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Pore minimizing myths Episode 12

Do pore minimizing products really work? What causes enlarged pores in the first place? Find out all this and more in this week’s episode.

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I opened the show with a discussion of “50 Things We Know Now That We Didn’t Know This Time Last Year” which includes Super-Lice! Then we answered an audio question from Julie, a listener who asked “What do I use to clear my pores?”

At first glance, you may think that pore control products offer to make your pores smaller, but if you read the label carefully you’ll see that in most cases they just claim to reduce the appearance of large pores. That may sound like a subtle distinction but it’s really not. There’s not much you can do to physically make your pores smaller but you can avoid making them look larger. Instead of looking for “shrinking” products, try avoiding these 5 factors that can make pores look plump:

5 Factors that make pores appear larger

1. Skin debris…
…like dead skin cells can collect in pores making them appear bigger. Good facial cleansing is key to staying debris-free.

2. Excessive oiliness…
…can keep pores filled with a layer of oil that accentuates their appearance. Consider using oil-absorbing makeup or more frequent cleansing or blotting.

3. Bacterial growth…
…contribute to blackheads and make pores appear freakishly huge. Exfolliation can help.

4. Sun exposure…
…can thicken the skin cells around the edge of pores making them appear larger. Using a sunscreen or limiting your sun exposure is a good idea.

5. Genetics…
…determines your skin type and if you`re unlucky enough to be born with oily, thicker skin your pores will probably be more noticeable. Changing your parents could help this but is probably not a very practical solution.

How do pore minimizing products work?

This is a case where we’d recommend looking at reputable brands who have the budget to formulate and test their products appropriately. Smaller brands either don’t do enough R&D or they rely on stock formulas from contract manufactures that also aren’t extensively tested for efficacy.

We reviewed the claims, ingredients, and cost of 5 different products. The first two are OTC drugs that use acne active ingredients to keep pores clear. These will work and are not that expensive.  One product looks good but even though it claims to contain sal acid and other “actives” it is NOT a drug product and doesn’t appear to contain a functional level of anything that will help. It is also more expensive. The fourth product product uses the same “natural extract” approach and it is even MORE expensive. And the fifth product The last product is also expensive but uses a different approach. Read the claims carefully and you’ll see that all it says it does is “hide” pores. It does that with titanium dioxide and pigments. This is a valid approach if you don’t mind wearing foundation but there’s NO need to spend this much money to get this benefit.

The bottom line to the consumers is that nothing REALLY makes pores physically smaller. You can keep them clean with an acne type product or you can conceal them with a foundation type product but don’t bet tricked into spending a ton of money on lentil or bamboo extract.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Pedro January 7, 2014, 5:49 am

    Although I’m skeptical, according to this paper from Shiseido products with Glycylglycine may help a bit:


    • Perry Romanowski January 7, 2014, 6:51 am

      Interesting. I’ll have to take a look at the full paper.

    • Rodolfo Baraldini January 8, 2014, 3:34 pm

      Others methyl glycine ( betaine, sarcosine etc.. ) have some influence / interference with sebum generation , reducing the espression of 5a-reductase and the pore diameter seems to be linked with the sebum flow ( bernoulli ).

    • Kathryn June 12, 2014, 2:46 am

      Has anyone looked closer at this paper to follow up?

      I took a look at it through my library database briefly. I’m working on a PhD in the Humanities so I’m not qualified to evaluate much of this article, but I do feel as though its truthiness is lacking: it’s a Letter to the Editor so I’m assuming it isn’t peer reviewed. If it is, I wonder how much we can trust it, since the article makes several very brief, sweeping claims about their study without providing any details that would make their testing replicatable. For instance, the article states that “facial pores were investigated” in the passive voice, so we don’t even know by whom (by them? maybe…). we’re otherwise not provided with further information about how facial pores were investigated. Their follow up sentence on their results is also equally vague.

      I would wait to see if a peer reviewed article on glycylglycine appears. Either way, it’s been 5 years since the publication (incidentally, everything they cite in this Letter to the Editor was 5 years old at the time of its publication), and I’m not seeing anything on glycylglycine and pores anywhere else.

  • V January 7, 2014, 11:44 am

    Hi! What about laser treatments? I’ve heard some dermatologists claim that it actually makes pores smaller, but to my knowledge, I haven’t actually come across peer-reviewed research that supports this claim.

  • Rodolfo Baraldini January 8, 2014, 3:17 pm

    4. Sun exposure…
    …can thicken the skin cells around the edge of pores making them appear larger. Using a sunscreen or limiting your sun exposure is a good idea.

    Limiting sun exposure is a good idea, but the rationale is weak. Infact the increased thickness of the skin around the pores is reducing the diametre of the pores , main cause for the reduced sebum diffusion in condition of prolonged sun exposure. Isn’t it ?

    • Randy Schueller January 8, 2014, 3:27 pm

      Rodolfo: That’s a great question. I assumed that the increased thickness made the pores more apparent (sort of an optical illusion.) Also, if sebum diffusion is reduced wouldn’t that mean that more sebum will be “stuck” in the pore? (Unless sebum production itself is reduced.) I’m not sure but would love to know if there has been any research in this area.

      • Rodolfo Baraldini January 8, 2014, 3:51 pm

        I remember some papers and research undersigned by Downing and more recently some very interesting by Pierard. The causal relation between sebum flow and pore diameter is anyway controversial due to the passive diffusion of the sebum from the ducts.

