Refinery29 - Your No-BS Guide To Minimizing Large Pores

Posted by Ashley Magovern, MD on

Erika Stadler

For as many pores as we have covering our bodies — about 5 million, on average — most of us remain utterly clueless about how they work. There is the widely-held myth that pores can somehow open and close (they do not, though they can stretch to accommodate oil, makeup, and dirt), and the even more erroneous belief that a million "poreless" skin products have banked on us believing: that somehow, pores, which are really just the openings at the very top of each individual hair follicle, can be shrunk.
Impossible, yes, but it's just the thing nearly half of women dream of. According to a Harris Poll conducted on behalf of L'Oréal Paris, 47% say they’d would give up something — including alcohol and social media — in exchange for smaller pores. After all, who needs Facetune when you’ve got freakishly smooth skin?
But back to reality: Though swapping Instagram access for robotic skin isn’t in the cards (yet), there are things we can do to make pores appear less pronounced. Since pore size can grow with age, genetics, a surge in the skin’s oil production, the development of thicker skin, and sun damage, there are several different angles from which we can work to make them look smaller, cleaner, and otherwise less noticeable. Ahead, find tips from three dermatologists on how to close the gap on big pores, both in the doctor’s office and from the comfort of your own magnifying mirror. 
Looking to bring out the big guns calibrated to minimize pore size — andhave some money to burn? In-office treatments aimed at stimulating collagen and tightening skin can provide pore-tightening results that last months or longer. “As you age, the skin around each pore is not as firm and supportive,” says dermatologist Sejal Shah, MD. “Looser, inelastic skin makes the pore appear larger. Laser treatments helps stimulate collagen and tighten the skin around the pore, making it appear smaller.”

It seems like there are about as many lasers to choose from as there are pores in our T-zone; Shah suggests a series of three to six sessions of Clear and Brilliant (about $400-$600 per treatment) or Pico Genesis (about $500-$800 per treatment) as good beginner options. For those looking for something more robust, dermatologist Ashley Magovern, MD likes a single or double Halo treatment (about $1,500 a pop), which remodels the skin, giving it “more ‘cushion’ around the pores, which makes them less noticeable,” she says. The treatment resurfaces about 30% of the skin (vs. about 5% for Clear and Brilliant) for "a smoother, brighter platform that reflects light and obscures the appearance of the pores," among other benefits, Dr. Magovern says.
Microneedling, which creates injury to the skin by poking it with a cluster of tiny needles in order to jumpstart collagen production, sounds positively medieval. But the treatment is hugely popular in dermatology offices because it generates a healthy-looking complexion at about half the cost of laser work.

Along with brightening and tightening the skin, reducing fine lines, and improving acne scars, part of the treatment's allure is in what it does for pore size. “The collagen stimulation allows for strengthening of the structure of the skin, leading to healthier, firmer skin," says Dr. Magovern. "Firmer skin around the pore can reduce its appearance because the pore is squished like it was when we were younger. How great is that?”

As for the pain factor, the treatment can feel as harmless as fingernails dragged across the skin, if numbing cream is used and/or the practitioner doesn't go for an aggressive depth. For optimal results, the derm suggests a series four-to-six sessions, which, at about 15 minutes each, can be done on a lunch break. Afterward, skin may be pink and a little swollen for about 48 hours, Dr. Magovern notes, while the new collagen — and glow-y skin and tighter pores — takes three months to kick in.
The name “chemical peel” itself can be scary enough to draw a reactive "no thanks," but the treatment, performed by dermatologists and estheticians, is really just a stepped-up version of the kind of skin care that many of us already do at home.

Tapping ingredients like glycolic and salicylic acid, chemical peels dissolve and remove dead skin cells, dirt, and oil that have taken up residence in our pores and stretched them out in the process. “They can also help stimulate collagen production so the pores don’t sag open as much,” says dermatologist Jessica Wu, MD. “Deeper peels such as TCA peels can actually peel off surface layers of skin, so the new skin heals in more smoothly.”

More gentle peels (like glycolic), often performed by estheticians as part of a facial, can be done as frequently as once a month, whereas stronger peels can be done quarterly (salicylic and lactic) and yearly (TCA or trichloroacetic). What’s more, a peel is often one of the most affordable pore-shrinkers on the menu in esthetician and derm offices: Prices range from about $100 to $950, depending on the intensity of the peel and whether it’s being administered by a facialist, registered nurse, or doctor.
No matter how much time or money you throw at fancy in-office treatments, you can’t maintain pore-tightening benefits without targeted at-home skin care. According to our pros, that means keeping skin clean and pores clear. “If enlarged pores are linked to excess oil production and debris, then proper cleansing and skin-care products can be effective,” says Dr. Shah. Her Rx? “Cleanse twice a day and don’t sleep with makeup on.”

Dr. Shah suggests double cleansing, first with an oil-based cleanser, then a water-soluble one, and using a gentle, non-comedogenic formula. Dr. Wu also notes that those with dry skin run the risk of magnifying pores when overly drying their skin. “Dryness will lead to small cracks in your skin that cane make pores look even larger,” she says. For those with oily skin, a cleanser with beta-hydroxy acids, clay, charcoal, or sulfur can help keep gunk from building up in pores.

Of all the at-home skin-care moves we can make to minimize the look of pores, our pros position exfoliating with alpha- and beta- hydroxy acids as a choice power play. “AHAs and BHAs exfoliate the skin and remove dead skin cells, oils, and debris that can clog pores,” Dr. Shah says. She suggests her patients regularly exfoliate with a non-abrasive AHA/BHA-based product.

It’s a directive that sounds straightforward enough, until you realize just how many such exfoliating products are at our disposal (including cleansers, moisturizers, serums, treatment pads, and masks). Instead of loading up on every option out there, both Dr. Shah and Dr. Wu suggest a little restraint when starting an exfoliating regimen: Start by introducing a single product to the fold and tread lightly to avoid over-drying and irritation. “I generally recommend starting once per week and going up to three times per week as tolerated,” Dr. Shah says.

Other pore-supporting ingredients to look for in skin care: caffeine (which can constrict the skin and make pores look tighter), retinoids (which strengthen the skin that supports pores by boosting collagen production), and niacinamide (which improves elasticity and balances oils). Not sure where to start? Try this guide to help pinpoint the right product for you.
As if we weren't wary of UV rays already for their role in wrinkles and skin cancer, Dr. Shah points out that the sun also has the power to magnify pores. "Photodamage ages the skin and breaks down the supporting structures around the pore,” she says. “The loose, inelastic skin does not support the pore as rigidly, making it appear larger.” One more reason to be extra diligent with the SPF. Try starting with a non-comedogenic, oil-free moisturizer with SPF, as Dr. Shah suggests, then use a powder protector, like Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50, to re-up throughout the day.

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