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Daily Question: How Can I Unclog Pores on My Nose?

Posted Oct 26 2011 9:23pm

Today’s question, submitted via the :

How can I un-clog pores on my nose?


Dear M.J.,

For years, companies have been using tomfoolery to market products to unclog pores.  These include:

  • Creams filled with alcohol to temporarily inflame the skin, making the surrounding pores look smaller;
  • Cold water facial rinsing;
  • Heat steaming, as dermatologist  Dr. Mary Lupo, M.D.  says, “Cold water can keep your pores from producing excess oil, but they will never close. Alternately, steam won’t cause them to open, but it will stimulate the oil glands.” ( AllureJanuary 2007);
  • Pore strips, which have been proven ineffective at best and exacerbating at worst. Pore strips can stretch open the pores, making them larger with time.

Furthermore, alcohol-containing toners/creams, cold water, heat steaming, and pore strip techniques are temporary, and none actually make pore size smaller.

Thankfully, it’s the 21st century, and there are five things you can do to change the size and/or cleanliness of your pores:

According to  a study in the Journal of Dermatologic Surgery , over ninety percent of 49 subjects who underwent four or more full-face treatments at 3-week intervals showed visible improvement in pore size, wrinkling, skin coarseness, irregular pigmentation, and telangiectasias.

PDT consists of two steps.  In the first step, a photosensitizer is administered by one of several routes (eg, topical, oral, intravenous), and taken up by the target cells. In the second step, the photosensitizer is exposed to oxygen, and a specific wavelength of light is directed toward the target tissue. This process minimizes damage to adjacent healthy skin cells.

PDT is effective because it has been shown to both kill bacteria associated with acne (P. acnes) and shrink the oil glands, so the pores appear smaller. Unfortunately, PDT is not cheap: $1800 for three sessions, and it’s also not as though you can do PDT in the convenience of your home. In addition, it is unknown if the effects or permanent, and how long the effects last depends on factors like your degree of sun exposure (see below), how religiously you wash your face at night, if you continue to use non-comedogenic products afterwards, etc.


Okay, so this one actually doesn’t shrink the size of your pores. However, as a lipid-soluble hydroxy acid, salicyclic acid penetrates the skin better than water-soluble ingredients, so it can actually cleanse and remove debris from the pore. Salicyclic acid can also soften keratin within the skin, creating the appearance of skin smoothness.

According to Dr. David E. Bank, M.D. a renowned Mt. Sisco, NY-based dermatologist, “The goal is to keep pores clean and at their smallest,” and he recommends salicyclic acid for creating the illusion of smaller pore size ( Beautiful Skin , 2000). A friend of mine recently had extremely clogged pores after years of using Retin-A Micro. One 2% salicyclic acid treatment later, and she had the clearest-looking skin of her life. I recommend  Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash in Pink Grapefruit  or Clenziderm MD Daily Care Foaming Facial Cleanser  (shown above), both with 2% salicyclic acid. It can be a little drying, but if you have clogged pores, leave the cleanser on for a full minute and rinse every day for two weeks – you should notice a difference, unless your pores are clogged really deep!


According to Estée Lauder’s published reports, subjects observed a 69 percent reduction in pore size after four weeks of twice-daily application. What I like about the product is the fact that it targets pore size from a different angle than other skin treatments on the market. The secret to  Estée Lauder’s Idealist Pore Minimizing Skin Refinisher  is the enzyme melanase, which breaks down built-up pigments within the skin, and to some degree also eliminates debris within the pores.  Idealist  also contains glucosamine, a sugar derivative that brightens the skin, and light-reflecting polymers that help diffuse microshadows created by stretched-out pores. The result is that  Idealist  makes skin cosmetically look better immediately, and removes debris within the skin over time without dilating the pores like heat steaming.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said the word “retinoid,” I swear, I’d be richer than Kim Kardashian (or at least have her handbag collection). At any rate, there’s a reason for my fanaticism with retinoids regarding pore size as well. According to  a 2002 study in the Archives of Dermatology , the prescription retinoid cream Tazorac (0.1% tazarotene) was found to decrease pore size. Dr. Bank affirms this: “You have to increase cell turnover [as with retinoids] and strengthen the tissue to see results in pore size.” Remember: Strengthened tissue from heightened collagen production means tighter skin, and tighter skin means smaller pores.

As always with retinoids, start with the lowest concentration first, in order to avoid potential redness and irritation. Use the product every other day to determine how well your skin will tolerate it. I did the following regimen:  Skinceuticals 0.5Green Cream Level 6  (with 0.6% retinol),  Green Cream Level 9  (with 0.9% retinol), then the Big Mama,  Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM  (with 1.5% retinol).

No, you don’t have to give up Cheesy Poofs and Sex and the City marathons, though pore size is correlated with oil production, and oil production with greasy food, but I digress. The biggest factor in your pore size is not genetics or oil production, but sun exposure, as Dr. Mary Lupo affirms, “Years of sun exposure can permanently dilate the pores…And over time, as you start to lose the collagen and elastin that is supporting the pore, it begins to stretch and sag around the edges. That’s why pores and acne scars often appear larger after age 45.”

If you are serious about your skin, you must stay out of the sun between the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM as often as possible, wear clothing with UPF 50+, apply and reapply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of at least 30 (remembering zinc oxide provides better UVA protection than titanium dioxide), and take a vitamin D supplement to ensure you aren’t giving yourself a deficiency in the process.

There are numerous things you can do to change the size of your pores over time. Not surprisingly, the best treatment is prevention from UV rays. Yet other, slightly easier changes – such as incorporating a 2% salicyclic acid cleanser,  Estée Lauder’s Idealist Pore Minimizing Skin Refinisher , and/or retinoids into your daily skin routine can make a huge difference over time. If you want more immediate results – the products take about two months of twice-daily use on average – see a dermatologist for photodynamic therapy and personalized recommendations.

Hope this helps,

Top photo source: Nose , originally uploaded by Awayawayaway .




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