Understanding Blackheads, Large Pores, and Oily Skin

One of the most common beauty questions repeatedly asked in dermatology offices is how to prevent and treat blackheads, shrink pores, and decrease oily skin. Here are a few suggestions to help your facial skin looking clean, clear, and with time, smooth with smaller appearing pores.

Enlarged Pores Photos

Blackheads, otherwise known as open comedonal acne, are the result of oil duct blockage with sebum (a fatty oil mixture) from the oil glands, and may be due in part to blockage from dead skin cells. The sebum stagnates in the oil duct and leads to a blockage of the opening. With continued exposure to air on the surface of the skin, the sebum contents become oxidized and turn black leading to the appearance of blackheads. Blackheads mostly occur in the oiliest areas of the face such as the nose, forehead, cheeks, and chin, but may also occur on the chest and back. Prevention of blackheads naturally centers around keeping the oil ducts clear. This may be accomplished by either decreasing sebum production or dissolving the sebum in the duct and allowing it to drain to the skin rather than causing a blockage.

Treatment of blackheads includes prevention methods as well as physical blackhead removal. This primarily includes doing a salicylic acid or glycolic acid peel, or microdermabrasion, followed by the use of force to physically push the occluded pore material out. Commercially available alternatives to physically remove blackheads are also available such as the use of raw chinese clays, such as Kaolin and Bentonite, to draw the sebum from the pores. This allows for thorough cleansing of the pores without the discomfort and damage associated with physical extraction. Products that contain these clays are SkinCeuticals Clarifying Clay Masque, Glytone Deep Cleansing Masque, Pevonia Balancing Combination Skin Mask, Alyria Purifying Mask, and DCL Clay Mint Mask.

Prevention of blackheads can be done by several methods: use of tretinoin products (e.g. Retin-A), salicylic acid products (peels, lotions, creams), glycolic acid products, over the counter retinoids, and microdermabrasion. Tretinoin products allow normal maturation on skin cells and prevents dead skin cells from contributing to pore blockage. Salicylic and glycolic acid products remove dead skin cells to prevent pore blockage, and salicylic acid works particularly well to dissolve the sebum for easy drainage and unblocking. Microdermabrasion also removes dead skin cells from the skin surface and may physically remove some smaller blackheads.

In regards to large pores, pore size is genetic and cannot be altered. With the use of topical skin care, proper cleansing, and in-office therapies, pores can appear much smaller than they actually are. Larger pores are indicative of oily skin, this is why pores are larger for those with combination skin in the T-Zone as this is where higher levels of oil secretion exist. It is widely believed that consistent use of tretinoin products, microdermabrasion, and salicylic/glycolic acids all result in the appearance of smaller pores. For more dramatic results, deeper laser treatments and manual dermabrasion destroying the upper layers of the skin may result in smaller pores when full healing occurs.


Oily skin is a product of genetics and is individual to each person. While there is no single best topical treatment to decrease oil production, there are a variety of treatments to minimize the appearance of oily skin or aid in oil absorption for a matte finish. One product, in particular, has been used very successfully by many performers (such as American Idol contestants) to keep oily shine under control during the day and that is OC Eight OC Eight utilizes a unique technology called ACRYSORB that continuously absorb excess facial oil as quickly as its produced.
Other common skin care product ingredients designed for control of oily production are mainly benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid. Some of these products are only made to be used once a day, while washes are made to be used 2-3 times per day. Repeated use of a retinoid product may in theory decrease oil production to some degree.

The first step to magnificent smooth skin with small pores is to remove the blackheads, either physically or by peels. Then, the use of a salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or benzoyl peroxide wash along with a retinoid is needed to prevent blackhead formations. Regular use of salicylic acid products and retinoids should lead to smaller pore appearance, and regular microdermabrasions may be additively helpful in achieving this goal.
Finally, for oily skin, carry some salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or benzoyl peroxide wipes to enjoy clear, dry, and healthy skin and use of a topical oil-absorbing product to maintain a matte finish all day long help.

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