Closeup of skin showing pores that are big

Why Your Pores Are So Big — And How To Unclog Them

Dr. Pimple Popper busts the most common myth about pores, and sheds light on what really works.


4 minute read

It seems like almost everyone is on an endless quest to shrink their pores. With hundreds of products out there marketed toward treating large pores, how do you determine what really works?

Spoiler alert: there’s no magic pore-shrinking bullet. According to SLMD founder and dermatologist Sandra Lee, MD (aka Dr. Pimple Popper), the key is to keep your skin healthy, and your pores will follow. Read on as she explains why your pores are big, and what you can do about it.


What is a pore?

Simply put, a pore is a teeny tiny opening in your skin — which is covered in thousands of them. Some are sweat pores, which help your body to regulate its temperature, but most are hair follicles, meaning they contain a tiny hair root and a sebaceous gland, which produces your body’s natural oil (or sebum).

Pores play an incredibly important role in keeping our bodies healthy. They work like a tunnel, allowing the body to deliver sebum from the sebaceous glands to the surface of the skin, where it works to moisturize and protect our largest organ — the skin itself. It “waterproofs” our skin essentially, preventing too much water from entering or exiting the body, which keeps us from getting dehydrated or water logged. You might hate on your pores for being so visible, but don’t hate on them too much — they do a lot for you.

What affects your pore size?

Everyone has lots of pores, but some people have more visible pores than others — especially around the nose, apples of the cheeks, and forehead. The size of our pores is dependent on three things:

  • Age. As we get older, our skin loses its elasticity, it will often stretch or sag. This can cause pores to expand over time, making them more visible as we age.
  • Hormones. During hormonal periods, the overproduction of oil can make pores appear larger, when excess sebum collects on the skin’s surface, magnifying these small openings.
  • Genetics. Most people with large pores are simply born that way, likely having inherited their specific skin type.

While some people are born with smaller pores than others, there are certain lifestyle factors that can impact their size.

  • Sun damage. Over time, exposure to UV radiation diminishes collagen and elastin, which can cause the skin around your pores to loosen. If the skin begins to sag, it can exaggerate the appearance of the pore.
  • Improper skincare. Not having the right routine can lead to oil buildup inside your pores. This includes both over-washing (which leads to dryness that actually stimulates sebum production) and inadequate cleansing, which also clogs pores. The longer pores remain clogged, the greater chance they have of becoming stretched out.

A closeup photo of skin showing enlarged pores

Can you shrink your pores?

In pursuit of smaller pores, it’s important to understand what you can and can’t expect from treatment. So many products are marketed to help “shrink” pores, and while we hate to be the bearer of bad news, we’re going to be straight with you: this isn’t possible.

No matter how much time or money you spend, the size of your pores will never be made smaller with a product, treatment, or home remedy. The good news? Their appearance can be minimized with various tips, tricks, and good skincare habits.

Dr. Pimple Popper’s tips for minimizing pores

Tip #1: Cleanse properly

The best way to reduce the appearance of pores is to keep your skin clean without over-washing and over-drying your complexion. When you strip too much oil away, it triggers your sebaceous glands to produce more sebum to make up for it. Opt for a cleanser that’s gentle enough to use every day, and doesn’t leave your face feeling tight.

Try: Dr. Lee’s favorite SLMD Salicylic Acid Cleanser, with pore-penetrating beta hydroxy acid.

Tip #2: Wear sunscreen

Be sure you’re also using a lightweight moisturizer and an SPF by day (every day, year round). This will help reduce damage to your skin’s collagen because exposure to UV rays not only leaves you with a sunburn, but also breaks down collagen and causes signs of premature aging. Collagen keeps the walls of your pores plump and tight —preventing them from sagging and appearing larger.

Try: SLMD Dual Defender, a moisturizer and broad spectrum sunscreen formulated for all skin types.

Tip #3: Exfoliate

Exfoliating your skin also plays a major part in keeping pores in tip-top shape. Getting rid of dead, dry skin cells not only prevents clogged pores and acne, it also encourages your skin to continue to produce new cells. If you hear “exfoliation” and think of a gritty, harsh scrub, think again. Your best bet is a chemical exfoliant like a beta or alpha hydroxy acid — or better yet, a combination of acids that work in multiple ways.

Try: SLMD AHA/BHA Swipes, pre-soaked pads with salicylicglycolic, and lactic acids to exfoliate and clean pores in one, simple step.

Tip #4: Incorporate retinol

Using a topical retinoid helps to regulate cell turnover, which in turn can help avoid dead cell buildup inside your pores. It’s best to use retinol at night, to take advantage of your skin’s natural rejuvenation process — and also because retinoids break down in sunlight.

Try: SLMD Retinol Resurfacing Serum with added hyaluronic acid and a time-released formula to minimize potential irritation.

Dr Sandra Lee

Dr. Lee's Last Word

I get so many questions from people wanting to shrink their pores — which unfortunately just isn’t possible. But you definitely can work on unclogging them, which can make them appear smaller. Following a good skincare routine and keeping your skin healthy by wearing sunscreen every day will go a long way toward minimizing your pores.


Shop the Article