How To Reduce The Appearance Of Pores, According To Derms

You can’t "shrink" them at home, but you can refine them.

How to minimize pores on your face, according to dermatologists.
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The beauty industry is home to a slew of buzzwords and myths, and one big misconception is that with the right product or regimen you can “shrink” your pores. Many of the products on skin care shelves claim to do just that — except it’s not actually possible. As board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jenny Liu, M.D. explains, pores are “static structures.” Still, if you’re someone who’s concerned about pores that appear larger than you’d like, there’s hope. While the size of your pores doesn’t technically fluctuate, there are a number of products you can reach for and habits you can adopt that will reduce the appearance of pores.

Pores play an important role in your overall skin processes, BTW. Those tiny holes that cover your skin serve to allow sweat and oil to escape, keeping you cool and your complexion healthy. And the size of those pores is determined by a number of factors, including genetics, age, and environmental elements like sun exposure, Liu notes. “Pores are not dynamic and therefore do not open or shut,” she tells Bustle. However, they can become clogged with sebum, dirt, debris, or dead skin cells — and that causes them to look larger. So minimizing their appearance, Liu explains, is about keeping them clear so they can function as they’re supposed to. “There are ways to reduce the congestion and therefore reduce the appearance — but not the physical size — of pores,” she says.

It’s worth mentioning that pore size may be reduced with in-office resurfacing procedures like laser treatments or microneedling, which are typically used to address enlarged pores due to aging skin, Liu explains. But when it comes to at-home topical treatments, your best shot at making pores less visible is choosing products that protect the skin from sun damage and unclog pores. Keep reading for the beauty habits and ingredients that Liu and other derms say will help you to refine and minimize the appearance of pores.

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How To Minimize Pore Appearance

1. Wear Sunscreen

For yet another reason to regularly wear sunscreen: As dermatologist Dr. Chris Tomassian, M.D. says, “Chronic UV damage is associated with enlargement of pore size.” In fact, prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays can dry out the skin and lead to a decrease in collagen and elastin, causing the skin to sag and the pore openings to stretch. Consistently using a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or above during the day, according to Tomassian, will help to slow the skin’s aging process, which can enlarge pores overtime. As for whether to opt for a mineral or chemical sunscreen, note that chemical sunscreens can sometimes clog pores — and so if pore visibility is a chief concern, you may want to choose a mineral option.

2. Use Retinol

Pores can become congested with dead skin cell buildup, and that makes them appear larger — which is why you should incorporate retinol into your skin care routine to boost cell turnover. “Retinol speeds the skin cell turnover which prevents the sticking of skin cells that could accumulate and dilate the pore,” Tomassian explains. “It also helps boost collagen production to further support the structure of your pores.” He recommends using retinol three to five times per week for best results.

Retinoids are another option. They’re stronger than retinol but are mostly available by prescription. Though, you could keep an eye out for products with adapalene, the only over-the-counter retinoid currently available. “This helps to fight acne, unclog pores, and increase cell turnover — all things we want and need to minimize pore appearance,” board-certified dermatologist Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, M.D. explains.

3. Exfoliate Regularly

Chemical exfoliants can also help your quest to minimize pore size. Alpha and beta hydroxy acids are also great options for unclogging pores, Zubritsky tells Bustle. Similar to retinol, both acids help loosen the bonds between skin cells and speed up cell turnover. Tomassian is a fan of salicylic acid, in particular. Because it’s oil-soluble, “It can penetrate your pores and help break up the oil and skin cells in the pore,” he explains. Other chemical exfoliators to look out for include glycolic acid, lactic acid, and citric acid. Pro tip: To avoid skin irritation, Tomassian recommends not using an exfoliating acid and retinol on the same night.

4. Use Clay Masks

Clay masks are a gentle way to absorb excess oils from the skin and unjam your pores, Tomassian explains. Charcoal is another option, as it boasts similar magnetic properties. Face masks of both types cling to dirt, oil, and debris, and draw the gunk out of your pores, making them appear smaller. Specifically, bentonite clay is especially popular for its mildness, and red clay is chock-full of iron, making it great for oily types and acne-prone skin. Using either once or twice a week may prove beneficial in your pursuit of less visible pores.

5. Slather On Niacinamide

Liu and Tomassian both recommend incorporating niacinamide (a derivative of vitamin B3) into your skin care regimen since it has the ability to decrease oil production, one of the key culprits of clogged, enlarged pores. Niacinamide is also an anti-inflammatory, so it helps to combat the skin’s response to internal and external stressors that can lead to premature aging — and, again, larger pores. The good thing about this ingredient is it’s super gentle, so all skin types can benefit from it.


Dr. Jenny Liu, M.D., board-certified dermatologist based in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Dr. Chris Tomassian, M.D., Kansas City, Kansas-based dermatologist

Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, M.D., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based board-certified dermatologist

Studies referenced:

Amaro-Ortiz, A. (2014). Ultraviolet Radiation, Aging and the Skin: Prevention of Damage by Topical cAMP Manipulation. Molecules.

Bissett, D. et al (2006). Niacinamide: A B Vitamin that Improves Aging Facial Skin Appearance. Dermatologic Surgery.

Li, W-H. (2017). Topical stabilized retinol treatment induces the expression of HAS genes and HA production in human skin in vitro and in vivo. Arch Dermatol Res.

Moosavi, M. (2017). Bentonite Clay as a Natural Remedy: A Brief Review. Iranian Journal of Public Health.

Roh, M. (2006). Sebum output as a factor contributing to the size of facial pores. Br J Dermatol.