June 4 2018 update: Thanks to my job as Director of Marketing at Beautytap, I’ve been able to create a set of products that I can confirm work well for me with this technique! You can find the set here.
Originally published March 28, 2015.
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!
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 Innisfree Jeju Volcanic Color Clay Mask Purifying** as it’s softer, more spreadable, and less drying. Papa Recipe Eggplant Clearing Mud Cream Mask*** is another 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. In recent years, I’ve grown very fond of SanDaWha Natural Mild Cleansing Oil* specifically for this method. The thick oil doesn’t run or drip easily the way thinner ones do, and when I massage, this oil has enough “pull” to it to really work plugs out of my pores, making it more effective than the super slippy oils I prefer for daily makeup and sunscreen removal.
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.
- 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.
- Without washing off the BHA, apply your clay mask. Wait for however long the clay mask instructions specify.
- 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.
- Apply your cleansing oil or carrier oil. Wait 15 minutes. The oil will help draw the gunk in your pores to the surface.
- 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.
- 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! And in case you want to try my pore clearing set at Beautytap but don’t want to scroll back up, here it is!