For many of us, the only time we think about pores is when we’re wondering how to make them disappear.
Pores can contribute to many of our skincare dilemmas. They can look too large and create a bumpy ‘orange peel’ effect on the skin, they can secrete heaps of oil, and they can become visibly clogged, causing open comedones (otherwise known as blackheads and whiteheads).
There’s a lot of fascinating skin care science behind pores, and once you understand the role of your pores everything else you know about your skin will fall into place. But before we get to any of that, we’re going to address the question that we know everyone wants an answer to. The question we’ve all asked at one time or another, when we’re feeling frustrated, annoyed, or down about our skin: how can I get rid of my pores?
The answer is that you can’t. Any skincare product that promises to vanish pores is lying, because pores are here to stay. They play a vital role in the health and function of your skin—put simply, we need them!
So while we can’t get rid of pores completely, we can keep them clean and help them to function better, which will in turn improve their appearance (goodbye, ‘orange peel’ skin!). But to do that, we first have to know a few basic things about pores.
“Pores are small depressions on the surface of the skin which are associated with the glands just below the skin surface,” says Dr. Matthew Vickers, a GP with an interest in skin health. “Each pore is generally associated with a neighbouring hair follicle and allows for the release of oil and sweat from these glands to reach the outer surface of the skin.”
When our pores are working as intended, they allow our face to cleanse itself by releasing the oil and sweat that our body produces onto the top of our skin. But when they’re not working properly, they can secrete too much oil—or not enough—or become clogged, turning in to comedones and acne lesions.
Step away from the pore strips. Seriously: No. More. Pore strips.
While pore strips are extremely satisfying to use, they’re more of a quick-fix solution. They might unclog pores now, but they don’t do anything to stop pores getting clogged again in the future. They can also cause tiny traumas to our skin when we yoink them off, and the glue and other adhesives used to stick the strip to the skin can be irritating as well.
To clear pores, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are your best bets. Both of these ingredients are anti-acne stalwarts. They can help reduce oil and dirt on the skin, as well as scrubbing away dead skin cells—all things that can contribute to blocked pores.
Regularly using cleansers or toners that contain these ingredients will not only help unclog pores, but it will keep them from getting clogged again.
Everyone gets clogged pores and comedones, and once they’re healed many of us are left with enlarged pores that don’t seem to want to go away.
“Enlarged pores occur due to a number of reasons, including blockage due to acne or comedogenic products such as makeup and some cosmetic treatments,” Dr. Vickers told us. “Age-related skin changes such as reduced elasticity or sun-damage can also increase the appearance of the pores as the opening becomes larger.”
Essentially, as we get older our skin gets looser and saggier, and this laxity can reflect in our pores. Dr. Vickers suggests stopping these changes before they even occur, by using sunscreen regularly, seeking out non-comedogenic skincare and cosmetics whenever possible, and treating acne as soon as it appears.
Dr. Vickers suggests three things to shrink pores: exfoliants, niacinamide, and retinoids.
Using a harsh exfoliant scrub on your skin can pull and scratch at our pores even more, but a good chemical exfoliant like glycolic acid or salicylic acid will help keep away dead, dry skin—giving our pores less to clog up with.
Niacinamide and Vitamin A / Retinoids, two of our absolute favourite skincare ingredients, work well together in shrinking pores. Both niacinamide and retinol have been shown to visibly minimise and tighten pores, and these ingredients work to prevent comedones as well. Take a look at our Guide to Niacinamide here and our Guide to Tretinoin (Vitamin A).
Lastly, it’s really important to remember that when you see a celebrity or an Instagram model who has really enviable skin, the pore treatment they’re using hasn’t come out of a bottle—it’s photo retouching software.
Everyone has pores. They are a natural part of our bodies and they play an important role in our skin’s health, so don’t let yourself be tricked into thinking that everyone else in the world has found the secret to vanishing pores and you’re missing out.
If you’re caught in a cycle of hating your skin or wishing it looked completely different, take a breath and try to step back. Nobody looks at your own skin as closely as you do, and nobody judges your skin as harshly as you do either.
Give your skin a break and try to appreciate it for the amazing organ that it is—even when it doesn’t look completely perfect, it’s working super hard to keep you protected from the outside world. For that, we reckon your skin deserves some applause.