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Firstly, we need to look at what causes enlarged pores so we can get to the root cause and have symptom relief.
What Are Pores?
Sweat, pimples, blackheads…our pores make a lot of things. When people talk about reducing the size of pores though they mean sebaceous glands, not sweat glands.
Our sebaceous glands (aka skin pores) make sebum. This oily sebum helps moisturize skin, keeping it soft and supple. Different factors can make our pores seem larger and more obvious.
What Causes Enlarged Pores?
There’s a whole lot of speculation, but here’s what we do know. Factors like age, ethnicity, and health play a role in pore size.
A 2018 article “Facial Skin Pores: A Multiethnic Study,” looked at the differences between women of different races to compare pore size. Chinese and Japanese women have significantly lower pore density. These women had 5-8 times less pore density than any other ethnic group.
By far Indian and Brazilian women had the most noticeable pores. Caucasian women came in slightly behind the Indian women. However, Asian women by far won the least noticeable pores award.
It’s often said pore size increases with age, but that’s not exactly true. While pore density does vary some with age, the differences are usually insignificant. Our ethnicity and genetics play a much bigger role in pore size than our age.
However, skin damage does make pores more visible, and skin damage increases with age.
A 2017 study in Skin Research and Technology notes that while women don’t get larger pores or more pores with age, the shape does change from round to oval.
Hormones control many functions in the body, from fertility, to growth, to skin changes. As we age, decreasing estrogen results in skin damage and thinning. The epidermal layer gets thinner and dead skin cells stick around longer.
This doesn’t just affect older women though. Hormone imbalance contributes to early signs of aging skin, acne, and other skin issues that make pores more noticeable.
A Good and a Bad Thing
Another hormone, insulin like growth factor (IGF-1), is key to a healthy body. However, too much of a good thing can be harmful. Too much IGF-1 is linked to a shorter lifespan, cancer risk, and other serious issues.
According to a 2010 article in Archives of Dermatological Research, IGF-1 may also affect pores. An overabundance of IGF-1 can make facial pores more noticeable by affecting the skin’s epidermis.
We are what we eat and that includes our skin. Inflammatory foods contribute to hormone imbalance and oxidative damage. Both can wreck skin health. Free radical damage to skin breaks down the collagen and elastin we need for smooth, healthy skin.
Choosing healthy, whole foods not only makes us feel better, but our skin looks better too.
Can You Really Shrink Your Pores?
Yes, and no. Pore size is largely determined by genetics, but what we eat, drink and put on our skin affects our skin’s health. While we can’t technically shrink pores, we can tighten, tone, and reduce the appearance of your pores.
Let’s take a look at some of the commonly recommended treatments for shrinking pores.
Glycolic Acid and Chemical Peels
Conventional solutions include chemical creams to reduce the appearance of large pores. Chemical peels are another option. And yes, it’s exactly like iit sounds. Chemical acids are applied to the face to burn off the top layer(s) of skin.
Alpha-hydroxy peels, like lactic acid and glycolic acid, are common choices. Salicylic acid, often recommended for acne, also helps to clear out pores to diminish their appearance.
How Do Chemical Peels Work?
Glycolic acid chemically strips the skin. It works by deep cleaning pores, removing blackheads, fighting acne, evening out skin tone, brightening skin tone and smoothing out rough skin. All of these benefits help reduce the look of enlarged pores.
Peels can range from milder at home masks, to intense and risky procedures at the dermatologist’s office. While they might reduce the appearance of pores, synthetic chemical peels can also cause redness, burning, and irritation. More severe side effects include scarring, skin infections, and organ damage.
Retinoids are another commonly recommended treatment for large pores. While there’s evidence it is effective, it might not be the safest option. Retinoids are synthetic compounds derived from vitamin A. Retinoids (or Retinol) increase cell turnover for smoother skin and less noticeable pores.
However, there’s evidence retinol can cause cell damage, cell death, and may play a role in heart disease. Too much synthetic vitamin A can cause birth defects. Both Germany and Canada have restricted this chemicals use in skincare products.
It’s well known that overexposure to UV rays can cause skin damage. It’s no surprise many skincare experts recommend sunscreen to reduce the pore’s appearance. There’s a little more to the story though.
Sunscreens with synthetic chemicals can do more harm than good. That’s one reason why I opt for mineral based sunscreens. My best tip for avoiding too much sun is to use spf clothing and seek out some shade.
It’s important to not see sunshine as the enemy though! We need some sun to make vitamin D for a healthy body, skin, and pores.
How to Shrink Pores Naturally
Aging, environmental pollution, and poor health choices cause a breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin. Without these, skin becomes damaged and pores can appear enlarged. Pimples, blackheads and other impurities clog pores and also make them more visible. Shrinking pores naturally requires a few steps.
- Clear out pores
- Improve collagen, elastin and cell turnover.
- Change skin from the inside out with healthy foods and hormone balance.
These remedies for how to shrink face pores naturally do just that.
