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.
  • 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. Apply your BHA product. (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!


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

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  2. Hi there! I recently bought the products you have recommended but I haven’t used any one of them. How should I do the patch test? Should I perform a test for each product? How long should I wait before using them all together??

    Liked by 2 people

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  4. I tried this, and it left my skin very shiny – almost like it had been over-exfoliated and didn’t actually do anything for my SFs. Do you have any suggestions for troubleshooting? I’d really like to get my SFs under control before a big event coming up! 🙂


    • Same here. It makes the skin feel absolutely phenomenal, but after cleaning the clay mask off, I see these little sebaceous filaments on my nose that want to come out and are struggling to be pulled out. This is the same result after two uses and sticking exactly to the guide.
      Any advice to hoover these things out?

      Liked by 2 people

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  7. Hi! I was wondering if COSRX AHA Power Liquid can be used to replace the BHA in this method? I bought it hoping that SF in my nose and chin would diminish, but the only difference it made was to make my skin clearer and brighter. I’m dying to remove these nasty SF in my face. Hoping for your response. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nope, they’re not equivalent. AHA is not oil-soluble, so basically it won’t do anything for your sebaceous filaments.


  8. hi i dumb question but do you think its possible to shrink your pores through surgery? is there any chance that would make them appear smaller? thanks in advance love your tips thank you so much for sharing


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  14. Hi I followed your instructions two days now and got my skin shinny but the SF’s didn’t go away. Am I doing something wrong how many times does it take for them to get removed?


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  17. I did everything this blog said, with the same products, and I only got a really shiny nose. My SFs are still here. It didn’t get rid of any of them. I didnt feel grits either. Should I have opened up my pores before? Should I cleanse my face before doing it? Also my BHA is in the form of pads, is that still okay? What am I doing wrong


  18. I have been trying to wean off pore strips because of how damaging it can be on the skin. Been looking for a better solution to declog pores… then I came across your method (via reddit)!

    Just tried it with a combination of COSRX BHA Liquid Solution + Innisfree Pore Clay Mask + Innisfree Blackhead Out Balm and I love the results so much I had to leave a message! I could finally remove some bumps that were on my skin for the longest time.

    (I did cheat a little by using the remnants of my KOSE black mask after finishing the three steps but I think I can probably say goodbye to that step in my skincare routine with this. FINALLY.)

    Thank you for sharing!


  19. I just gave it a go tonight with my drunk elephant Sukari baby facial, origins clay mask, and Charlotte Tilbury multi-miracle glow and OMG! My skin feels like I just got a $200 facial. I definitely felt the grit. I have been battling with SF almost my whole entire life. I am so happy to find a wonderful regimen.


  20. Hi, I was wondering if it would be okay to use pure evening primrose oil as my carrier oil? And if so, is there any particular method to remove it effectively, since it is not an emulsifying solution, or does simply rinsing with warm water do the trick? Thanks!


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  27. Just did this with CosRx Natural BHA Skin Returning Emulsion, followed by my Pure Biology Clay Face Mask, and cleaned up with Banila Co Clean It Purity Zero & Shiseido Ibuki Gentle Cleanser. WOW. So awesome to feel all the gunk coming out of my face, skin is visibly smoother, nose and chin are clearer, and a few CCs were opened too. Relaxing now with a green tea hydrogel mask ^_^ Thank you!


  28. Great article but I would have to disagree on the pore size bit. My entire life I had pretty much perfect skin and practically invisible pores. About a year ago I stupidly tried this retinol product and it completely destroyed my face. On top of a host of other damage, ever since then my pores have been enormous and VERY clogged, to the point where the gunk actually raises out of the pore above the skin. I’ve read about others who went back to normal eventually after the same experience, so I know it’s possible for them to clear out and shrink back to their normal size. It’s just been a nightmare not only feeling like a monster but trying to figure out how to clear them out and get my skin to heal from that and all the other damage retinol did. I found this article researching how to do just that and plan to give the BHA/Clay/Oil method a go. I’ve tried BHA and oil separately with no results but maybe the clay mask is the missing link.


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  35. To remove the SFs first of all clean my fave with facial wash. i use COSRX pimple pad and wait for 5 minutes, then continue the next step using micellar water and then wait for 5 minutes. After that wash it with clean water without facial wash. Then using claymask about 10 minutes and clean it with my fingertip and lukewarm water. The result is sattisfying enough i think.


