Let me begin with the information that I have tried every pore remedy since the early 90's. Biore Pore Strips and I were BFFs in college and I later graduated to the Charcoal Pore Stips from Boscia. I have had high-end clay masks from Borghese and drugstore ones from Queen Helene. I burned my face with acid dipped "peel pads" and sat in esthetician's chairs being steamed and squeezed. Retinols and I have had numerous bad breakups. If you think you have "big pores", you are my people. Let's dive into the most common questions I get about this topic:
What determines your pore size?
Genetics. Pores are technically the opening for hair follicles (charming, no?) and so that's one part of the story. The other part is how oily you are as each pore has its own sebaceous gland which is what produces the oil. More oil generally = bigger pores (and less wrinkles so there's a silver lining).
What makes our pores look big?
A few factors come into play here -
- OXIDIZED OIL - this is what happens when the sebum (from your sebaceous glands) + skin cells + dirt + bacteria are exposed to the air and turn black
- PIMPLE/BLACKHEAD POPPING - if done incorrectly you can mess stuff up so either wait it out or steam properly before popping (ideally you're using either a sterilized needle, a comedone extractor or a clay-based mask overnight as a spot treatment).
- SUN DAMAGE - it weakens the structural support for pores and as such can make them bigger.
- AGE - with time collagen can break down and effect elasticity in the skin. As skin sags it can cause pores to open more and as such you can have bigger pores in your 50's than you did in your 20's.
- DIRTY PILLOWCASES (yep)
- HORMONAL FLUCTUATIONS
Does steam open your pores?
No, it doesn't. What it does do is "melt" or soften the compacted oil that has hardened so it can be removed more easily.
What's a blackhead? Is that related to my pores?
Blackheads are what people generally think of when they think of big pores. Technically they are clogged hair follicles and are called "open comedones" (while whiteheads are called "closed comedones"). The black color comes from oil/dirt/dead skin that has opened up to the air (thus the "open" nature of their name) and oxidizes (like apples turn brown when you cut them open).
Can you shrink your pores?
With products, no, with lasers, yes. Products can help make your pore size appear smaller but will not actually change the size of your pores.
What types of products work best for minimizing the appearance of pore size?
Retinols are great for this. If you want something non-prescription I have two faves: Marie Veronique's Gentle Retinol Night Serum "was developed to provide the same effects as a prescription product (0.05 to .1% Retin-A) without the irritation and questionable preservatives". It's ideal for sensitive folks. The other product I recommend is Maya Chia's The Straight A which also employs Vitamins C & E and is very strong and effective. Retinols require pairing with a daily SPF.
Acids also are wonderful - glycolic, lactic and alphya hydroxy - as they dissolve that black "cap" and clean out the pore itself as a chemical exfoliant (chemical meaning the method of exfoliation vs. physical exfoliation which would be scrubbies). Our Pumpkin Enzyme Peel is a must-have if you're wanting to address pores as it uses 3% Glycolic Acid along with the naturally occurring Alpha Hydroxy Acids which are present in Pumpkin (the first ingredient). It leaves skin baby smooth but isn't a super high % of acid so it won't irritate most folks. Products with acids require use with a daily SPF.
You know when you use a clay mask and you feel like your face was sucked dry by a desert? I'm not so into that - I want all the benefits that come along with it but I don't want my skin to get dried out which is why I love our Clarifying Green Clay Mask. It draws out impurities but doesn't dry out your skin. You can use it as a proper mask and rinse off after 10 minutes or as an overnight spot treatment for blackheads or breakouts.
Can we use pore strips?
You can but they can irritate folks - either by ingredients they contain or by literally ripping something off that is attached to your face. As such it can damage skin and could make your pores appear larger (ugh!). I get it - it's so gratifying to see everything yanked out but there are more gentle, and equally effective ways, we shared above so I would stick with those.
Let us know if you have any other questions!