My favorite part of the coldest months here in Chicago is that the markets always have a steady stream of mikan (clementines). Those juicy & sweet little oranges instantly transfer me back to my childhood spending winters in Japan, sitting at a kotatsu, watching cartoons and eating mikan after mikan until I was so full I’d fall asleep under the kotatsu like a cat… And while mikan is one of my favorite fruits, I hate that over the last few winters, I’ve noticed the texture of my skin become more and more like a mikan, with crazy enlarged pores.
In horror, over the last 3 years, I’ve noticed that my enlarged pores spread from closest to my nose, to down across my cheeks. And I noticed them getting noticeably worse during the winter months. Nothing I did made them better. In fact, I know now that I probably did more harm than good. Unfortunately, everything I read in the past about reducing enlarged pores didn’t help, and probably made it worse with products that were too harsh for my skin. But since discovering Korean skincare, I’ve learned to nurture my skin with milder products, with amazing results. In doing so, I’ve finally(!) understood what was making my pores become enlarged over the years, and finally(!) begin to properly take care of them.
After less than 3 months of practicing my new skincare philosophy, I’m excited to see a reduction in my enlarged pores. Some of them have reduced by as much as 1/2 it’s original size! And I’m hoping that they’ll reduce more over time. Even if they don’t, I’m just glad that I’ve finally learned to properly take care of my pores and hopefully never have them grow dramatically on me again!
The condition of your pores is a really good indication of the overall health of your skin. So don’t just cover them up with primer and makeup. Pay attention to them and see how they respond to your skincare products. Once you do, I promise you’ll start to understand how to take care of them too!
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:
Seriously, this movie title perfectly sums up this post! I’ll begin with THE UGLY – my enlarged pores – and the clues that they were giving me regarding the condition of my skin. Then I’ll follow with THE BAD and how my bad habits unintentionally led to the pore (get it?) condition of my face. And then I’ll follow up with THE GOOD – my simple steps for taking care of my pores. But note: I will not talk about makeup because that’s not really taking care of your pores, only covering them up. How to cover up and superficially diminish your pores is not the focus of this post. (I may get to it some other time.) I’m not going to give you superficial solutions to your problems. I’m going to explain (in detail) the mistakes I’ve made, and the real skincare solutions that I’ve found to reduce my enlarged pores.
This post is a little long, so grab yourself some green tea and put on a caviar sheet mask (like me!) before reading on…
As I said before, my enlarged pores really started to become worse over the last few years. And they always seemed to get worse during the cold winter months. At the same time, I noticed that my pores produced more sebum during the winter months, which was a weird change because in the past my skin always seemed to produce more sebum in the summer months. All these changes in my skin left me confused and frustrated. And in my confusion and frustration, I started to really go at it, attacking my skin at all angles, leaving it in a worst condition.
I wish I had taken close-ups of the condition of my skin from last winter so that I can show you how bad THE UGLY actually was. But just google “enlarged pores” and you’ll see a collection of truly frightening close-ups of people’s skin. Yeah, my skin could’ve fit easily among them. I am not proud to say that despite my best efforts, my skin became dull, angry, acne-prone, rosacea-prone, and insanely rough in texture due to the enlarged pores.
Now that I’ve learned how to properly take care of my skin, I can put together all the puzzle pieces and make sense of the clues my skin was trying to tell me:
- Why did my enlarged pores get dramatically worse every winter?: Because my skin was terribly dehydrated and the pores would literally open up to try to get as much moisture as possible.
- Why was my skin producing more sebum in the winter?: Again, because my skin was terribly dehydrated and the pores would produce more sebum to compensate for the harsh, dry environment.
- And why was my skin not getting better despite all the “pore-reducing” habits and products I was using?: Because I was stressing my skin out more, resulting in more dehydration, more sebum, and thus larger pores!
The way the harsh weather, bad habits, and other environmental factors were affecting my overall skin health could be seen very clearly in the state of my pores. My skin was giving me clear warnings for the last three years and I could not understand them! But since overhauling my skincare routine, I now get it: treat your pores with TLC and they will respond in kind.
So even if you’re not at the point that your enlarged pores are getting dramatically worse, or you don’t suffer in a dry, cold climate, please read on. I always had large pores and usually ignored them. It wasn’t until they were literally opening up and screaming in my face that I finally start to become concerned about them and try to take care of them. I hope your skin never gets to that point. And maybe some of my new GOOD habits will prevent your pores from getting to that point too.
Oh god, re-reading this list, I am so ashamed by my formerly bad habits. Seriously, what was I thinking? I consider myself a smart, well-educated person. And I’ve always tried to do right by my skin. But now I realized I was literally butchering my skin with THE BAD. Well, I was totally misinformed by a lot of the information out there. And I was a product of my Western-style skincare education. And I guess I was just doing the best that I could given the knowledge that I had. But now I know better.