Detox Pores With a Mask
Clogged pores are full of gunk that make pores appear larger. Our skin is one way the body eliminates toxins so it’s important to keep pores clear and open. Bentonite clay, rhassoul clay, and charcoal are all fabulous at pulling impurities out of skin. Here are some of my favorite, simple detoxing face masks.
Too busy to make it?
Alitura clay mask contains a blend of clays, natural powders, and nutrients that go deep down into pores. Along with bentonite, green, and kaolin clay, it also has rhassoul clay. Recent research points to rhassoul clays ability to improve skin’s elasticity and unclog pores.
Egg White Face Mask
Eggs are great for breakfast, baking with, and… rubbing on your face? Yes! The proteins in egg whites are said to help tighten and plump skin to reduce the appearance of pores.
Here’s how to make a simple egg white face mask:
- Whisk an egg white from a free range, pastured egg until smooth. You can also use the whisk attachment on a mixer for faster results.
- Apply the foamy egg white to the face and allow it to soak in.
- After about 15 minutes gently wash the face.
Papaya Face Mask
Papaya extract as a supplement has significant skin benefits too.
A 2016 study looked at papaya’s skin benefits. The group given papaya extract had healthier skin than the group given other antioxidants.
To make a papaya face mask:
- Mash the fruit and apply to the face. It can be combined with honey, yogurt, or other skin loving ingredients if you want.
- After 10-15 minutes, gently wash the papaya face mask off.
More Pore-Cleansing Face Mask Recipes
Wash Your Face
A daily cleanser can help prevent breakouts and blemishes that lead to more obvious pores. Here are a few recipes to get you started. (If time is short, the Alitura Pearl Cleanser is one of my favorites!)
- Homemade honey cleanser
- Foaming face wash with hydrosol and essential oils
- Cold process soap
- Homemade clay soap
A facial steam helps clear congestion for easier breathing, but it also helps clear out dirt and impurities from pores. Adding herbs amps up the skin cleansing benefits. The steam gently opens pores and carries the herbal properties with it.
Astringent herbs help tighten and tone tissues. Here are some astringent herbs to add to your next pore cleansing facial steam:
- Green or black tea
- Blackberry leaf
- Red raspberry leaf
- Witch hazel
Can Apple Cider Vinegar Shrink Pores?
Apple cider vinegar is used for many things in the natural health world, including to benefit skin. Skin’s pH is naturally acidic and ACV can help protect skin’s acid mantle for a healthy pH balance. ACV is also thought to tone skin and reduce the appearance of pores.
To use apple cider vinegar as a toner, dilute vinegar with water, apply to a cotton ball and swab your face. I use 50% water and 50% vinegar, but some do better with a 25% vinegar and 75% water solution.
Cold water is often used to “close pores” but the effects are temporary. Here are some natural toners to help minimize the appearance of pores.
Alpha-hydroxy Acids (AHA)
Alpha-hydroxy acids are commonly used in conventional pore minimizing treatments. While synthetic chemical peels come with risks, AHAs are naturally found in certain foods and have definite skin benefits.
DIY recipes aren’t as strong as a chemical peel (thank goodness!), but help gently and naturally exfoliate skin. This probiotic face mask has yogurt with naturally occuring AHA.
Exfoliation is important to improve cell turnover and remove dead cells to reveal healthier, glowing skin.
Baking soda is gently exfoliating to skin, but ideally shouldn’t be used more than once a week. Baking soda has a high pH of about 9, while our skin is happiest at a pH of about 5 (or a little lower).
To make a baking soda scrub:
- Combine a few teaspoons of baking soda with enough water to make a paste and gently scrub skin.
- Wash the baking soda off with warm water.
More DIY Exfoliants
Different skin types, like sensitive skin, oily skin, dry skin, and acne-prone skin respond better to different facial care products. You can customize facial scrubs with various skin-loving essential oils (safely diluted of course). Here are plenty of options that you can customize to fit your needs.
- Sugar scrub cubes – use a non-comedogenic oil (doesn’t clog pores) like sweet almond or grapeseed
- Cleansing grains
- Easy sugar scrub
- Oatmeal lavender facial scrub
- How to use a Konjac sponge
- Blackhead removal remedies
- How to use rhassoul clay
Saunas for Healthy Skin
Sweating it out can improve skin tone and function. Saunas increase blood flow to the skin to deliver necessary nutrients. Those who use saunas on a regular basis retain moisture better and have less pore-clogging sebum. Saunas also help strengthen the skin barrier, which is necessary for minimizing pore appearance. Learn more about saunas here.
LLLT or Red Light Therapy
I use Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) to improve my health on many levels. Also known as red light therapy, LLLT benefits skin health too. Red light therapy helps improve collagen in the skin to reduce wrinkles and improve skin’s appearance. A 2018 study in Dermatologic Surgery also found it improves the appearance of pores (by up to 54.5 percent)!
Skin Care Routine for Healthy Pores
There are plenty of options when it comes to taking care of our skin and naturally shrinking pores. Having clean skin, using a moisturizer, and eating a healthy, whole foods diet will help our skin and pores be their healthiest!
Your turn! What are your favorite natural cleansers as well as tips and tricks for smaller pores?
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