        • Randy Schueller January 8, 2014, 5:41 pm

          Rodolfo: Thanks for the followup. You seem quite familiar with the published researched on this subject so I’m assuming you’re a cosmetic chemist yourself. If you ever want to write a guest blog post for us on one of your areas of expertise we’d be happy to promote your website or company.

  • monique January 8, 2014, 8:16 pm


    what is your iTunes link?? Thanks

  • jeannette January 8, 2014, 11:33 pm

    I had laser treatment last year amd while it tightened my skin and got rid of wrinkles so I have a more youthful look I still have enlarged pores on my nose and chin. In fact, they seem bigger than before the treatment….my imagination perhaps!

  • Zens Bridal January 8, 2014, 11:51 pm

    Thanks.. Hope this will help me during the makeup courses..

  • Maria January 9, 2014, 9:29 am

    Hello there! Thanks a lot for your reviews, is nice to see beauty treated with seriousness and cientific honesty.

    About enlarged pores..i use a product from La Roche Posay, wich i think is a pretty solid brand, althought i don’t see any of this ingredientes mentioned by you..
    Can you please tell me if any of this substances ACTUALY help to at least clean oily pores and help their obstruction?
    – alcohol denat, – glycerin, – sodium citrate, – propylene glycol, – hydrogenated castor oil, – disodium edta, – capryloyl salicylic acid, citric acid.

    Thanks a lot!

    • Randy Schueller January 9, 2014, 9:37 am

      Maria: Salicylic acid is one of the ingredients we discussed which can keep pores free from “gunk.” (Although I don’t know if there is an active level of the ingredient in this particular product.)

      I’m thrilled to hear that you appreciate the information we provide for our audience. If you’d like to return the favor, can you please write a short review of our podcast on iTunes? Just follow this link, click “Open in iTunes” and then go to “Ratings and Reviews.” Thanks, we really appreciate it!

  • Isabel January 9, 2014, 11:29 am


    It was an interesting podcast, I look forward for more.

    It would be great to know. How do you avoid the take coffee to wake up, take pills to sleep problems with products?

    I mean, Is good to have a good product to avoid big pores, but what If you are actually using a cream or foundation that is increasing the size of your pores, that will be like trying cleaning your yard and trowing garbage again. How do I know what products are causing it?

    • Randy Schueller January 9, 2014, 11:38 am

      Isabel: I think that if you avoid the 5 causes of enlarged pores which we discussed, you should be fine.

  • Lyn January 9, 2014, 9:32 pm

    How is L’Oreal getting away with making these claims then? http://www.lorealparisusa.com/en/products/skin-care/treatments/youth-code-texture-perfector-pore-vanisher.aspx It’s not even using fancy, confusing marketing lingo, as far as I can tell. It says, “In 1 month shrink actual pore size.”

    • Randy Schueller January 10, 2014, 8:11 am

      Lyn: You’re right this claim does seem to be very straightforward, without any “weasel words” that could qualify its scope.

      According to L’Oreal the ingredient which provides this benefit is “Perline-P” which is just their trademarked name for an ingredient or combination of ingredients. I’ve been unable to definitively find which ingredients comprise Perline-P but it appears to be a lentil extract which is sold by a French company called Silab. According to Silab (and L’Oreal) the ingredient “strengthens and tightens pore walls to shrink actual pore size.”

      I can find no evidence of this in scientific literature so I’m guessing that L’Oreal is either using what ever data Silab provided (which would be a sloppy approach since it wouldn’t be in their specific formula) or they’ve done their own testing and the data is unpublished.

      Either way, L’Oreal must be pretty confident in the claim or they wouldn’t put it on the package (it’s more expensive to change a claim on pack than it is to change the claim on a website, etc.)

      I’d love to see the data to determine if the product really does work and HOW WELL it works. It’s possible that it could be shrinking pore size by a statistically significant amount that is unnoticeable by the human eye.

  • Lillian January 21, 2014, 9:50 am

    Use plax or store brand of the same. Gets rid of blockage of pore on the nose in days. Just apply it after washing and leave it on overnight if it doesnt irritate…use for less time if it irritates.

  • Debbie Spaniak January 28, 2014, 1:58 pm

    Though I can’t find it again, didn’t you say something about baby shampoo being good for a face wash, in addition to a shampoo – or am I mistaken?


    • Randy Schueller January 28, 2014, 2:16 pm

      You are correct, Ms. Spaniak. In a pinch, baby shampoo is mild enough to use a a facial wash.

  • Irina September 2, 2016, 10:27 am


    Thank you for your article and clearing up some confusing info on pore size!

    I would like to ask a question: I have been using Paula’s BHA 9 and it worked great. But recently I found in the country where I live another type of BHA exfoliant (8% Salicylic Acid), but as I was told it was in anhydrous formula. I threw the ingredient list, but I remember the first ingredient was Propylene Glycol, then Salicylic Acid and somewhere in the middle Green Tea extract.

    I’ve been looking all over the internet if Acids could exfoliate in waterless formula, but had no luck.

    Maybe you have an answer if this would work, because after reading many articles everyone discuss only water based formulas and the right PH. Thanks!

    • Randy Schueller September 2, 2016, 4:31 pm

      It’s hard to say without knowing what else is in the formula. Sal acid is not very soluble in just PG. It can be solubilized in ethanol and other solvents so making a waterless product is certainly possible. Yes, it should still work.