Everything You Need to Know About Your Pores, Including How to Shrink Them

Adam Hurly
·5 mins read

How to shrink pores is certainly the number one thing we wonder about these small openings in our skin. But it’s not the only thing. We have a lot of questions about pores: Why are some bigger than others? Why do they fluctuate so much day to day? Why do they sometimes clog and cause acne?

They're a maddening part of our body, in other words—at least for me. So, in an effort to better understand this core function of my skin (and yours), I spoke with Dr. Milton Moore, a San Antonio-based dermatologist who knows enough about clear complexion to co-found his own brand, Holly Hall Supply Co. Here’s everything you oughta know about pores, making them look smaller, and keeping their oil production in check.

Types of Pores

There are just two types of pores on the body.

Sebaceous pores: These are the pores that secrete sebum. They’re located all over the body, except for the soles of your feet and the palms of your hands. They’re actually the same things as hair follicles—the openings we call pores casually, like on your nose or cheek, just don’t have a visible hair poking out.

Sweat pores: They’re all over your body. (As if you didn’t live with this fact daily.)

But when someone talks about pores in a skincare context, they generally mean sebaceous pores.

How Pores Work

“The core function of our pores is to provide a channel for sebum to reach the skin surface,” says Moore. “This ensures moisture and lubrication on the skin.” It prevents dryness, dullness, discoloration, rough texture, and the like. In other words, pores and the oil they produce is your friend—if your pores are looking larger than you would like, what you don’t want to do is simply scrub them into submission with soap or drying ingredients like alcohol.

Why Some Pores Are Bigger Than Others

“Pore size varies person-by-person, and depending on the location,” says Moore. “It is correlated with the size of the attached sebaceous gland. Pore size and density is directly proportional to the size and amount of sebum the sebaceous glands produce.”

I Just Want to Know How to Shrink My Pores! 

“Unfortunately, we are all born with a fixed pore size—topical products will not physically change their size,” Moore says, breaking hearts everywhere. “However, we can reduce the appearance of our pore size.” More on that below.

Do Men Have Bigger Pores Than Women?

Apparently so. “Hormones, specifically androgens (testosterone), stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce sebum during puberty,” says Moore. “This is why men typically have larger pores than women. In general, men’s skin on their face and body is thicker, more oily, and ages differently than women. Pores tend to be larger in oil-gland-rich areas such as the central face—the nose, cheeks, and forehead.”

How Do Pores Get Blocked?

“Pores become clogged when excess oil, dirt, and dead skin cells block hair follicles, leading to an increased pore size,” says Moore. “This combination can potentially lead to open and closed comedones (blackheads and whiteheads).”

The Best Products to Reduce the Appearance of Pores

The best way to reduce the apparent size of your pores is to keep your skin clean and well-exfoliated. But there are many ways of going about that—here are the three ways Dr. Moore recommends. 

Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acid Products

“Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs, like glycolic acid and lactic acid) and beta hydroxy acid (BHA, salicylic acid) which exfoliate the skin by ‘ungluing’ the stuck-together dead skin cells on the surface," says Dr. Moore. "They differ in that BHAs are oil soluble, so they can work both on the surface and deeper inside the pores.” (While water-soluble AHAs work solely on the top layers of the skin.)

Dr. Dennis Gross pore-refining serum with salicylic acid

$65.00, Sephora

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SkinCeuticals overnight cream with glycolic acid

$80.00, Dermstore

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Murad clarifying cleanser with salicylic acid

$30.00, Amazon

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Retinols

“Retinoids increase and normalize epidermal (the top layer of skin) cell turnover, so that those skin cells don’t clump together with oil and clog the pores,” says Dr. Moore. “Not only do retinols help clear active comedones (clogged pores and acne), but they are useful for maintenance and help improve fine lines and wrinkles and overall texture.” 

They come in super high-strength prescription versions but are also available in less-potent over-the-counter products. But they do have a learning curve: they irritate many people’s skin before they get used to them.

Paula's Choice retinol serum

$42.00, Dermstore

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Dr. Brandt Skincare retinol eye cream

$55.00, Sephora

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Poly Hydroxy Acid Products

These are the best ingredients for people with super-sensitive skin. “PHAs work similarly to AHA/BHAs, but only work on the most superficial skin,” says Moore. “They cause less sensitivity to the sun and are less irritating. These are good for patients with dry or sensitive skin conditions like rosacea or eczema.” It’s common for PHAs to play second fiddle in a AHA or BHA product, but people with sensitive skin should look for them solo.

NeoStrata face serum with PHA

$80.00, Demrstore

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Products to Avoid

Moore says to avoid heavy moisturizing creams that are not specifically engineered for the face. Look for the words “non-comedogenic” on the package if you aren’t certain that it’s a facial product. If you’re unsure, then skip it, because there’s a good chance it hasn’t been cleared for use on the face. You’ll often run into this problem with sunscreens, which is why it’s smart to have a dedicated face sunscreen in addition to a body one.

Grooming

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Originally Appeared on GQ