Can you shrink your pores? Here's what skincare experts say.
Large pores are a common skincare complaint. But unfortunately, making them smaller isn't as simple as just taking a cold shower. "Contrary to popular believe, there are no muscles within your pores, so treatments with cold water will not shrink them," says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
What causes large pores?
First, the bad news. "The size of your pores depends primarily on your genes," says New York City dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD. As a result, no single lotion or potion will make pores magically shrink in size, at least not right away.
"Treating pore size is definitely a lifelong process," adds Arash Akhavan, MD, a dermatologist at the Dermatology and Laser Group in New York City. "You're fighting genetics and aging."
But don't despair: Over-the-counter products can temporarily minimize the appearance of pores, and there are also treatments that unclog large pores so they're a lot less noticeable.
The best pore-minimizing products
Pores are hair follicles. And no matter their size, they can appear more prominent if you have blackheads, an accumulation of oil and dead skin cells that makes follicles look darker. So some of the best pore-minimizing products are actually pore-unclogging products like physical and chemical exfoliators and pore strips.
"Dead cells around the opening of the pores interfere with light reflection and make them look larger," explains Dr. Zeichner. "By removing excess oil within the pore, you can make them look smaller."
Ingredients like retinol, alpha and beta hydroxy acids, kaolin clay, and benzoyl peroxide can also make pores appear cleaner and therefore smaller, experts say.
If home remedies aren't working, consider booking an appointment with your dermatologist for in-office extractions, which physically de-gunk pores so they look smaller. "Microdermabrasion [at your dermatologist's office] is helpful for the same reason," adds Dr. Jaliman, "since it gets rid of dead surface skin."
Other options include laser resurfacing treatments and chemical peels. "[These treatments] are effective for building collagen," says Dr. Akhavan, explaining that boosting collagen production is essential since it can help strengthen skin around pores.
ORIGINS Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask to Clear Pores
"The ORIGINS Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask to Clear Pores helps to get rid of environmental toxins and dirt that can clog pores and make skin look dull," says Dr. Jaliman. A key ingredient? Activated charcoal, which Dr. Jaliman says "works like a magnet" to attract dirt and oil out of pores, then trap them in the formula. "The charcoal eliminates excess oil that could lead to blackheads and acne and also makes your pores less visible."
Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment
Lactic acid is a skincare superhero for a lot of reasons: The alpha hydroxy acid plumps skin, minimizes the appearance of fine lines, and gently exfoliates to reveal a glowing complexion. As a result, it can also unclog pores so they look smaller, says Dr. Jaliman. As far as lactic acid treatments go, you can't beat Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment; the gentle exfoliator has achieved cult status for its ability to transform skin's appearance.
Bioré Deep Cleansing Pore Strips
If you're wondering how to shrink pores on your nose, pore strips are your best bet. "Deep-cleaning pore strips, such as those made by Bioré, are a temporary solution to help with unclogging pores," says Dr. Akhavan. They work by physically pulling gunk out of your pores so they look less noticeable (and there's nothing quite so satisfying as ripping them off—just ask Chrissy Teigen).
Roc Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream
What can't retinol do? The powerful anti-ager (a vitamin A derivative) also speeds up cell turnover, thereby minimizing the appearance of large pores, says Dr. Akhavan. Our pick: Roc Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream. Despite the crazy-affordable price tag, it's actually one of the highest-strength, non-prescription retinols on the market.
L'Oréal Paris Skincare Pure-Clay Face Mask
"A kaolin clay mask is best to empty the pores of all debris and then they will shrink on their own," says Ava Shamban, MD, a dermatologist based in Beverly Hills and founder of SKINFIVE. We like L'Oréal Paris Skincare Pure-Clay Face Mask; in addition to kaolin clay, the formula contains Moroccan lava clay and charcoal to help pull out impurities.
Clean & Clear Night Relaxing Detox
Aveeno Clear Complexion Blemish Treatment Daily Moisturizer
"Perhaps the single key ingredient to look for is salicylic acid, which exfoliates skin cells and hence can unclog pores," says Kenneth Mark, MD, a dermatologist and skin cancer expert based in New York City. Also good? "Salicylic acid is somewhat of a derivative of aspirin and can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the oil glands."
If you have sensitive or dry skin, incorporate the ingredient into your routine with Aveeno Clear Complexion Blemish Treatment Daily Moisturizer; the gentle formula hydrates while also packing salicylic acid.
Neutrogena Pore Refining Exfoliating Facial Cleanser
For a cleanser that will work its magic on your pores, Dr. Zeichner recommends Neutrogena Pore Refining Exfoliating Facial Cleanser. "A mix of alpha and beta hydroxy acids helps loosen connections between dead skin cells that set around the surface of pores so that they can be exfoliated," he says. "At the same time, it helps remove oil within the pores." Oil can make pores appear more dilated, too, so nixing both will help clean out pores so they seem smaller.