I’m about to say something that’s probably going to get me in trouble (apologies in advance to my editor): Most skincare marketing is total bullshit. Yup; I’ve said it—let the beauty gods strike me down. But it’s true.
Somewhere down the line, back when it was considered improper to mention pimples and periods and pus in advertisements, the beauty world developed a bunch of euphemisms to talk about skincare (i.e. products that “clean,” “erase,” and “beautify”). And even though it’s been a roughly cool 100 years since then, the lingo has stayed virtually the same, resulting in weekly texts from friends asking me how to “unclog” their pores or “get rid” of them altogether. And here’s the simple, annoying, hard truth: You can’t.
You cannot erase your pores, unclog your pores, or remove your pores. Nor can you sand them down, scrub them off, or empty them out. You can’t even shrink them into oblivion. “The number of pores you have, along with,” says Mona Gohara, M.D., assistant clinical professor at Yale. “The only way to really affect their appearance would be to unwind your DNA.” Which, lemme be clear, is impossible. And any product that promises you anything different is, most likely, lying.
“The idea that you can ‘get rid of’ the stuff in your pores is kind of a fallacy,” says Dr. Gohara. “People have this notion that their pores are large because they’re overstuffed with gunk, and they think if they remove that gunk, their pores will deflate and disappear.” But unfortunately, that’s straight-up wrong. And if you’re reading this right now with a pore strip pressed firmly across your nose and your middle finger raised high in the air (ahem, Allison), then I’m not about to make you any happier.
Because (*takes breath*) pore strips don’t actually help your pores. In fact, they’re pretty damn irritating. “All you’re doing is ripping off the top layer of your epidermis, which damages your skin barrier, creating inflammation, excess oil production, and even more blackheads,” says Dr. Gohara. As for all of those spikey mountains of gunk you see on the strip after you rip it off, they’re mainly just some natural oils and keratin—i.e. not the stuff that stuff you’re actually trying to remove.
“You think you’re getting the contents out of your pores when you squeeze them, scrub them, or rip them off, but you’re really just skimming off the top,” says Dr. Gohara. “Your pores are like a bottle of soda—all these products do is take off the cap, rather than empty the whole bottle, so you’re still left with a clogged pore.”
That being said, there are some things you can do to slightly reduce the size and appearance of your pores, though don’t expect any Photoshop-level miracles. “It is true that oilier skin types tend to have larger pores than drier skin types, because excess oil in your pores can stretch them out,” she says. So, logically, if you reduce the oil, you’ll reduce the visibility.
The quickest way to dissolve some of the gunk in your pores is with a chemical peel (administered by your derm, not by you and that shady stuff you bought off Google). The skin-friendly acids found in a chemical peel are lipophilic—i.e. oil loving—so they’re able to really penetrate the skin and dissolve dead skin cells, oils, and bacteria. They won’t empty the whole soda bottle, so to speak, but they’ll give you the closest thing to an “unclogged” pore as possible, which, in turn, can make your pores less visible.
If you absolutely insist on DIY, though, you can try your hand at an at-home peel, like Neogen Dermalogy Bio-Peel Pads in Wine, which are pre-soaked pads infused with natural fruit acids that gently work to break down the oils in your pores. Just rub one over your clean, dry T-zone twice a week, wait a minute, and then rinse and apply your moisturizer as usual. You can also incorporate a retinol into your nightly routine (I love Algenist Retinol Firming & Lifting Serum), which, along with smoothing your fine lines, will also amp up your collagen production to slightly tighten pores.
Or, you can just accept that your pores are a permanent part of your beautiful little face, and that there’s zero reason for you to feel compelled to eradicate them from the world. You know—whatever’s easier.