The Truth About Pore Size Reduction: Fact vs. Fiction

The Truth About Pore Size Reduction: Fact vs. Fiction

People often have concerns about pore appearance: both clogged and enlarged pores are frequent complaints. Interestingly, many factors involving pore appearance are of genetic origin.

Question: Why do we see pores?

ANSWER: The term pore is actually a consumer term referring to the follicle’s appearance from a frontal and topical view. From a scientific standpoint, the pore is the view of the top of the pilosebaceous follicle.

The amount of sebum (oil) the skin produces is genetic. The size and number of sebaceous glands, the number of lobes on the glands, and sebum production levels are also genetically influenced.

As the sebaceous glands produce sebum, the follicle dilates to accommodate the amount of sebum passing through the follicle to the skin’s surface, almost like a collapsible hose enlarges as water passes through it. If the skin is dry (alipidic), it produces less sebum and the pores appear smaller because there is less oil passing through the follicle. Therefore, oily skin or oily areas of the skin have larger pores, and dry skin has smaller pores.

Question: What causes clogged pores, and why do they reoccur so quickly after a facial?

ANSWER: Clogged pores are follicles impacted with a combination of corneum cell buildup mixed with sebum that has solidified.

There are several degrees of follicle impaction:

  • Retention hyperkeratosis is the genetic tendency for cells to build up inside the follicle, causing the follicle walls to thicken.
  • The overproduction of sebum by the sebaceous glands— also genetic—bathes the cell buildup, coating the dead cell accumulation. The sebum oxidizes, solidifies, and causes melanin to be secreted into the impaction. This creates a darkened head on the impaction. Larger lesions of this type are known as open comedones, more commonly called “blackheads.” These larger lesions are prominent in appearance, dilated, and easily extracted by a well-trained esthetician. Open comedones take several months to develop.
  • Smaller clogged pores, such as ones on the nose, are known as sebaceous filaments. You may have noticed during extraction that the density of the material in these smaller impactions is thinner than that of a fully developed, open comedone. Open comedones contain much more dead cell accumulation, while sebaceous filaments are mostly sebum, which is why they reoccur so soon after an extraction facial.

Question: Can pores really shrink?

ANSWER: Although the idea of shrinking pores is popular with advertisers promoting products, pore size cannot really be permanently reduced. However, pore appearance can be minimized over a period of several months thanks to continual home use of a daily alpha hydroxy serum. By removing cell buildup on the follicle walls, pore elasticity improves and the follicle walls retract. Non comedogenic products like moisturizers also help prevent blockage and pore buildup.

Toners can also help as they generally work by having an astringent effect on the skin’s surface. This causes the skin to temporarily tighten, making the pores appear smaller and more refined. Pore minimizing makeup like primers can also temporarily reduce the appearance of pores.

Q: What about pores that always look big, even after treatment or using an astringent?

A: If there is scar tissue or sun damage present, pores may always look big, even after a facial or drying mask treatment. Scar tissue can cause follicles to be unresponsive to cosmetic treatment. Sun-damaged areas may have apparent pores that never seem to change, even with superficial peels. When the skin is sun damaged, it can lose collagen and elastin fibers, resulting in enlarged pores. These sun-damaged follicles are most likely found on the nose and inner cheeks.

Question: What are the best treatments for controlling clogged pores?

ANSWER: Controlling dead-cell accumulation inside the follicle is key to clearing clogged pores on a long-term basis. Even though salon extraction facials help remove visible clogged pores, they cannot stop the continual genetic cell buildup in the follicle. This is why clogged pores are a continual problem. Extraction also has no effect on microcomedones deep in the follicles.

In the salon or over the counter, mild salicylic peels and other home chemical peels help to loosen dead cells on the skin’s surface, easing extraction. Desincrustation solutions are complexes of surfactants that help liquefy solidified sebum accumulations by breaking up the masses, helping make the extraction process more efficient.

Salon treatments are important for removing existing impactions, but the real key to controlling and preventing clogged pores of all types is in daily home care.

A daily application of mild alpha and beta hydroxy acid gels or serums breaks up cell accumulations, which loosens clogged pores. Continued daily use of the gel after the pores are cleared helps keep dead-cell buildup from reoccurring, which may prevent new clogged pores. All too often clients make the mistake of stopping the use of these gels when the skin appears clear. It is important to remind them that cell buildup is a continual problem, because it is genetic.


  • Roh, M., Han, M., Kim, D., & Chung, K. (2006). Sebum output as a factor contributing to the size of facial pores. British Journal of Dermatology, 155(5), 890-894.
  • Healthy Beautiful. (2019). Top 12 Best Non Comedogenic Moisturizers of 2019 (Acne Prone Skin). [online] Available at: