How to Shrink the Appearance of Large Pores

how to shrink the appearance of large pores

We all want satiny smooth glass skin, and big pores often stand in the way of that. Well, there’s good news when it comes to shrinking the appearance of large pores.

Yes, you can make your large pores appear smaller!

Pore appearance changes based on how plump the skin is between the pores and how much stuff is stuck in and plugging up your pores.

Think of your pores like buttons in a tufted pillow.  The plusher and puffier the pillow the deeper the button looks.  The same is true with your skin. If you de-plump the top layers of your skin (both the living layer, called the epidermis, and its dead skin cell layer, called the stratum corneum), it's like making the "pillow" flatter ... and your pores will appear finer and smaller.

Clogged pores appear larger because the material in them is usually dark. This gives the optical illusion that the pores are large and deep.

You can temporarily de-plump your skin and unclog your pores to refine the appearance of your pore size with:

  1. Clay masks
  2. Clarisonic, Foreo or other sonic skin cleansing system
  3. Skin toners and astringents
  4. Exfoliation

The effects are temporary, but effective!  This is how they work:

Dermatologist's Top 4 Tricks to Shrink Large Pores

Clay masks help shrink the appearance of pores by drawing out pore contents.

how a clay facemask can shrink pores

Clay draws out water and oil from your pores.  This temporarily gives your skin a nice, tightened sensation and refined texture. The result is that your pores will appear smaller.  When the clay mask pulls oil and water out of your pores it may pull out other material bound to them which is why some people claim they are detoxifying.

You can apply your own clay mask treatment at home by buying one of the many available clay mask products available in traditional skin care brands and natural skin care brands.  Look for a clay mask product that matches your skin's tolerance and fits your budget.

Clay masks are usually a combination of different clays such as bentonite, kaolin, French green, Fuller's earth etc. There are often other ingredients added like sulfur to fight acne, botanical essences for aroma or "medicinal" purposes and other ingredients for consistency. 

When you add a clay mask to a professional facial, they're great for refining skin tone and texture and deep pore cleansing. Our aestheticians often do this. I personally love the results of a clay mask on my sensitive skin.  It is important to know, however, that clay masks can over-dry and irritate your skin if you use them too frequently.  Find that "sweet spot" where you get refined texture without over-drying.

A Clarisonic Sonic Skin Cleansing Brush helps to shrink pores by getting your cleanser deeper into your pores to help remove pore clogging debris.

The Clarisonic and Foreo sonic technology uses sonic vibrations to pulse your cleanser down into your pores.  Oil and clogged pore debris can then be lifted out in the process.  Empty pores look cleaner and smaller because the black appearance of clogged pores make the pores look bigger. I use my Clarisonic Brush every night to cleanse my facial skin and it's honestly one of the best appliances I've every purchased!

Skin toners and astringents contract tissue help to close the opening of the pore temporarily and this makes them look smaller. 

best natural pore refining facial toner

The term 'astringent' means to contract tissue. Witch hazel is a time-honored astringent, and my absolute favorite! My Naturally Hydrating Pore Minimizing Toner uses organic witch hazel blended with organic botanicals that both hydrate and sooth skin including plant derived hyaluronic acid, glycerin and Bulgarian rose hydrosol of the highest quality. I use this twice a day to keep my own pores refined. 

best acne treatment pads to shrink and clean large clogged pores and blackheads

Other astringents and toner often contain alcohol or acetone (yes, it's true) to remove oil and fluid from the pores and top skin layers to refine skin tone and texture. They are best for oily complexions. My Acne Treatment Pads are medicated with a full 2% salicylic acne. This is the highest allowed amount. They work really well for oily clogged pores because the BHA salicylic acid that has a unique ability to penetrate through oily pore clogging debris to help unblock pores. They also contain glycolic acid which is a keratolytic that helps break up keratin plugs clogging pores. 

Both of these products help to remove excess skin oil which is a simple trick to shrink the appearance of pores; oily shine on your skin enhances the optics of pore appearance and size. Mattifying products, such as my Sheer Strength Pure Physical Matte Tinted SPF 50+ Sunscreen absorbs oil to reduce pore appearance. Mineral makeup powder also does helps. These are optical 'tricks' but every bit helps to shrink the appearance of large pores.

Skin exfoliation helps shrink the appearance of pores.

Exfoliation means the removal of dead skin cells from the upper skin layer. We think of it mostly as a way to brighten skin texture. What we don't talk about is that this helps to de-plump the top layer of skin so that pores appear smaller. It's one of my favorite steps in any skin-care routine because it gives instant gratification. 

You can use simple physical exfoliation to slough dead cells by using a rough sponge or granular scrub. It is really important to determine how much exfoliation your skin needs, wants and will allow! Gauge this by feel while gently massage the exfoliating product onto your skin. The amount of pressure you apply, and amount of time you massage, give you complete control. 

use aha and retinoid to shrink pores

Alternatively, you can use chemical exfoliation to loosen the dead cells so that they drop off of the skin surface. This is done with products containing alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids and other skin peeling acids, which can be used in D.I.Y. home peel treatments. You can also apply daily exfoliation products that contain these ingredients, or that contain another great exfoliating ingredient - the retinoids (such as Retin A or Professional retinol.)

You can also have exfoliation procedures done professionally such as microdermabrasion or acid peels done by a skin care professional. The trick is to find the product or procedure that suits your skin because chemical exfoliation is always a little irritating and can be unpredictable if your skin is more sensitive than you anticipated.

Combining chemical and physical products into your skin care routine is my favorite way to keep skin bright and smooth. Dead cells are loosened with chemical exfoliating products. They are then easily sloughed off with physical exfoliation. Done on a regular basis this keeps skin looking consistently nice and pores appear smaller.

You need to gauge the perfect balance of chemical and physical exfoliation for your unique complexion.  You have a lot of options.  

What are the best types of exfoliation that we use in my dermatology practice to help shrink the appearance of pores?

Physical Skin Exfoliation Options

A good Exfoliating Facial Sponge used with your favorite cleanser on a daily basis. 


A slightly gritty scrub can be used twice a week to exfoliate.  It is important to use only products with rounded grains instead of angular crystals that can create micro-scratches on your skin's surface.  My Triple Action Exfoliating Cleanser dermatologist's clay and bamboo exfoliation scrub to shrink pores and brighten skin combines eco-friendly beads with salicylic acid and glycolic acid for both physical and 'chemical' exfoliation. The salicylic also penetrates oil pores better than any other ingredients to help break up pore clogging debris. I love this product and use it in the morning so that I can enjoy the instantly dewy and smooth appearance of my skin during the day.

Microdermabrasion treatments done professionally by aestheticians are another option for exfoliation. I instruct my patients to have these at 6-to-8-week intervals to keep their skin tone and texture in top shape. I have one at least every 8 weeks too. I love microdermabrasion. It's a simple, controlled, superficial sanding of the dead skin cells to create radiant, smooth skin texture and a smaller pore appearance, especially when it is done as part of a facial. 

    Chemical Skin Exfoliation

    best retinol to shrink pores made in fda lab

    Retinoids are my favorite treatment to maintain exfoliated skin.  Options include prescription tretinoin, such as Retin-A, as well as non-prescription retinol. Know that retinol products need to contain high levels of retinol to work. I also think they should be made in an FDA regulated lab so that you know you are getting a well-made product with active retinol. My Retinol Intensive Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream is. I alternate it with prescription tretinoin at night to refine my pores and keep my facial complexion smooth and healthy 

    best glycolic acid aha face cream to shrink pores

    Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) can be used in your at-home skin care products or can be done as peels by aestheticians, nurses or physicians.  Glycolic acid is the best AHA for exfoliation and I love the results that it has on skin.  I have used glycolic acid in my practice for almost 30 years. I learned from the dermatologist that developed glycolic acid into the popular powerhouse ingredient it is today, Dr. Eugene Van Scott. My Glycolic Acid Face Cream uses his original formulation characteristics and gets results. You can't get a more effective glycolic acid product to refine facial pores. 

    Beta hydroxy acid, specifically salicylic acid, is a superpower for pores because of its ability to penetrate oil. Patient with significant acne often opt for my Acne Treatment Pads which have the highest available concentration of salicylic acid, which is 2%. You can also have salicylic acid face peels done periodically for really stubborn clogged pores. 

    Put together chemical and physical exfoliation with BHA and AHAs in my Triple Action Exfoliation CleanserPerfect for daily use, this cleanser combines salicylic acid in combination with glycolic acid and gentle eco-friendly beads to brighten skin, shrink and refine pores every day daily. It's also a great cleanser to fight the signs of skin aging and for acne prone complexions.

    Pore Minimizing Skin Cleansing Kit

    I use Triple Action Exfoliating Cleanser followed by my Naturally Hydrating Pore Minimizing Toner every morning and evening to keep my skin bright and pores refined. I've bundled it together in my Pore Minimizer Cleanse Kit because none of us like seeing our pores! ~ Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey

      What are some of the other treatments that doctor's and skin experts use to make your pores appear smaller?

      1. Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatments and lasers are fantastic for refining the texture and appearance of pores.  Skin feels incredible after a treatment.  I use Sciton’s BBL for IPL treatments and I love the results. IPL treatments can be done on fair to moderately-pigmented skin (up to Fitzpatrick type 4). 
      2. Laser peels can help too.  I can add a MicroLaser Peel to any BBL treatment to really help de-plump the top skin layer and minimize the appearance of pores. Fractionated laser treatments like our ProFractional Erbium Laser or the Fraxel can help remodel dermal and epidermal structure to shrink pore size too.  
      3. Use products and procedures to unclog your clogged pores because clogged pores look bigger. Unclogging your pores and getting all the oil, dead skin and debris out will go a long way to improving the appearance of your skin texture.  Click here for the link to my post on How to Unclog Your Clogged Pores.

      Many people are unhappy with the look of their pores. The good news, you can change how big your pores look with the tricks I mentioned above!