Can Retinoic Acid cause enlarged pores?

Hi Randy,

Since I started retinoic acid cream I've noticed in about 2 weeks my pores got very visible and enlarged. I've used it for about 9 months but my pores didn't fade. Then I didn't use it for about 2 years, but now I want to start again but I'm afraid my pores will get even worse. No one in my family has enlarged pores, so it's not genetic.

On many blogs on the internet people are describing exactly the same problem. Is it true tretinoine can cause enlarged pores?



  • Hmmm. To be honest, I had heard the opposite. That retinoic acid could help shrink the appearance of pores because it helps remove the cellular debris that makes the pores look bigger and darker.  
  • @RandyS

    It is remarkable how many people experience enlarged pores after using retinoic acid.
    What are other contributing factors? 

    No one in my family has enlarged pores 
    I do use Finasteride, some say this may increase Testosterone
    I do use a mild face wash, apply a broadspectrum SPF30 sunscreen every day, alternate between a BHA exfoliant and Retinoic Acid at night, and I use a moisturizer. All mild fragrance free products. I think it's strange that although I follow all the theoretic good steps in skincare, people 10-15 years older have much nicer, even skin, also people who don't use any cosmetics often have much nicer skin.

  • You probably already know all this but here's what we previously wrote about enlarged pores: 

  • edited January 2017
    Oke thanks for your help Randy, I've just listened to the podcast.
    Which if these cleansers will be best for keeping pores clear, without drying skin? Or should I do the Oil Cleansing method?

    The Ordinary Hylamide High Efficiency Cleanser
    Isoamyl Laurate, Peg-20 Glyceryl Triisostearate, Isoamyl Cocoate, Pongamia Pinnata (karanja) Seed Oil, Oenocarpus Bataua Fruit Oil, Bertholletia Excelsa Seed Oil, Plukenetia Volubilis Seed Oil, Crambe Abyssinica Seed Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis Seed Oil, Solanum Lycopersicum (tomato) Fruit Extract, Squalane, Ethylhexyl Stearate, Tocopherol, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin. 

    Decubal Face Wash (pH 4.4)
    Glycerin, Aqua, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Betaine, Panthenol, Caprylyl Glycol, Citric Acid.

    Neutral Face Wash (pH 7.6)
    Glycerin, Aqua, Sodium Cocoamphoacetate, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Niacinamide, Sucrose Cocoate, Sodium chloride, Allantoin, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Gluconate , Citric Acid.
  • edited January 2017
    Uncover Cleanser Dry skin (pH 5.5)
    Aqua, Glycerin, Butyrospermum Parkii Butter, Hydrogenated Polydecene, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Cetearyl Alcohol, Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Sucrose Polystearate, Caprylyl Glycol, Glyceryl Stearate, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Helianthus Annuus Seed Oil, Tocopherol, Dimethicone, Sodium Polyacrylate, p-Anisic Acid, Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Stearoyl Glutamate, Lecithin, Phenethyl Alcohol, Citric Acid.
  • As we discussed in the podcast, my understanding is that cleansers with sal acid or some other active that can help clear our pores is best. I don't see those ingredients in any of these products.  I don't see how oil cleansing would help that much either. 
  • I find cleansers with Salicylic Acid you mentioned in the podcast far too stripping and drying, I already use a 2%BHA gel. You don't think any of the cleansers I found is good? Do you have a tip for a non drying cleanser then?
  • I didn't say the cleansers you found are not good I just said they don't contain any active ingredients that are typically used to reduce the appearance of large pores. You are right, though, that products with such ingredients are often too drying. It's a trade off you'll have to experiment with to find a product that's right for you. Good luck!
  • But I always thought Salicylic Acid is only effective at a pH lower than 4 (most cleansers have a higher pH) and it needs to stay on your skin long enough. So adding it to a cleanser is a bit pointless, a cleanser needs to clean your face and pores (it's not an exfoliant).

    At the moment I use the Decubal Face Wash, it feels like there's still some slippery layer on my face when I rinse it off. Does this mean it doesn't cleanse well enough? Before I used the Uncover Cleanser Dry skin, but I guess looking at the ingredients it may be too mild, what would you suggest?