So the following is a laundry-list of my previous bad habits that -all together- resulted in crazy enlarged pores and sad skin.
- Ignoring the problem: About 10 years ago, I noticed enlarged pores starting to develop and… I did nothing. I didn’t notice them getting really bad until 3 years ago, which finally made me want to do something about them. But now I’m kicking myself for not doing something earlier! Because enlarged pores can permanently stay enlarged. The skin around the pore can be permanently stretched and then there’s very little that can be done to put it back into shape. And as you get older, the looser the skin will become, and the more enlarged your skin will look. Take a good look at your pores. Don’t ignore them. Sure, you can live with them now, but think about the future. Try to help them now before they become worse.
- Focusing only on covering them up: I relied too much on primer, foundation, and powder to cover up my pores. Of course all these products made them more clogged, thus physically enlarging them with debris and making them larger. Covering them up was also a really easy way to ignore them. Unfortunately, Americans tend to focus too much on makeup to cover up flaws, instead of trying to take care of their skin with proper skincare. Don’t just cover up your skin. Try to get your skin to the point that you’re comfortable to walk outside without any makeup. Sounds horrifying, I know, but not wearing makeup for large amounts of time during the day will not only help your skin, but will also get you to really see what your skin is trying to tell you regarding its overall health, AND you can diagnose and fix problems faster. So put down that powder brush, and start paying attention to what your skin is trying to tell you.
- Believing that only the right foods, and not skincare, could help my skin: There is a LOT of misinformation out there regarding nutrition and skin health. Does your skin benefit from proper nutrition? YES, of course it does. Your skin is your largest organ. Just like the rest of your body properly functions with the right foods, your skin will too. BUT, if you solely believe that the wrong food is causing your poor skin, you’re not looking at the big picture. Your skin’s function is to keep the outside bad environment out from damaging the rest of your body. It’s a shield. And like any good shield, it will sustain some damage from outside forces. So you need to protect it from the inside AND outside. Using the proper skincare to nurture your skin will protect it more than just focusing on food alone. So if you’ve gone gluten free and/or lactose free in the hopes of clearing your skin, and haven’t seen any improvements, STOP the insanity. Eat healthy of course, but no fad diets please. And instead do research on what your skin REALLY needs in terms of skincare.
- Not cleansing properly: I used to just cleanse with really harsh cleansers. Thinking about it now, I cringe from the ingredients I remember reading and still thinking that it was ok because it seemed to temporarily help with my acne. Sulfates, Triclosan, and plastic scrubbing beads in my daily cleansers were some of the worst culprits. Now I realize that as my skin got older and more delicate, these harsh cleansers were causing serious damage by stripping my moisture barrier and leaving my skin dull and dehydrated. If your skin feels dry and stretched out immediately after you jump out of the shower, then chances are your cleanser is too harsh.
- Wrong type of exfoliation: This is probably where I did the most amount of damage to my skin. Trust me when I say that ALMOST ALL forms of manual exfoliation is WAY too harsh for your skin. Especially if you do it every day (like I used to!). I’m positive I did some serious damage to my skin with my Clarisonic, even though I only ever used the brush for sensitive skin. The Clarisonic definitely made my enlarged pores larger when the bristles dug into the pores to “clean” them. I HATE the Clarisonic now, because I think it’s caused a lot more damage to people’s skin than any good. Get rid of your Clarisonic. NOW. Also get rid of any exfoliants with scrubbing beads: Proactiv’s Skin Smoothing Exfoliator, St. Ives’ Apricot Scrub, Dr. Brandt’s Microdermabrasion Skin Exfoliant, Clinique’s Exfoliating Scrub, Murad’s Skin Smoothing Polish, etc, etc… Not only do this scrubbers include ingredients that are too harsh and strip away at your skin, but they will also leave microscopic tears in your skin AND make your enlarged pores larger over time.
- Not enough hydration: This has a huge impact on enlarging pores – more than you may realize! Lack of hydration from a dry environment and not enough moisturizer affected my skin two ways: 1) My pores created more sebum, thus making them enlarged. The solution to controlling your sebum production is more hydration. I know, I know, seems totally counter-productive, but please trust me. Your skin is producing extra sebum because it’s dehydrated and irritated, and it’s compensating by creating more of that sticky sebum oil to protect your skin. And all this sebum, over time, creates enlarged pores. 2) My pores would literally “open up” to try to get more moisture from the air. Now, I have found very little on the internet to support this theory, but I’m not crazy, I promise. I’ve noticed this from years of dealing with the cold, dry air during Chicago winters. When it was super dry out, or I woke up after going to bed without enough moisturizer on my skin, I noticed that my pores were HUGE. And it’s just temporary. As soon as I turned on the humidifier, or added more moisturizer, my enlarged pores shrank a little bit. This has happened so many times that I now realize that my pores were greatly affected by lack of hydration in products and environment.
