. Egg whites also have antibacterial effects against the bacteria causing acne, P. acnes, and they can also soak up excess oil. These properties give egg whites the ability to help with the treatment of acne and minimize the appearance of enlarged pores.
If you do try a DIY egg white mask, be careful not to ingest raw egg, as it could contain Salmonella and you could get food poisoning. Also, some people are allergic to eggs.
Papaya contains an enzyme called papain, which removes oil and dead skin cells and also has anti-microbial properties (26-29). This makes it effective at cleaning out pores to make them look less visible as well as helping to treat acne. It has also been used in the treatment of burn wounds because it can debride dead tissue.
Papaya has anti-inflammatory properties and has been used in the treatment of certain dental conditions. Care should be exercised if you have sensitive skin as this may irritate it.
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, which helps protect against UV-induced skin damage (30-31). It also has astringent properties to help minimize pores and remove oil. Caution should be exercised if you have sensitive skin, as this may irritate it.
4. Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera has long been used for its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties (3, 32-34). It has been used to treat burns and other wounds. Aloe also has the ability to balance pH and help hydrate skin, as well as astringent properties to help remove dirt and oil.
How can I prevent my pores from enlarging?
There are several steps you can take to prevent your pores from enlarging.
Sunscreen needs to be worn daily even on cloudy and rainy days and reapplied every 1-2 hours while you are outside. This includes sitting in the car or by a window since UV rays go through glass. Make sure you select a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has UVA and UVB protection with an SPF of about 50.
You also need to apply the correct amount otherwise you will not get the full protective benefits. It takes one ounce to cover your body and a nickel-size amount to cover your face, depending on your size.
- La Roche Posay Melt In Sunscreen Milk SPF 60 is always at the top of the list for best sunscreens. It is a chemical sunscreen so it takes 20 minutes after applying before you can safely go outside and get sun exposure.
- La Roche Posay Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 is a physical sunscreen that will protect you immediately upon application. It doesn’t contain chemicals, so it is gentler on sensitive skin.
Everyone needs to cleanse their skin twice a day to remove dirt and oil that accumulate over time. If you keep your face clean, dirt and oil will not fill your pores and they will not enlarge. You want to choose a cleanser with the right ingredients to decrease oil and unclog pores. Make sure to read labels and select ingredients from the list above.
- ZELEN Life Cleanser (ingredients listed above)
- Boscia Detoxifying Black Charcoal Cleanser (ingredients listed above)
I know it is counterintuitive to put moisturizer on oily skin, but it will only get oilier if you do not. When you do not moisturize your skin, your skin thinks it is dry and it secretes more oil. Just make sure you always use oil-free, non-comedogenic moisturizers.
Humectant moisturizers are usually better for oily skin than occlusives or emollients because they are not as greasy. It is also better to choose a gel or lotion moisturizer because they are lightweight compared to creams.
- La Roche Posay Hyalu B5 Serum With hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin without leaving it greasy.
- Skinceuticals B5 Gel also contains hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin.
Toners used to be just for oily or acne-prone skin, but now there are toners for every skin type. Toners are a great way to cleanse your skin to remove any dirt or makeup that remains after washing your face. They can also balance the pH of your skin and keep it slightly acidic.
If your skin’s pH gets too alkaline, your skin’s barrier will not function properly to keep moisture in and harmful microbes out. Once again it is important to read labels and select the correct ingredients from those listed above to help make your pores less visible.
- ZELEN Life Toner (ingredients listed above)
- Mario Badescu Witch Hazel and Rosewater Toner (ingredients listed above)
Masks are a great addition to your skin care regimen. They trap the highly concentrated ingredients on the skin and allow it to penetrate better so you can get better results. Look for any of the ingredients listed above, such as glycolic acid or clay, to help unclog pores.
- Skinceuticals Clarifying Clay Mask (ingredients listed above)
- Boscia Luminizing Black Mask with charcoal and vitamin C to clean and brighten the skin.
Depending on the strength and depth of the peel, these can be done periodically to freshen your complexion. They are excellent at removing dead skin cells and unclogging pores. They also have the added benefits of anti-aging effects. The most common ingredients in peels that can help minimize your pores are GA, SA, or retinoids.
- Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel contains papaya to clean the pores and exfoliate dead cells.
- Caudalie Masque Peeling Glycolique Peel contains glycolic acid to remove dead cells and smooth the skin.
Exfoliators are available in 2 types: chemical and physical. They both are great at getting rid of dead skin cells so they do not remain on your skin and clog your pores. Chemical exfoliators, such as GA, use enzymes to break up the bonds between the dead skin cells so they can be washed off. Physical exfoliators take the form of beads or brushes to physically remove the dead cells. Just be sure not to over-exfoliate and cause damage to your skin.
- Clarifying Exfoliating Cleanser by Skinceuticals have glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acids to remove dead skin cells and oil.
- Ultra Fine Face Scrub by La Roche Posay uses beads to help remove the dead skin cells.
8. Specialty creams
These can contain any of the ingredients listed above, such as retinoids or glycolic acid. These can be applied once or twice a day, depending on what ingredients they contain and what your skin will tolerate. They serve to remove oil and dead skin cells to minimize the appearance of the pores.
- Differin Gel contains retinoids.
- Adapalene Gel by La Roche Posay also contains retinoids.
Enlarged pores are a common problem that can be difficult to treat. While you cannot actually shrink the size of your pores, since they are genetically determined, you can minimize their appearance. Proper hygiene and proper use of quality products can keep your pores clean and less visible.
Whatever treatment regimen you choose, to be successful you need to have patience and you need to be consistent.
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