Is It Possible to Shrink Large Pores?

Young lady with pore strip on her nose.
Photo: SW Productsions / Getty Images

Large pores are a super common skin care complaint, ranking right up there with acne and aging skin. While they're a completely cosmetic problem, large pores are still annoying.

What can, realistically, be done to shrink large pores? Here's why they develop, and some of the best ways to get smaller-looking pores.

Can You Close Large Pores?

Technically, no. You can't close large pores.

Pores, unfortunately, aren’t like doors. They don’t open and close.

Pore size is largely determined by genetics. Just like some people have blue eyes and others have brown, some people have small pores while others' pores are large. 

Although they seem to only be there to drive you crazy, pores actually play an important role in the health of your skin. They allow sebum, which is the oil that keeps your skin lubricated, to travel from the sebaceous gland to the surface of your skin.

So, you really wouldn't want your pores to completely close. Otherwise your skin would completely dry out. (But just making them look a little smaller would be nice.)

If you have oily skin, you're much more likely to notice your pores. Which means people with oily skin are much more likely to want to shrink them.

Doesn't Cold Shrink Pores and Hot Open Them?

But what about the “hot water to open the pores, cold water to close them” advice? Sorry, that’s actually myth. All the water in the world isn’t going to make small pores large, or large pores small.

Heat expands and dilates the pore opening slightly, so it makes the pores look larger. Cold has the opposite effect; it causes the pore opening to constrict. This makes the pores look tighter and smaller.

Both effects are just temporary though. After a few minutes, the skin returns to normal temperature and so does your pore size.

While hot towels, warm water, steaming won’t "open" your pores, it can soften the plugs of oil trapped within. This is why your esthetician will steam your face before extracting blackheads. Steaming softens the plug, called a comedonal core. This, coupled with the heat dilating the pore opening, makes the blockage easier to push from the pore.

Hot water isn't needed to keep the pores cleaned out, though, just like cold water isn't needed to "close" your pores. Your pores remain the size they were destined to be, in spite of the water temperature you use to cleanse your face.

In fact, washing your face in overly hot water can do more harm than good. Water that is too hot can irritate your skin, making dilated capillaries and inflamed blemishes look more red and obvious. The best temperature to wash with is comfortably lukewarm, not hot.

What Can You Do About Large Pores?

There is no way to permanently change your pore size. But while you can't shrink large pores, you can make them appear smaller. 

Despite all of their claims and wonderful promises, toners, cleansers, or other skin care products can’t close your pores. Many beauty books, magazine articles and the like perpetuate this myth. 

But the fact is, these products aren't "closing" or shrinking your pores at all. There aren't any skin care products in the universe that can change the actual structure of your skin's pores. 

This isn’t to say these products are useless, though. While pore-minimizing products don’t physically change the size of your pores, they can make the pores appear smaller. How do they do this? By exfoliating the skin, cleaning out dead skin cells and oil from the pore.

When dull, dead skin cells are removed, it leaves the surface of the skin looking brighter, smoother, and more even. Your skin will feel softer too.

The biggest benefit from pore minimizing products, and the one that does the most good as far as pore appearance is concerned, is keeping the pores cleared of blockages. When your pores are filled with oil and cellular debris, it can "stretch" the pore opening. This makes the pore look much larger.

Pores that are cleared of blackheads and blockages will look less obvious, as the pores return to their normal size. So while it’s a temporary fix (remember, products can't change the structure of your pores) they can still give you the result you’re looking for.

Some ingredients to look for are alpha hydroxy acids, like glycolic acid, or retinol. Prescription topical retinoids are also used to treat large pores.

Pore strips may also do the trick. They help remove the uppermost portion of the blackhead, leaving the pore opening clear. Pore strips won't extract the entire blockage from the pore, though, and they don't stop blackheads from forming like the aforementioned ingredients can. But they can work as a quick-fix.

A Word from Verywell

In this photo-filtered world, it can be tempting to pick apart your perceived flaws. Try to remember that your skin is supposed to have pores! They are there for an incredibly important reason. And it's just not realistic to expect your skin to be perfectly smooth and pore-free.

Still, if they are bothersome to you, there are things you can do to shrink your pores. Just be realistic in what pore minimizing products can do for your skin.

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