- Relying on “pore-reducing” products: There is NOTHING out there that can permanently reduce your actual pore size. Stop buying products that say they will, because the “pore-reducing” effect will only be temporary, such as from an astringent or harsh scrubber, or just covering up your pores to seem to make them smaller. I’ll explain my steps to properly take care of (and possibly reduce) your enlarged pores below. But really, there’s no one single magic product out there that will fix your enlarged pores, so stop wasting your money.
- Sun damage: I sustained a LOT of sun damage from the Hawaii sun as a kid and young teen. And even though I’ve been vigilant with wearing sunscreen everyday once I turned 20, it hasn’t been perfect. I used to not wear not enough SPF. Sorry, but 15SPF in your makeup is NOT enough to protect your skin. And I’ve made mistakes by using really awful sunscreens, like Supergoop. (OMG, do not get me started on how much I hate Supergoop! I think I’ll have to do a review on it because I’m now suffering now from sunspots due to using Supergoop all last summer in Hawaii and LA.) I cringe now, thinking about how I wasn’t protecting my skin properly, which resulted in making my pores larger.
- Believing that nothing can be done for your pores: The last 3 winters I became more and more frustrated that my pores were looking worse and worse, and I hit a point where I thought that nothing could be done and I gave up for a little while. And then I discovered Korean skincare and I realized that I shouldn’t have given up! Because it’s never too late to turn your skin around through a little TLC.
Thank GOD I started changing my skincare routine. My skin was in such bad shape, and finally I’m now cultivating some good habits and correcting most of my past mistakes. The biggest change is switching to MILD everything. My new mantra is: “When in doubt, go mild.” Your skin is a sensitive organ, not steel-plated armor. You wouldn’t use sand to scrub your liver clean, would you? Then why the hell are you using it on your skin?
So anyway… The following are tried and true methods and products that have produced some really great results for my skin, and yes, even reduced my enlarged pores.
- Double-cleansing with an oil and mild foaming cleanser: I get it if you don’t want to commit yourself to a Korean skincare regimen. It’s a commitment in terms of both time and money. My boyfriend teases me all the time now with all the crazy new ingredients (snails and starfish, anyone?) and the crazy amount of time I now spend on my skin (30 minutes in the morning!). But please just try ONE change. It will have a huge impact on your skin. Do the Korean method of double-cleansing at night. 2 extra minutes at night will seriously make a huge difference in your skin and will start to unclog your pores and keep them unclogged in the future! So for your first step, use a mild cleansing oil or cleansing balm. The oil will actually draw out the sebum, dirt, & debris in your pores like a magnet. Take at least a minute to wash it off. Then follow up with a MILD foaming cleanser to wash away the cleansing oil and remaining dirt & debris. Seriously, you need to use a MILD foaming cleanser, like Cerave’s Foaming Cleanser (which is only a 5.5 pH and doesn’t have any harsh ingredients.) If you don’t like the way Cerave cleanses, then move on to something a little harsher. But I think you’ll really like Cerave as a follow-up to a cleansing oil.
- Start using a mild chemical exfoliant: A major cause of enlarged pores is because they become congested with dirt and debris. Exfoliants help to loosen the debris and push them out of the pores. And chemical exfoliants are SO much better than manual exfoliants to clean your pores out! It’s way too easy to over do it with manual exfoliants, which can tear your skin or even make your pores bigger. Plus, there are additional ingredients in the manual exfoliants that can make your skin worse. So put down that Clarisonic (or sell it on eBay), and throw away those face scrubs, and get yourself a trial size of Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA liquid. It’ll last a month and your pores will LOVE you for it (read my review here). BHA is the perfect type of chemical exfoliant that works to reduce your enlarged pores by literally pushing out the debris in your pores. AHAs, on the other hand, exfoliate the surface of your skin and don’t go into your pores. Start with a mild BHA (no more than 2%) and make sure it’s the right pH level because chemical exfoliants work best when they’re around a 3.0-4.0 pH level. If your BHA doesn’t tell you what pH level it’s at, just throw it out, it’s probably not at a level to exfoliate properly. Get yourself Paula’s Choice first, and then experiment with other BHAs if you want to.
- Only use a mild manual exfoliant once or twice a week: Your skin does renew itself every month. So to help remove your dead skin cells, a mild manual exfoliant is great. NOTE: the keyword “mild.” Step away from the scrubbing exfoliators and use a clean washcloth instead. NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING abrasive. Remember, you’re relying on the chemical exfoliant now to do the heavy lifting so that you don’t have to overdo it with harsh exfoliants. I personally prefer a konjac sponge twice a week to clean my skin at night. I’ve been using the Boscia Konjac sponge with bamboo charcoal in it (a review is coming soon!) and I LOVE it. It’s the perfect amount of exfoliation which is not too harsh and it leaves my skin feeling and looking great. Try the konjac sponge, and even if you’re not crazy about it, just remember to never go back to anything harsher than that. There are lots of exfoliating powders out there, like Dermalogica’s Daily Microfoliant (made of rice powder) which is a good substitute. Just keep it mild, people!
- Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate: So here’s my second new mantra: “When in doubt, hydrate!” Drink water. Lots of it. (This has never been my problem. I usually drink about 12 cups of water a day. More, if I exercise a lot.) But drinking water is NOT enough for your skin to remain hydrated. Your skin is probably the last organ to receive benefits from all that water you’re drinking. So to compensate, you have to add moisture to your skin and add humidity to the air you’re in. I realize now that I’ve NEVER used enough moisturizers in my skin, which resulted in overly oily skin, acne, rosacea, and enlarged pores. I’m now, finally(!), layering on the hydration and my skin is finally starting to respond well to this TLC. And in fact, my pores are a good gauge for me to figure out if my skin is properly hydrated. If there’s enough hydration, my skin is plump, dewy, and my pores disappear. When my pores remain enlarged, then I know that my skin needs more hydration. And as soon as I layer it on, lo and behold!, my enlarged pores start to disappear. I’m not saying that this will work for you in the same way because I doubt your skin is as reactive as mine, but experiment a little. One weekend day when you’re home without makeup on, keep layering on your moisturizer and see how your skin responds. And buy a humidifier for each room that you spend a lot of time in, including your office/cubicle. You may be happily surprised like me that the more moisture you put in your skin and environment, the better your skin does!
- Start using anti-aging products: Although I’m in my thirties, I don’t have a problem yet with wrinkles. (Thank god!) And the collagen in my skin is pretty good, as well. I’m guessing it’s because of my Japanese blood. My grandmother and my mother are both blessed with younger-looking skin. BUT in the last 3 years, I’ve noticed that my enlarged pores were the first real sign of aging skin. As you get older, your skin starts to lose collagen, which is the reason why it starts to look looser, saggier, thinner, and more like crepe paper. Enlarged pores look more enlarged because the collagen in your skin starts to break down. If you’re older than 25, start using anti-aging skincare to better protect your skin! Even if you’re in your thirties like me, and not worried about wrinkles, you still need to use mild anti-aging products! I now apply a mixture of collagen, peptides, and placenta (review coming soon!) before my moisturizer day and night, and I’m sure it’s part of the reason why my skin is looking better! And I know that these products will help protect my skin in the future too. Remember, it’s never too early to start using mild anti-aging products.
- Proper, high SPF Sunscreen: ‘Nuff said. If you don’t know this by now, then I can’t say anything to change your mind.
- If you’re into Korean skincare, use a product that’s good at “repairing” skin: For me, that’s Mizon’s All in One Snail Repair Cream. This definitely has made a difference in the size of my pores! I’m sure there are lots of products out there, but you need to do a bit of research. I would focus on any product that promises to “repair” skin. Chances are, most of your enlarged pores are NOT beyond repair. They can still be reduced because they’re not permanently stretched out, and a product that can repair skin, like snail mucin, may work great for you, too.
So these are the major steps that have reduced my enlarged pores so far, by 1/2 in some areas of my skin! If I think of anything else, or if I change my routine in any way that has made a big difference to my pores, then I’ll add to this post. But so far I’m really happy with the results I’ve been getting!
Although I don’t have any before photos, I have a couple close-ups of my cheeks as they are now, straight after the shower, without any toners, essences, ampoules, emulsions, or moisturizers:
One photo is slightly darker so you can see better the texture of my skin. As you can see, I’ve sustained a lot of sun damage this past summer that resulted in freckles and dark spots. And I’m still reducing the rosacea that I’ve been getting in my cheeks. But you can also clearly see the uneven texture in my skin due to my enlarged pores. But trust me when I say that this is 100% better than it was before!
I’m still working on making my skin better, but so far I’m really happy with the results I’ve been getting. Hopefully soon I can post another photo with my bare skin in an even better state! I wish you the best of luck with your skin, and please post a comment if you’ve found something that works for you, too! I’m always down for trying something new.