  36. Wow! I have been struggling with SF since I was a teenager. I hated it so much and it always looked so bad under foundation. After having done this step every other week for a couple of months now, the SF are almost all gone. I use Drunk Elephant Sukari Baby Facial followed by Origins Charcoal mask then Tatcha Cleansing Oil. It works like a dream. Thank you.


  37. Hi~ Instead of using a BHA product, can I use the Cosrx AHA/BHA Clarifying treatement? Will this have the same results, because I’d like to clean up the black n whiteheads. Thank You


  38. Hi there – I’ve been doing this treatment for 3 weeks now using Paula’s BHA, Innisfree Mask, and DHC Oil Cleanser (1x/week as you recommended). I have not noticed any grits, however, I have noticed less visible and cleaner pores, and most of my SFs after each treatment are dying to come out. The more stubborn ones stay til the next treatment. Based on other’s reviews, this all seems normal.
    My concern is that I’ve never had cystic acne and suddenly, I’ve developed 4 small-medium sized cystic acne blemishes that truly hurt. Is this normal? Has anyone else experienced this? Is this part of the process of bringing imperfections to the surface? Or is this treatment just not for me?

    Thanks so much in advance.


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  41. How do you feel about chemical exfoliants like Dr.Brandts poredermabrasion or trueforas triple action chemical exfoliater? I’ve used both and I feel like my pores have looked reduced and less inflamed with dirt and clogs


    • I ask because most of the tips and techniques are against everything I’ve ever heard from girlfriends and magazines so I’m wondering if my exfoliants will be debunked too.


  42. Wow!!! Just tried it for the first time. I used the CVS brand knock-off stridex pads with 2% salicylic acid, rainbow research French green clay, and Badger unscented face cleansing oil. I notice that the “grits” starting appearing within the first minute, and there were a LOT of them by the 2nd and 3rd minute. The only tough thing was stopping at 5 minutes because once your pores start unclogging, you really want to keep going :). I’m going to start doing this 1-2 times per week. I’m really curious to see what happens with my skin over time.There are some really stubborn sebaceous filaments on the top of my nose so if I see progress there I’ll be very very happy. Thank you so much for sharing!


    • Was there a certain technique you used with you used the oil for the last step…I don’t ever get the gritty feel so I’m wondering if you did something special. It could also just be the fact that I haven’t rubbed the oil for longer than a minute…I’m so impatient! 😞


  43. I’ve been following this routine for several weeks. I use what I could find easily in the drugstore in my country such as Garnier’s Matcha Deep Clean Blackhead&Pore Clay Mask and Ovale Olive Oil (the only exception is COSRX’s BHA). And eventhough I only did this once a week, it’s helping me a lot with my acnes! The feeling when the grits are coming out was just beyond amazing!! I never knew that my pores (especially on the side of my cheeks where hormonal acnes usually appears) hide those kind of gunks underneath. Thank you for sharing this! ❤


  44. This hack is my personal gamechanger. I raved about it on my insta-account already but can’t stop raving 😉 bin doing this for almost a month now and already thougt iit was great after the first time. NOW after my skins turnover cycle (more or less) I am stunned. For me, this is my holy grail concerning pore care. Can’t thank you enough for sharing this advice 😍


  45. Can you elaborate more on what a carrier oil should be? I used vitamin E and this did not work for me whatsoever. It actually feels like my pores are less likely to give up what’s inside.


    • Yes, I wouldn’t use vitamin E in straight form for any reason really–I find it awfully sticky and very difficult to spread or massage around. It can also be very clogging. By carrier oil, I mean the kind of oil that’s generally used as a base for oil products (rather than as a fragrance agent or other type of oil that must be diluted). Relatively neutral and inexpensive.

      I generally stick to commercial cleansing oils, as they tend to be formulated to have enough lubricity to massage without trouble and rinse off easily (and since this is a wash off procedure, it doesn’t really matter what the long-term benefits of the oil would be). The bases that work the best for me for cleansing oils are mineral oil or olive oil, though the camellia oil one from the linked SanDaWha cleansing oil works really well too. Some oils that are based in synthetic esters work really nicely too, like Hada Labo Gokujyun, Amorepacific, and Sulwhasoo cleansing oils.


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