As a beauty editor, I’m lucky enough to have seasoned skin experts examine my complexion on a regular basis. For years, I have had facialist after facialist tell me that my congested pores need a little help. And it’s true; they always have. Unlike those that are blessed with buttery complexions, my T-zone is plagued with blackheads, and where they aren’t present, my pores appear like cratered pinpricks all over my face.
Usually, it doesn’t bother me all that much. Not because they’re not evident but because every time things start to get a little out of hand, I can go running to a facialist who I know will fix it for me. However, the last few months have seen my pore situation get out of control. Without the option of going for regular facials (honestly, who do I think I am?) and since the weather has started to heat up, my face is in a bad way. So after trying countless cleansers and scrubs and realising that relying on facials to fix an ongoing skin problem isn’t a sustainable way to move forward, I figured it best to reach out to those in the know who can teach me how to manage my pore situation on my own at home. Keep scrolling for everything I’ve learned.
Pores Can't Actually Shrink
I did sort of already know this, but I didn’t know the ins and outs of it. I have been told countless times by experts that our pores don’t have the ability to shrink, but I assumed what was going on with my face proved otherwise. I always took this concept to mean that no product can shrink our pores, but it turns out that, actually, they just physically can’t get smaller. “Pore size is determined by various factors including genetics, hormones, age, pollution and sebum levels. And while each of these factors can affect the appearance of pore size, pores don’t have a structure that allows shrinkage,” explains facialist, health coach and Kyūshi founder Alice Moore.
So how do we stop our pores appearing bigger on certain days? The key, says Moore, is in improving the skin tone and density overall: “You want your skin to ‘hold’ the pore in place. The less collagen and elasticity in the skin, the more stretched and visible the pore can become. You can help boost elasticity through topical skincare containing vitamins A and/or C.”
It has always been my understanding that pores appear much larger in the summer. I had never really thought too much about it and just put it down to increased oil production and sweat. Abi Oleck, celebrity facialist and aesthetics expert at BeauSkin London, explains the logic. “We have approximately 20,000 pores on our faces. A higher level of sebum activity tends to correlate to a larger pore size. In the summer, we tend to swear more and this, combined with excess oil, can clog the pores,” she says.
What’s more important, though, is the way in which sun exposure in the summer damages our skin and therefore impacts the appearance of our pores. “Sun exposure increases the level of destructive enzymes that tear down collagen and firming elastin and enlarge pores,” she adds. So while SPF might feel as though it's worsening the situation by creating an oily film that feels like it’s congesting the skin, daily application is crucial to keep pores looking healthy.
Cleansing Is Key, But Harsh Acids Won't Help
While I knew that a deep cleanse would help reduce blackheads, I didn’t fully understand the importance of cleansing in reducing pore size. “A congested pore will be more noticeable that a normal, operational pore,” explains skincare expert Jane Scrivner. However, it’s not just the surface-level congestion that contributes to pore size but also the knock-on effect that congestion has on the surrounding skin. “Keeping pores clean and preventing congestion will also prevent the skin around the pores from becoming stretched and damaged in the long run,” adds Scrivner.
Experts advise that gel-based cleansers are best at beating congestion and preventing pores from being blocked. What’s better is opting for products that contain exfoliating acids to offer a deeper cleanse and fight congestion. “Beta hydroxy acids like salicylic acid are fantastic for cleansing deep down within the pore to remove impurities. I would suggest using a combination of alpha and beta hydroxy acids to exfoliate both deep below and on the surface of the skin,” advises Scrivner.
However, it’s important to find the balance and not go in too heavy with acids. “Overusing harsh acids that strip the skin of natural moisture and cause inflammation is one of the main causes of an oily T-zone and dry cheeks, which can lead to increased pore appearance,” warns Oleck. To avoid this, be sure to start by using gentle acids and avoiding any products that cause tightness or irritation.
When you have an enlarged-pore situation on your hands, it can feel counterintuitive to slather on moisturising products. However, more often than not, moisture is key. “Stripping the skin of its natural oils by over-cleansing will be counterproductive and cause the skin to go into overdrive, produce more sebum and ultimately make pores appear larger and more visible,” says Scrivner. So, once again, it’s all about finding the balance between exfoliating ingredients and products that will deliver moisture without clogging pores.
To ensure your moisturisers aren’t worsening the situation, be sure to opt for non-comedogenic formulas, which don’t cause pore blockage and congestion. And, Moore advises, try not to be afraid of facial oils, either. “Some people who have large pores are afraid of using facial oils, thinking they will clog the pores and make the issue worse. However, starving the skin of oil can cause it to overproduce sebum. Instead, opt for oils that nourish, strengthen, reduce inflammation and restore elasticity,” she says.