How to Minimize Enlarged Pores and Blackheads

How to Minimize Enlarged Pores and Blackheads

Written by: Desiree Stordahl
Medically Reviewed by: Corey L. Hartman MD Board-Certified Dermatologist

When skin produces too much oil, it mixes with dead skin in the pore, forming a clog that causes it to enlarge (4). If the oil becomes trapped by dead skin, it oxidizes, forming a blackhead.

Fear not: Using the right pore minimizing products consistently can help mitigate these issues, but first you need to know exactly what works and what doesn't, as well as how enlarged pores and blackheads form in the first place.

Why do I have enlarged pores?

It all begins when your oil glands make too much oil. This excess oil mixes with other substances (such as dead skin) in the pore, causing a clog (3). Not surprisingly, this clog makes it difficult for the oil to flow freely, which causes the pore itself to enlarge.

Even though the pore enlarges to provide extra room for the oil to flow out, the oil still can become trapped within the pore (especially around the nose) by dead skin. Once this occurs, the oil and dead skin at the end of the clogged pore becomes exposed to air, it oxidizes, forming a blackhead. Yuck!

Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Corey L. Hartman emphasizes that “oil production and pore size are largely genetically determined.” This means that although we can try our best to temporarily reduce the size of pores with impactful skin care ingredients, we can’t completely eliminate them! That’s a good thing, because pores play a necessary role in skin’s overall health, so you wouldn’t want to have pore less skin anyway.

Enlarged pores dos and don'ts

Knowing which parts of your skin care routine could be making the problem worse, as well as which products are going to deliver the best results, is your best defense against blackheads and enlarged pores (1). Follow these guidelines to get the smooth, clear complexion you want.

  • Don’t use bar soap or other skin care products that clog pores. The ingredients that keep bar soap in its solid form are usually comedogenic (another way of saying they cause blackheads). You should also avoid products that are overly emollient (meaning thick or greasy creams)—especially if you have oily skin.
  • Only use gentle, water-soluble cleansers and avoid products with drying, harsh ingredients. Surprisingly, these can make oiliness worse.
  • Avoid harsh scrubs and cleansing brushes with stiff bristles. The longstanding myth that you can scrub away blackheads is false. The harshness just makes skin dry and flaky, creating more dead skin that can block pores.
  • Never go to bed without washing off your makeup. Neglecting to thoroughly, but gently, remove all your makeup can make clogged pores worse.
  • Exfoliate with a completely non-abrasive, leave-on salicylic acid (also known as beta hydroxy acid, or BHA) liquid to shed built up dead surface skin that would normally gather in the pore, stretching it out, and risk turning into a blackhead.
  • One more point about BHA (beta hydroxy acid): because BHA can exfoliate inside the pore, it can help return the pore to its normal shape and allow for a more even flow of oil. It really is amazing how well this works.
  • Use products loaded with niacinamide. Once a pore has stretched beyond its normal size, niacinamide can help provide a "tightened-up" look by boosting skin’s healthy, natural quality. The research about how niacinamide benefits skin is impressive.

What methods help enlarged pores?

For particularly stubborn enlarged pores and blackheads, consider the following additional measures to see if they can help you achieve even better results:

  • Absorbing excess oil with a clay mask can temporarily help minimize the appearance of enlarged pores due to clay’s oil-absorbing properties. As always, look for a clay mask that does not contain added harsh ingredients. You can also try an oil-absorbing product meant to be worn under makeup.
  • If stubborn blackheads won’t go away, consider extraction from a well-trained aesthetician. An aesthetician who knows what they are doing can extract blackheads without damaging your skin. You can also try it yourself with an extracting tool but follow instructions carefully.
  • Microdermabrasion with a suction device is an excellent way to routinely unclog the pores and hydrate the skin in a gentle manner. There are several devices on the market that accomplish this goal and add to a solid skin care regimen that keep oil in balance and pores relaxed.

How long does it take to minimize pores?

The tough part about minimizing pores is that seeing the results you want can take time. We know, instant results are always appealing, but truly improving the look of minimized pores (not just temporarily making them less visible) can take weeks. The key is to keep at it! Patience and consistency in your skin care routine are vital to getting the results you want – and you will see them if you stick with it.

How to minimize pores for sensitive skin

Thankfully, the best way to minimize enlarged pores for sensitive skin is the same way you would treat enlarged pores otherwise: with a BHA exfoliant. When starting out with a BHA exfoliant, you might want to begin with a gentle, calming lotion formula designed for sensitive skin to see how your skin tolerates salicylic acid. If your skin responds well, you can gradually work your way up to a BHA exfoliant with a 2% concentration.

One of the additional benefits of BHA is that it also helps reduce the visible appearance of redness. As always, make certain your whole skin care routine is full of products for sensitive skin for optimal results.

How to minimize pores for aging skin

Research has shown that the appearance of enlarged pores can increase as we age (2). As we get older, our pores don’t function as optimally as they did when we were younger. Part of this is because of the natural aging process, and part is due to environmental factors, like exposure to pollution and sun damage. If you’re seeing a noticeable increase in your pore size – including teardrop-shaped pores or orange peel skin – using a 20% niacinamide treatment can yield impressive results.

Learn more about minimizing pores and blackheads.

References for this information:

  1. The Egyptian Journal of Hospital Medicine, January 2022, 759-761
  2. Skin Research & Technology, August 2018, pages 367-370
  3. Dermatologic Surgery, March 2016, pages 277-285
  4. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, August 2015, pages 85-93
  5. Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, March 2008, pages 170-176
  6. Dermatologic Surgery, Volume 31, Part 2, 2005, Discussion 865.