The age-old idea that you can shrink your pores—using anything from a splash of ice-cold water to an egg-white mask—is a fantastic one. Sadly, it’s also a fantasy: “Pore size is genetically determined,” says Debra Jaliman, a dermatologist in New York City, and you can’t make pores physically smaller. So to a certain extent, you have to accept what you were given. But there are things you can do to minimize the appearance of your pores.
Pores: A Primer
Those tiny dots you see on the surface of your skin are actually the openings of hair follicles. Each one contains a sebaceous gland, which produces your skin’s oils. (Pores are more noticeable on parts of the face, like the forehead and the nose, where the sebaceous glands are bigger.) The size of your pores depends primarily on your genes. Typically, says Jaliman, fair-skinned people have pores on the small side; those with olive or darker skin have larger pores. Your skin type, too, can play a role. Naturally dry skin tends to appear poreless, while oily skin often has more-visible pores.
Several other factors can affect pore size. Dead skin cells and trapped sebum—which, put together, form a pimple—can stretch out pores. UV rays weaken the collagen that supports pores and keeps them tight, so they can also make pores look bigger. Similarly, the collagen loss that comes naturally with aging can increase the appearance of pore size. And picking at or squeezing a pimple can cause trauma to the skin, which may permanently widen the pore.
Easy Pore-Minimizing Strategies
The key to making pores appear smaller is to keep them clear. During the day, stick with noncomedogenic moisturizers and makeup; avoid products that contain heavy ingredients, like petrolatum and mineral oil, both of which may irritate pores and make them look bigger. Always wash your face with a gentle cleanser before bed to prevent the day’s dirt and makeup from clogging pores, says Heidi Waldorf, a dermatologist in New York City. (For product suggestions, see below.) Cleanse before and after working out, since sweat can carry cosmetics and debris to pore openings, where they’ll settle in and stretch the skin. When you cleanse, consider doing it with a power brush, such as the Clarisonic MIA Skin Cleansing System ($99, sephora.com). The company’s research shows that its system is more than twice as effective as using your hands to wash your skin.
Exfoliating is also crucial, since it removes pore-enlarging dead cells from the skin’s surface, says Jaliman. Exfoliate daily if your skin is hardy and doesn’t get red, one to three times a week if your skin is sensitive. Choose an over-the-counter gel, mask, or lotion that contains a proven sloughing ingredient, such as alpha hydroxy acids, retinol, or fruit enzymes. If in addition to having large pores, you tend to break out, choose a lotion with salicylic acid instead, says Patricia Farris, a dermatologist in Metairie, Louisiana. Try Burt’s Bees Natural Acne Solutions Daily Moisturizing Lotion ($18, drugstore.com). It will exfoliate while treating blemishes. And remember: When you exfoliate, you need to use an SPF 15 product daily, since removing dead cells can make skin more sensitive to UV light.
For stubborn pores, you’ll need to take your treatment to the next level. A dermatologist can prescribe a more powerful exfoliant, such as Retin-A Micro. In-office glycolic or salicylic acid peels are also a good way to keep pores clear, says Waldorf. You’ll probably need at least three treatments, at a cost of about $100 each. For even more dramatic results, Jaliman likes to use a nonablative laser. The procedure is quick, taking about 20 minutes, and is designed to increase collagen, which tightens pores. Although you’ll see results in a single treatment, most patients need two to three, at a cost of about $500 each.
And in a pinch? Apply a silicone-based primer under your makeup. Try Benefit the Porefessional ($31, benefitcosmetics.com). It will temporarily fill in tiny holes so you appear (practically) poreless.
Top Pore Treatments
Origins Zero Oil Deep Pore Cleanser
A good-for-all wash with soothing aloe.
To buy: $22, birchbox.com.
Dr. Brandt Pores No More Vacuum Cleaner
The mask’s mild acids unclog pores; rose tightens them.
To buy: $45, sephora.com.
This power slougher contains papaya and pineapple enzymes, plus alpha hydroxy acids.
To buy: $85, shop.nordstrom.com.