How to Shrink Pores (Temporarily), Plus 3 Pore Myths

Visible pores rank as one of the most common complaints people have about their skin, and photos of models and celebrities with their pores Photoshopped into oblivion make pore problems seem even worse. “Pore-shrinking” toners and masks are always popular, but can they really work? Find out why not and learn how to safely shrink pores (temporarily) with my three-product Super Pore Killer technique!

Affiliate links in this post are marked with an asterisk(*). Products originally provided to me for consideration or review are marked with double asterisks(**).

But first, let’s debunk some common pore myths.

Pore Myth 1: Your nose is covered in blackheads.

That is probably untrue. Those enlarged and darkened pores on your T-zone and sometimes on other areas of your face are much more likely to be sebaceous filaments (SFs), which are essentially a mixture of sebum, bacteria, dead skin cells, and a single hair (I know, I know, gross) that have filled up a large pore. SFs are what this method addresses. In practice, though, that’s mostly semantics. If you think of your SFs as blackheads, you’re definitely not alone!

Pore Myth 2: Pores can be “shrunk.”

Sadly, while you can temporarily diminish the appearance of your pores using techniques like mine, you can’t physically shrink the actual size of your pores. Keeping skin plump and hydrated can help, but in general, the size of your pores is the size of your pores. The only exception I can think of is when pores are stretched out and damaged, usually through the use of peel-off pore strips or pore masks. Those peel-off pore strips may pull out some SFs, and I know it feels awesome to use one and then see how much gross stuff is stuck to the strip afterwards, but the damage they can cause your pores is not reversible and will make the problem worse in the long run, so don’t do it. Also avoid picking at your SFs, squeezing them, or using those little metal extractor tools, all of which also put you in danger of permanently enlarged pores.

Pore Myth 3: Pores open and close.

Pores do not open and close. There aren’t little tiny muscles around every pore in your face, flexing and relaxing depending on what you’re doing to your skin or what you’ve applied to it. The idea that a warm washcloth or steam treatment will “open” your pores to allow products to penetrate more deeply is a myth. And the idea that a splash of cold water or an astringent toner will “close” your pores is also a myth. As I mentioned above, the size of your pores is the size of your pores.

The best thing you can do to make your pores look smaller and your face clearer is to regularly clean out your pores. So let’s find out how!

Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid
Regular BHA is key to keeping pores fresh and clear.

What you need to get rid of sebaceous filaments

To clear out your SFs and shrink your pores’ appearance with my technique, you’ll need about an hour, preferably in the morning, and these three items:

  • A 2% BHA product with a pH between 3 and 4. I have been using COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid(full review) for years, but any BHA with the correct percentage and pH will do. You can also try Stridex Maximum Strength Medicated Pads* for something stronger, but the Stridex is more drying.
  • A clay mask. I used to use a regular clay mask, but brands have come out with wonderful new clay mask types that tend to be creamier and gentler without sacrificing their sebum-sucking properties. I like the newer cream-style clay masks, which are softer, more spreadable, and less drying than the classic clay masks. Papa Recipe Eggplant Clearing Mud Cream Mask*** is a nice one. Innisfree Super Volcanic Pore Clay Mask* is the one I used to use. Effective, but more difficult to spread and rinse, and harsher than the new options. (Note: If you’d like to try combining the BHA and clay mask steps, look into The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque***, which contains an effective concentration of salicylic acid in a clay mask base. I find it stings a bit and must be used carefully, but is potent for pore clearing.)
  • An emulsifying oil cleanser or a pure carrier oil. You can find my cleansing oil reviews here, but one that I go back to frequently is Hada Labo Gokujyun Cleansing Oil*, an economical, no-frills cleansing oil with enough thickness to stay on during the oil soaking portion of this routine, enough pull to draw any grits out when it’s time to massage, and enough slip to prevent dragging or irritation during the massage step. As a bonus, the Hada Labo cleansing oil can be purchased in more eco-friendly refill bags, too!

How to clear out your pores for fewer SFs

Note: The best time to do this is in the morning, before your regular morning skin care routine. This way, you won’t have to cleanse first and then again at the end of this process.

  1. Unless you’re using the BHA clay mask from The Ordinary, apply your BHA product first. (If you have dry or dehydrated skin, you may want to limit your BHA and the rest of this process to only the areas of your face where your SFs are most visible.) Because BHAs are oil soluble, they’ll be able to penetrate deep into the sebum filling up your pores, loosening the gunk to make it easier to remove with the following steps. Wait 20-25 minutes to allow the BHA to do its job.
  2. Without washing off the BHA, apply your clay mask. Wait for however long the clay mask instructions specify.
  3. Rinse off your clay mask with tepid to lukewarm water. Be careful with your water temperature here, as both your BHA and clay mask can be quite drying, and you don’t want to overdry your skin by throwing hot water at it on top of that. Dry your face.
  4. Apply your cleansing oil or carrier oil. Wait 15 minutes. The oil will help draw the gunk in your pores to the surface.
  5. Gently massage your face or areas you’re treating for 2-3 minutes. If all has gone well, at this point you’ll feel tiny little grains coming out of your pores! These are the clogs that have been making your pores more visible. Many people call them “grits,” and getting grits out of your face is an amazingly satisfying feeling. Do not apply too much pressure to your skin or massage for longer than 5 minutes, tops. Doing so can result in broken capillaries, and those can’t be fixed without pricey laser treatments. Don’t worry if you don’t feel the grits. Some people don’t, either because the clogs are too small or because there wasn’t enough sebum and dead skin buildup to create grits. Even if you don’t feel any coming out, this process is still clearing your pores and reducing their appearance.
  6. After the oil massage, emulsify and rinse off your cleansing oil or wash off your carrier oil as usual. Continue with your regular skin care routine.

At this point, you should notice that the appearance of your pores is visibly reduced, whether or not you felt any grits. Congratulations! Pores that suffer from sebaceous filaments do inevitably fill back up, usually within a few days, but treating them with my Super Pore Killer method once or twice a week should help keep them at bay.

What do you do to shrink your pores? Tell me your tricks in the comments!

308 thoughts on “How to Shrink Pores (Temporarily), Plus 3 Pore Myths

      1. I generally prefer not using straight carrier oils for this, since they’re way harder to clean off without a lot of extra rubbing, but if you want to try, no harm in that!


  1. I tried this and I’m really upset this didn’t work. At all. I used Stridex wipes (red box), Yes to Tomatoes DIY Powder to Clay Face Mask, and Burt’s bees cleansing oil. I was so excited to finally find a solution but I can still see the black filaments on my nose and chin. Do you have any advice for me? :’-(


    1. It didn’t work for me either. I actually used the products she recommended (cosrx, Jeju volcanic mask, and the sandawha oil) and followed the instructions to the T. I was devastated to see it didn’t work at all bc I’ve had bad SF problems literally my whole life. Maybe it’s not strong enough? I’m not sure. I’m hoping after several uses SOMETHING will happen, but it was literally not any difference on my skin after 2 uses so far. I’m not sure how everyone else seems to be getting great results. I’ll also be pretty sad for spending that much money on these products if nothing actually happens 😦


      1. @Savvy, I’m just wondering: maybe you have very persistent sebaceous filaments. Or perhaps you’ve used similar products regularly already, so doing this doesn’t have as much of an impact?

        I would save up my money (or ask for a gift certificate as a holiday gift from a loved one)and go to an esthetician for a good facial. Then, wait a day or two and do the above method. This way, you’re beginning with a “clean slate” so-to-speak.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Getting regular facials can really help too. The cost of facials has gone way down with the advent of Groupon. I like going to the same person because she knows my skin but admittedly she’s expensive. I see facials on Groupon for $50 all the time. If you can spare that even once a month it’s helpful. You just need to make sure they are gentle. My facialist also has a less expensive facial where she essentially clears your pores and doesn’t do all the massage etc. It’s about half the price of a regular facial-these facials are becoming increasingly common and take about 45 minutes.


  2. The method worked well for me. I have combination skin with an oily T-zone. I have pores on my nose, on the area between my eyebrows, on the small area of my cheeks on each side of my nose, and on the area above my upper lip. I have been using the Skinmiso Pore Beauty Nose Pack along with the Skinmiso comedown extractor. While that method works, sometimes it’s difficult to get the extractor in hard to reach areas like in the corners of the nose, and I tend to press the comedown extractor hard. Yeah, my fault, I know, but I get obsessed over my pores. 😀. I also feel that the pores don’t get clean enough. I’m happy to say that with this method, my pores are cleaner and smaller. I’m not going to expect them to get any smaller, but I’m pleased with the results. Thank you for sharing.
    Oh, and for the record, I used the Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, L’oreal Pure-Clay Mask/Masque Argile-Pure, and the Klairs Gentle Black. Deep Cleansing Oil. They were the products I had, and normally use them in my routine. I decided not to buy anything new since they work well for my skin.
    Thanks again!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Does it take a few tries to work? I bought all the products listed, and I just tried it with high hopes of my SFs finally going away. I followed all the steps and timed everything so it was accurate, but there’s no noticeable difference in my skin. I didn’t feel those “grits” and my face looks the same as it did before :/

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I started fiddy’s routine a couple of months ago, and it was a game changer for me! Especially during my “bad skin days” once a month…but I do this almost religiously at least once a week, mostly twice a week. Depends on my skin condition: if it already seems a bit irritated and reddish, then I skip one turn. I use “The ordinary” BHA 2% solution, at the moment a clay mask from missha and then my oil cleanser, at the moment the elizavecca donkeypiggy cleansing oil.

    I only felt those “grits” the first time, and not very many of them.

    My skin improved after 2 weeks, now after 3 months, my skin looks dramatically more even, I have very few infalmmations (mostly because I can’t leave my hands off my face…) and can prevent small ones from getting gross during my “bad skin days”.

    So: It takes some time but is definitely worth the very relaxing effort!
    Love from Munich, Vera

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, was it the TO 30% AHA 2% BHA solution? And did you do what was instructed from TO and washed it off after 10 mins? And was it after that that you applied the clay mask?


  5. Hey there. Just received all three products in the mail today so I’m excited to try! I wanted to ask.. can I use any of these alone on a daily basis to help clear my SF’s or is it best to do this three-step method a couple times a week?


  6. Hey, I just tried this yesterday. I normally use Aztec Secret clay mask after bath (I use Apple Cider Vinegar instead of water) and apply Vitamin C after. I recently got Eve Lom Cleanser, the one with the muslin cloth. So, yesterday I used Paula’s Choice BHA then Aztec clay then Eve Lom. I waited about 10 minutes after applying Eve Lom then massaged my face and removed it with the cloth. I applied it two times after that and removed immediately using the cloth. My face is a bit red the morning after. Is it because I used the cloth or because Eve Lom is not a good product to use with your method?


  7. I have been looking for this kind of masterful advice for as long as I can remember. Thank you.

    Since this was posted in 2015, do you have any updates to the products you use?

    The COSRX and emulsion recommendations were extremely valuable due to their value (at Ulta, which is the closest store I have that carries this kind of thing) and I would love to hear more about products you love/marry/hate.

    My only suggestion on the layout of the above steps would be to simplify it even more, and then break down the products. I accidentally switched the carrier oil and emulsification steps (since I am new to this process) and felt silly.

    I am an engineer and I am always brainstorming ways to make (anything) more clear, so my suggestions would be:
    1.Identify (BHA)
    2. Isolate (Drying Mask)
    3. Release (Carrier Oil)
    4. Remove (Emulsion)
    5. Replenish (Wash)

    Again, thank you.

    There are so many products on the market these days that being able to distinguish between a $15 product and a $45 product means a lot to me and the skincare community–and you’re the expert!


    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hey,

    I read on your blog (acid toner, December 2015 post) that you use BHA and AHA every other day to keep your pore clean. I’m wondering if you still use your BHA and AHA every other night since you started doing this weekly pore cleaning routine.



    1. I use BHA on my nose almost every night but I rarely use AHA anymore! I’ve cut back quite a bit on physical exfoliation as I’m getting older and also use strong tretinoin.


  9. I didn’t feel much grit, just maybe a few. Could have been my imagination. But my skin looks a lot clearer and healthier after doing this. I’m going to keep doing it once a week.


  10. Actually cant believe the grit that I saw – kept thinking it must have been fluff from the dark towel I used to dry my face but then realised more kept appearing! Still slightly visible SF but a lot better! My skin is so soft there now too!


  11. This was amazing! I tried this a few days ago and not a lot happened, no grits. Gave it a few days and tried it again this morning. You are correct, it’s super satisfying to get the “grits” out! 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽 Definitely adding this to my routine!


    1. That’s awesome! I don’t do it very often these days as years of BHA use on my nose tend to keep them pretty clear, but once in a while I’ll still get some grits popping out and it’s definitely satisfying in a gross way hahahaha


  12. I wanted to try this out tomorrow morning for the first time, but I’ve just had a pimple burst tonight. Can I still do this tomorrow morning or do I need to wait for my pimple to heal fully?


    1. I’m sorry I didn’t see this sooner! For future reference, I’d wait for it to heal fully, not so much because of the products but more so because extra touching and massaging of the skin before it’s healed could compromise the healing process or spread infection.


      1. thanks! I was impatient so I did actually go ahead and do this but was careful around that area and didn’t massage it. It was fine, and 5 days later it’s healing well and didn’t spread. I’d do it again.


  13. Hi Jude! I have a question relating the clay mask step of this process. I have quite dry skin AND easily clogged pores. I have used bentonite clay before and found that it dried my skin out for a few days after use even with my regular humectant, lotion, & oil filled routine. I recently purchased some other ingredients like macha, turmeric, yogurt, honey, and kaolin clay to also use in DIY masks.
    Would you recommend using 2 masks (1st a clay mask, then a moisturizing mask later) or making a combo mask with everything?


  14. Hi, just curious on if you’re supposed to cleanse before and after you do this? Currently, my routine when I do this is cleanse, stridex and moisturize. Would I still have to cleanse after oil? Thanks!!!


  15. Love the post, will definitely be trying this! 🙂 But why would you recommend doing this in the AM and not the PM? I prefer to do more intense skincare applications like this in the PM alongside my normal routine, and in the AM I keep it simple with just a cleanser, toner, moisturizer, and SPF… if I can do this procedure in the PM, I will. Thanks!


    1. You can do it whenever you want! I just prefer doing it in the morning because then I don’t have to first cleanse to remove sunscreen/makeup before doing this. If I do it in evening, I’d have to cleanse first, then do it which would involve more cleansing, and that feels excessive to me.


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