“I’ll be happy when I’m 60.” That was the affirmation with which I comforted myself from the onset of puberty through my mid-30s, when my pores seemed to spew more grease than a Texas oil well, providing my cheeks, nose, and chin with a perpetual, deeply unflattering sheen. All of that “moisture,” I had read, would render me a supple, dewy-skinned woman of a certain age, while my pimple-free, matte-faced friends would prematurely wrinkle like cheap linen.
Though I’m still years away from an AARP membership, I am indeed grateful for how that 20-plus-year-old oil slick has helped stem the tide of aging. But to say that I’m “happy” with my skin would be an overstatement: The oil wells have, blessedly, dried up, but they’ve left large, visible pores in their wake.
According to cosmetic dermatologist Fredric Brandt, who has practices in Coral Gables, Florida, and New York, I am far from alone. Brandt offers everything from spot correctors to wrinkle smoothers in his eponymous skincare collection. But the products in his Pores No More line—which include cleansers, mattifiers, and refiners—are his top sellers. It’s not that enlarged pores are a new epidemic, he says, but rather that, after injecting and lasering away our lines and sun splotches, we now have the luxury of focusing on (literally) the smaller stuff. “It’s like when you renovate a house,” Brandt says. “Suddenly you notice all the little things that haven’t been redone.”
According to Brandt, there are two main reasons why pores expand as we age. First, skin-cell turnover slows, causing clogs that, over time, stretch out the once tiny openings. Second, hormonal changes signal the skin to produce less collagen and elastin, weakening the walls of pores so that instead of holding taut, they begin to gape.
One U.K. study found that estrogen, administered topically, helped decrease pore size, but, as anyone who has undergone hormone replacement therapy—or even taken birth control pills—knows, messing with estrogen is not without complications. Doctors in the United States, understandably, have mostly opted to steer clear of hormones, instead relying on lasers, lights, and other high-tech gadgetry to do the job—and there is plenty to choose from.
Los Angeles dermatologist Peter Kopelson’s favorite pore shrinker is the Regenlite, a laser developed to treat acne. It works by causing the body to secrete a substance called Transforming Growth Factor-beta, which in turn amps up collagen output and plumps pores. “We recommend a series of five treatments, one every few weeks,” Kopelson says. But many of his patients use the therapy continuously. “It’s not dangerous, and there’s no downtime,” and, at about $380 a session, he notes, it’s not particularly expensive. “I use it myself. Nothing else has reduced pore size for me.”