Many women covet smaller pores. Yet, pore size increases with smoking, sun exposure, and age. According to Mount Kisco, New York dermatologist David E. Bank, M.D.: “UVA rays and free radicals degrade collagen, the skin’s support fibers, and decrease elasticity. The goal is to keep pores clean and at their smallest.”
How can pore size be reduced?
1. Retinoids. According to a 2002 study in the Archives of Dermatology, the prescription retinoid cream Tazorac (0.1% tazarotene) was found to decrease pore size. Dr. Bank affirms this: “You have to increase cell turnover [with retinoids] and strengthen the tissue to see results.” Strengthened tissue means tighter skin, and tighter skin means smaller pores.
2. Estée Lauder Idealist Pore Minimizing Skin Refresher ($46.50 for 1 oz., EsteeLauder.com). According to Nicole Catanese for Elle magazine, the product contains the enzyme melanase, which eliminates some pigment buildup; glucosamine, a sugar derivative that helps to break down blockages; and light-reflecting polymers that help diffuse microshadows caused by aged, stretched out pores. According to Estée Lauder’s published reports, subjects observed a 69 percent reduction in pore size after four weeks of twice-daily application.
3. Salicyclic acid based products (2% salicyclic acid). Salicylic acid is an oil-soluble chemical exfoliant that can remove debris from the pore, creating the appearance of skin smoothness. However, according to Dr. Diana Draelos, an associate professor of dermatology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, it cannot measurably reduce pore size, only cleanse the area. Still, according to Dr. Bank: “The goal is to keep pores clean and at their smallest,” so salicyclic acid is excellent to use to clean the pores. However, salicyclic acid does not actually change pore size; rather, it cleans the pores, which enables them to then be closed after cell turnover is increased, etc.
4. Photodynamic Therapy (PDT). According to a study in the Journal of Dermatologic Surgery, over ninety percent of 49 subjects who underwent four or more full-face treatments at 3-week intervals showed visible improvement in pore size, wrinkling, skin coarseness, irregular pigmentation, and telangiectasias. According to eMedicine.com, PDT consists of two steps. In the first step, a photosensitizer is administered to the patient by one of several routes (eg, topical, oral, intravenous), and it is allowed to be taken up by the target cells. The second step involves the activation of the photosensitizer in the presence of oxygen with a specific wavelength of light directed toward the target tissue. This process minimizes damage to adjacent healthy structures. PDT has been shown to kill bacteria associated with acne (P. acnes) and shrink the oil glands, so the pores appear smaller. Unfortunately, PDT is not cheap: $1800 for three sessions. In addition, it is unknown if the effects or permanent, and if not, for how long they last.
What doesn’t work?
1. Alcohol-based “pore minimizing” toners. These substances contain high contents of alcohol to temporarily inflame the skin, which puffs it up, making the pores surrounding it look temporarily smaller. However, unless the sebum and bacteria are removed from the pores, and cell turnover and strength is increased, pores do not look smaller.
2. Glycolic acid-based treatments. According to Dr. Diana Draelos, an associate professor of dermatology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, there are several reasons why glycolic acid does not reduce pore size. One is because glycolic acid cannot enter the oily milieu of the pore and thus does not exfoliate within the pore. Glycolic acid may improve the smoothness of the skin surface, creating the illusion of reduced pore size, but it cannot actually reduce pore size. In fact, according to Draelos, no cosmeceutical ingredient can measurably reduce pore size.
3. Heat steaming and cooling the skin. According to Dr. Bank, “Heat softens sebum to reduce clogging, while cold water constricts blood flow and tightens skin. But neither changes a pore’s size.” Just as with alcohol, any improvement in pore size is only a temporary illusion, and the actual size of the pore is unchanged.
4. Tanning. Not only is tanning just about the worst thing you can do for your skin (other than smoking), but any pores that appear smaller only appear that way because the skin around them is rough and inflamed. Stay away from the sun more than 10-15 minutes without sunscreen twice a week.
So what can I do to improve the size of my pores?
First, see your dermatologist for personalized recommendations. Research from dermatological journals shows that pore size is increased by sun exposure, smoking, and aging, but that first keeping pores clean (perhaps with a salicyclic acid cleanser like Neutrogena Oil Free Acne Wash and/or Estee Lauder Idealist Pore Minimizing Skin Refinisherto remove blockages) and then hitting the pores with prescription-strength retinoids to administer a one-two sucker punch of increasing the rate of cell turnover and strengthening the skin should help to close up those pores. PDT therapy, administered by a dermatologist, appears to be promising for reduction of pore size as well, but is costly. Finally, for a temporary fix, alcohol-based toners and heating and steaming the skin may work, but do not actually close up the pore.