‘Although we may not like the size of our pores, they do have a purpose,’ says Lorraine Scrivener, skin expert and director of the Eden Skin Clinic. ‘They are tiny openings to hair follicles and each one produces a natural oil which helps us maintain healthy skin. These oils protect us against infection, dryness and skin chapping.’
While pores serve an important function, there is no denying that they can be unsightly and annoying, especially as we so often find ourselves the target of megapixel smartphone cameras on a daily basis – but to quash what you may have heard about pores, there is actually no real way to ‘close’ them up.
‘It is a myth to think that certain products such as toners and other treatments close pores,’ says consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson Dr. Anjali Mahto. ‘Many can simply minimise the appearance of them only and this is because pores don’t have muscles around them allowing them to open or close.’
What Causes Enlarged Pores?
Whilst many of us may have inherited pores on the larger side from our parents (thanks mum and dad), there are a few other causes that you might not be aware of, some we can control and other’s we can’t:
- Ageing: ‘we naturally lose collagen and elastin which are the proteins that give the skins its strength and elasticity’ explains Dr Nicole Uchendu, Aesthetic and wellness doctor at TWN Clinic.
- Hormones: ‘increased levels of androgen hormones (such as testosterone) are a contributing factor to acne. In acne, there is an overproduction of oil along with trapped dirt and dead skin cells, which cause blocked and enlarged pores’.
- Sun Damage: I know, we keep going on about this but UV light really is the skin’s enemy. It causes skin to lose elasticity, so pores become more dilated.
- Environmental Pollutants: These can block and stretch out pores, making them appear larger.
What we put on our skin also effects the size of our pores. Dr Nicole Uchendu lists the big ones to avoid: ‘Coconut oil, marula oil, and palm oil are all very commonly used in skin products. Though they may be very hydrating, they can also be extremely comedogenic. Lanolins are hailed for their conditioning properties for the skin, but may also cause pore blockage. Thick and heavy creams such as petroleum, coco butter and shea butter can also be culprits for blocked and enlarged pores’.
So if we can’t get rid of enlarged pores entirely, what are the most effective ways to diminish them?
How To Minimise Pores
1. Opt For A Non-Ablative Laser Treatment
Not just for healing acne or blasting scars, laser treatment can also help shrink the appearance of pores, as each light pulse works to smooth and refine while encouraging collagen, which plumps up the skin for a more flawless look.
‘Pores are slightly larger in between the eyebrows, nose and on the chin,’ says Lorraine, but lasers can really help rejuvenate these areas, making the pore appear more reduced. If you’re not prepared for downtime, choose a non-ablative laser such as ND:YAD, the Alexandrite laser or a light-based treatment like IPL. They aren’t exactly painful but clients may feel a warm sensation or the feeling of an elastic band being flicked on to the skin.’
With that in mind, each laser machine and technique can vary between 3 to 4 twenty or thirty minute sessions, but not all lasers are suitable for all skin types. Lorraine suggests booking in for a thorough consultation and a patch test to determine which one is suitable for you.
2. Incorporate Tretinoin or Retinol Into Your Skincare Routine
Tretinoin – which assumes the brand name Retin-A – is a form of vitamin A which encourages the skin to renew itself at lightening speed, and while it is largely used to treat acne, there is now good evidence to suggest that it can reduce pore size, too.
‘With continued use, retinoid products can help the appearance of pore size,’ says Dr. Mahto. ‘Prescription strength tretinoin 0.05% is an effective pore-minimising agent and it also has the ability to improve wrinkles and pigmentation. While Tretinoin works well, you need to remember that it is a strong agent and can cause dryness and irritation. In this situation, an over the counter retinol product could be a more reasonable option. Retinols are weaker agents that come in varying strengths but cause less irritation.’
Lorraine also agrees that it is so important to get it right when using potent products such as these. ‘Prolonged use of products like Retin-A is not advised,’ she says. ‘It can actually cause photosensitivity, so a high sun factor is always needed, but other side effects can be dry, red and irritated skin, so a cream like this should only be used on affected areas.’
If you experience these side effects after a while, be sure to make an appointment with a skincare specialist to discuss other options.
3. Try A Micro-Needling Treatment
Not as painful or scary as it sounds, the medical grade micro-needling technique uses a number of virtually undetectable needles which create even smaller micro-channels in the skin to remodel collagen and to encourage a healing response in the deeper layers. In turn, this works to diminish the appearance of pores on the skin’s surface.
‘The collagen that is produced in and around the pores can cause them to appear smaller and tighter. The effect on pores is even more evident when microneedling is combined with radiofrequency. As well as reducing the appearance of pores, micro-needling is an effective treatment for improving the skins texture, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, reversing sun damage, and improving acne scarring and hyperpigmentation’ explains Dr Nicole Uchendu.
But why is it so great? Unlike most lasers, this type of skin-refining treatment is compatible with a much wider range of skin tones, so if you have a darker complexion, it may be better for you to look in to this first.