  • From my personal experience, anything that ends up irritating my skin causes pores to look enlarged.
  • edited January 2017
    Perhaps, but at the moment I already have enlarged pores. Thus now it is important to keep them clean. I don't think any of the products I use irritate my skin. Although many people on the internet complain they started noticing enlarged pores after using retinoic acid, theoretically it should reduce pore size however ( So I would really like to know what's really the cause of enlarged pores. In my case it's definitely not sun damage, I'm not very old, no one in my family has enlarged pores, and I never used harsh/irritating products on my face. I once read an article where some dermatologist also wondered why sometimes very young people (so there's no loss of collagen or photoaging), have such enlarged pores. It would be nice to have some scientific studies explaining this phenomenon.
  • Peter, right now you're uncovering lots of qualitative information on pores.  Personally, I feel when someone starts applying retinoic acid they're paying more attention to their skin - maybe moreso than before. It definitely would be interesting to see an objective study on this phenomena.  I'm not saying it's not happening, but as you mentioned there are too many factors at play to find a key offender in this situation.

    I've been personally using Retinoic Acid for a little over two years and my pores were big when I started, and they're big now. So, for me no changes - but in my case it's genetic. : /  I know that some of the work Retinoic Acid does is in the deeper layer of the skin, but topically I've gotten much better surface and pore-management improvements in a week of using 10% Niacinamide than two years of Retinoic Acid. My pores have never been "empty" but extraction is infinitely easier, now.


  • Indeed there are too many factors to say for sure. It would be nice if there would be a study. Although I have to say, I use Retinoic Acid every other night, and the mornings after using retinoic acid my pores are more open than the nights where I use a 2%BHA with Vitamin C.
  • Maybe its just a matter of the excipient or overall formula rather than the acid. I used a product with retinoic acid for a year and my pores were just fine (my derm even said that the pores were shrinking), I changed to another brand and my nose pores were enlarged the next day, there was a huge difference....

    Peter would you be so kind to tell me the name of the BHA-C product? seems like a good combination, thanks! 
  • edited January 2017
    Ah I use in the evening Paula's Choice 2% BHA Gel, then apply The Ordinary 2% Retinoid, The Ordinary 20% Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate and finish with the The Ordinary 23% Vitamin C suspension. Seems like a strong mix, but it works very well without any redness or irritation. On the other evenings I use Tretinoin with a moisturizer, but my pores are more open and my skin more red after using the tretinoin. 
  • Sounds like you are using too many actives.
  • edited January 2017

    I've used tretinoin for quite a long time. Since I started using it I noticed enlarged pores. Also when I wake up my blemishes are slightly more red than on the nights I don't use retinoic acid (and I apply extremely small amounts).

    The other products I mentioned above I started with quite recently (5-6 weeks now), I noticed my skin has gotten less red and my acne reduced, so I don't think it's caused by too many actives. I only use this mix once in a while. Especially after starting with The Ordinary 2% Retinoid, I noticed a reduction in blemishes. Normal nights I alternate between the 2% Retinoid and 20% Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate, and Retinoic Acid and 20% Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate, but again I notice my pores are more open after using the Retinoic Acid.
  • Have you tried Differin instead of Retinoic acid?
  • edited January 2017
    No not yet, Differin is less irritating right? Unfortunately it's not over the counter where I live.

    Do you think The Ordinary 2% Retinoid is also a good option for getting the anti-aging benefits of vitamin A. Hydroxypinacolon Retinoate is of course not as well researched as retinoic acid, but it can bind directly to the retinoic acid receptors in skin and is non-irritating. Can it be the non-irritating alternative to Retinoic Acid?

    BTW, my face looks a bit like this woman:
    It's such a typical skin texture seen with people using skincare, and especially after using tretinoin. What might be the cause of this?
  • I have had that kind of orange peel texture. For me, it was from irritation. The ordinary retinol might be ok for you. Or try a lower strength retin--a.
  • what a lovely discussion, i missed out on.

    I paid a 4 digit figure to the dermatologist to erase my pores... it was eventually smaller... but i sufferred from thinner skin.

    I agree with @Randy that Salicylic acid wash can help... i had been looking at the Skin Actives salicylic acid wash... i didn't find any oher brands... any one have suggestions? Most cleansers i found are glycolic, lactic or mandelic. I don't see salicylic much.

    There's a Japanese AHA+BHA cleanser but the ingredients look pretty harsh.

    After suffering from my worst case of clogged pores from The Ordinary products... i diiscovered this beauty gadget (Ultrasonic skin scrubber) cost peanuts... nothing like the pricey clarisonic. my pores are A-OK now. :)

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