Science-Backed Ways to Reduce Large Pores (That Really Work)

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

You’ve splashed your face with cold water to tighten them, used pores strips that promised to eradicate them, and exfoliated the heck out of your skin to make them smaller… but nothing is working.

It’s like they have a life of their own. No matter what you do, they keep getting bigger and bigger. It’s like they’re under a magnifying glass all day.

Are you using the wrong products or is this a lost cause? Let’s find out.

  • 1. Exfoliate To Unclog Large Pores
  • 2. Use Retinoids To Tighten Large Pores
  • 3. Try IPL To Reduce Large Pores

Can You Reduce Large Pores?

First things first: you can’t get rid of pores completely.

Even if you could, you wouldn’t want to. Your pores allow sebum (the skin’s natural moisturiser) to reach the surface of your skin and keep it soft and supple.

Sebum and pores got a bad rep in some circles, but without them, your skin would be drier than the Sahara and shrivelled like an old prune.

You need pores. But do they need to be so large?!

Here’s the deal: the size of your pores is genetically determined. You can’t change it.

The exception? Clogged pores. The excess sebum + dead cells stuck inside them make them swell, so they look larger than they’re supposed to.

If you remove that gunk, your pores will get smaller… by shrinking back to their original size.

How To Reduce Large Pores

You can’t shrink large pores, but you can shrink enlarged pores. Here are the best treatments to bring them back to their original size:

1. Exfoliate To Unclog Large Pores

If pores swell up when they’re clogged, it follows that removing all that crap comfortably lodged inside them will bring them back to their original size.

This is a job for salicylic acid.

Don’t fall for the marketing hype. No other exfoliant – no glycolic acid, Clarisonic, scrubs with charcoal, etc – unclogs pores. They can’t penetrate inside the pores.

Can you clean a house if you can’t make it past the front door? It’s the same with exfoliants. If they can’t get in, they won’t do the job.

Salicylic acid is different. Unlike all other exfoliants, salicylic acid gets inside the pores, where it dissolves the mixture of excess oil and dead cells that’s clogging them up.

Bonus points: Salicylic Acid helps you avoid breakouts and blackheads, too.

P.S. The older the sebum stuck in the pores is, the longer it’ll take to remove it. Be patient.

Best Pick:

  • Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboois Glycolic Night Serum: Available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK
  • Paula’s Choice Resist BHA 9 For Stubborn Imperfections: Available at Dermstore and Paula’s Choice
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% Bha Liquid ($29.00): Available at Cult Beauty, Dermstore, Feel Unique, Nordstrom, Paula’s Choice, and SpaceNK
  • The Inkey List Beta Hydroxy Acid ($10.99): Available at Cult Beauty and Feel Unique
2. Use Retinoids To Tighten Large Pores

You’re probably already using retinoids to fight wrinkles. But did you know these babies can reduce pores, too? Here are their skincare superpowers:

  • Retinoids accelerate cellular turnover (the skin’s natural exfoliating process), making skin look younger and smoother.
  • Retinoids reduce pore size, together with wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and roughness.
  • Retinoids stimulate the production of collagen, which tightens skin. And when skin is tight, pores look smaller.

How can you spot them on the label? Look for “Retin” somewhere in the name. Common retinoids include:

  • Granactive Retinoid
  • Retinol
  • Retinaldehyde
  • Tretinoin

WARNING! Retinoids can be irritating when you first start using them. Start with low concentrations a couple of times a week, and increase both dose and frequency gradually.

Best Picks:

3. Try IPL To Reduce Large Pores

If money isn’t a problem for you and you can happily splurge on more expensive treatments (three sessions cost a whooping $1800!), you can try Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatments.

IPL works by emitting high intensity pulses of light, which is then converted into heat energy. It can:

  • Fade away age spots
  • Fade away melasma
  • Kill P.Acnes
  • Refine skin’s texture
  • Reduce the appearance of pores.
  • Reduce scars
  • Shrink oil glands
  • Treat sun damaged skin

Phew! Is there something it can’t do?

Need more proof? According to a 2001 study, over 90% of 49 subjects who underwent four or more IPL treatments at 3-week intervals experienced a visible improvement in wrinkling, skin coarseness, irregular pigmentation, and pore size. With minimal downtime. And, no scarring.

The catch? We don’t know yet how long the effects last. So, talk to your dermatologist to see if this is a good option for you. You don’t want to spend that kind of money, and see your pores become huge again after a month, do you?

The Bottom Line

You can’t change pore size. But if your large pores are clogged, you CAN bring them back to their original, smaller size.

How do you make your large pores look smaller? Share your tips in the comments below.

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