It is also non ablative, so will only leave you with a few hours of redness – but what if you’re prepared to deal with downtime? ‘You could also try microdermabrasion,’ suggests Lorraine, a technique which uses a jet of abrasive crystals to exfoliate the skin. ‘This helps to remove dead skin cells and gently buffs over enlarged pores.’
4. Book In For A Chemical Peel Or Invest In Acids
‘Professional peels are good at helping to rejuvenate the skin, encouraging old skin cells to shed and revealing healthier, fresher skin,’ says Lorraine. ‘They also kick-start a process called ‘purging’ which will help to lift blackheads and cellular debris from pores, making the skin appear smoother and tighter. In turn, pores look reduced.’
But it is important to pick the right one. Skin peels range from light, medium and deep and there are a range of different ingredients which you can discuss with your facialist or a dermatologist depending on your skin type.
Dr Winnie Uchendu, Aesthetic and wellness doctor at TWN Clinic, lists the acids to invest in for tackling enlarged pores:
- Retinoic Acid: ‘Retinoids are extraordinary at reducing oil production in sebum glands. They increase skin cell turnover resulting in resurfacing and unclogging of pores.
- Salicylic Acid: ‘It is oil-soluble, meaning that not only can it loosen dead skin cells from skin’s surface to aid exfoliation, but it can also can penetrate through oily skin to dissolve dirt and debris deep within the pores’.
- Alpha-Hydroxy Acid: ‘They are chemical exfoliants that work by removing dead skin cells from the top layer of the skin. They increase collagen and improve the quality of elastin fibres, which provide scaffolding and support to the skin and the pores’.
- L- Ascorbic Acid: AKA, Vitamin C is not only an antioxidant to protect against UV damage but also slows down collagen depletion to prevent pores from enlarging.
5. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
‘Pores are open for a few reasons – dehydration (a lack of water in the skin, not dry skin), part of the ageing process and genetics,’ says Kristi Shuba skincare specialist and co-founder of Katherine Daniels Cosmetics, which is why it is so important to maintain moisture levels in the skin – but how?
‘Hydrating treatments and anything that will flood the surface of the skin with moisture are great for diminishing pores,’ Kristi continues. ‘Both the Katherine Daniels Age Defence Nourishing Hydrating Treatment for older skin and the Energising Radiance Treatment massively hydrates the skin. Not only will treatments like these help to iron away lines, but they give the appearance of snapping the pores closed.’
Stocking up on products containing hyaluronic acid, which delivers an intense hit of hydration to every single cell, will also work wonders.
Dr Winnie Uchendu explains the benefits: ‘Keeping the skin hydrated with topical products can play a role in reducing the appearance of enlarged pores. It’s important to ensure that your moisturiser isn’t comedogenic (pore-blocking) and won’t cause stretching out of the pores. Opting for an ingredient like hyaluronic acid in your moisturiser is highly recommended as it increases the water content of the skin without adding any oil, making it a great option for those with enlarged pores and oily or acne prone skin’.
And according to Matt Plowman of Cardiff Sports Nutrition, we should aim to drink at least two litres of water a day, taking sips every fifteen minutes to hydrate from the inside out.
6. Apply Your Make-Up Like A Pro
If you find that foundation only serves to accentuate the appearance of your pores, you may be applying it wrong.
‘To create a really flawless effect, after using a flat foundation brush, dab a damp Beauty Blender over the skin,’ says make-up artist Francesca Kearns. ‘This really presses the product into the skin to create a much smoother and seamless effect. The NARS Velvet Matte Skin Tint – £31 is a great product to start with. Rose fruit extract visibly diminishes pores and regulates oil production. For more coverage, opt for the Charlotte Tilbury Light Wonder Foundation – £32.’
And don’t sack off pore refining primers – they really do work.
‘They aren’t just a fad,’ says Francesca. ‘The NYX Pore Filling Primer – £11 is great because it contains silica and Dimethicone which will help smooth out pores while leaving the skin looking and feeling ultra-silky. Another amazing buy is the Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer – £26. Again, the silica ingredient provides the skin with a veil-like smoothness, really minimising the appearance of pores.’
7. Choose Your Daily SPF Carefully
Even though you may think that your skin looks and feels heaps healthier when it has caught a little bit of sun, it has been suggested that heat and UV rays act as a pore-size inducer – and it could be down to the loss of moisture.
‘Being exposed to the sun is very likely to dry the skin,’ says Kristi, ‘and long term, this can make pores appear open and enlarged. That said, many inexpensive sun lotions are likely to be heavily zinc based and the chalky white substance may sit in open pores. This causes a plug and can give the appearance of reduced pore size but, over time, this can actually result in blackheads as the pore becomes blocked.’
So what types of creams should we be investing in?
‘Choose something that has great hydrating properties,’ says Kristi, while Dr. Mahto suggests we should avoid thick, creamy textures altogether. ‘Look for those that are in a gel or lotion form’, she says. ‘Many people with acne prone skin do better with mineral sunscreens usually containing ingredients such as titanuim oxide.’