How to Minimize Your Pores, According to Dermatologists

Say goodbye to the gunk.

how to shrink pores
(Image credit: Lisa Maree Williams)

Let's get something straight: You cannot "erase" or "eliminate" your pores. Love them or hate them, pores are a structural layer of your skin that will always be there. If you want to know how to minimize pores, though, we've got you covered—just keep your expectations realistic. No mask or strip is going to "eradicate" your pores or remove all blackheads—unless they take off a layer of your skin, this won't happen.

But all hope isn't lost: You can focus your attention on unclogging and tightening your pores, which in turn, will make them appear smaller. There are a handful of skincare products and dermatologist-approved tips to get out all the gunk and make your pores look less noticeable. Lucky for you, we've spoken to the experts and meticulously laid out how to minimize your pores, ahead. 

How to Minimize Your Pores

Pore size is genetically determined, so there's a certain amount you can't change. However, you can unclog your pores and generally make them retreat to where you see them as little as possible. So, even though you can't do much about the pores themselves, you can minimize their appearance until everybody's like, "Pores? What pores?"

Use Acids

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), like glycolic acid, and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), such as salicylic acid, are the holy grail of ingredients when it comes to penetrating and "cleaning out" your pores. "AHAs and BHAs dissolve the connections between your cells and the surface of your skin to essentially 'unclog' pores," says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., board-certified dermatologist director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

While both types of acids exfoliate on a cellular level, AHAs work on the surface layer of your skin to brighten and smooth (making them more tolerable for skin that's dry and sensitive). At the same time, BHAs penetrate deeper to remove dead skin cells clogged in pores, which makes them ideal for oily or acne-prone skin. 

Just a reminder: Acids make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so make sure to wear sunscreen every day. 

Incorporate Retinol

Not only does retinol smooth wrinkles and brighten dark spots, but it also works to stop acne and shrink pores. Retinol's magic results from its ability to increase your skin's collagen production while simultaneously decreasing its oil production. This leads to smoother skin, fewer breakouts and blackheads, and tighter pores.

Because retinol can be irritating at first (you'll likely have a couple weeks of dry, flaky skin at the get-go), you want to start out with a gentle formula. Smooth a pea-size dollop over completely dry, clean skin every other night—on the opposite day you use your BHA/AHA—wait five minutes for it to absorb, and then apply your moisturizer.

Those with ultra-dry, sensitive, or rosacea-prone skin can mitigate irritation and build up skin's tolerance by using retinol only once a week for one week, twice a week for two weeks, and then three times a week for three weeks. 

Wear Sunscreen

"The sun breaks down your skin's collagen, which is responsible for keeping your face firm and elasticized, so you're left with larger pores and stretchier skin after repeat exposure," says Rachel Nazarian, M.D., a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology in New York. So, slather on a minimum of SPF 30 every morning.

Try Lasers

"Lasers are a fantastic way to address pore problems," says Dr. Nazarian. She prefers the less-invasive Laser Genesis, a milder option compared to Fraxel, which zaps microscopic holes into the skin to resurface deep acne scars and uneven pores. Laser Genesis it stimulates the skin's deepest layers to smooth and plump your complexion with minimal pain. You get the results of retinol, sunscreen, and acids all at once. 

That in mind, the treatment is pricey. It runs around $300 per session. You'll need at least three sessions to see full results. Consult with your dermatologist to determine what treatment is best for your skin and wallet.

The Best Pore Minimizing Products

The products on this list have been vetted by Marie Claire's Beauty Editor, Samantha Holender (that's me!) and Marie Claire's Beauty Director, Deena Campbell; or have been hand-selected by a board-certified dermatologist. Each product, be it a serum, peel, or mask, contains ingredients designed to shrink the appearance of pores, decrease oil, ad is highly rated by reviewers. While the *best* pore minimizing beauty product for you will vary based on personal preference, every item on this list will do its job. For a more personalized recommendation or if you have any concerns, check with your board-certified dermatologist. 

What to Look For

  • Texture 

In addition to retinol, sunscreen, and acids, there are so many serums and primers that promise to minimize your pores. When deciding what products are best suited for large pores, cosmetic chemist Ginger King recommends looking for water- and gel-based formulas. "Water-based products are less oily and suitable for all skin types," she says. They feel light and fresh on the skin compared to oil-based products. 

  • Ingredients

The best pore minimizing products are going to contain ingredients that are designed to de-gunk your complexion, get rid of dead skin cells, and absorb oil. In addition to looking for retinol, along with alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids, King also recommends keeping an eye out for ingredients like lecithin (egg yolk), niacinamide, rose extract, avocado extract, hydroxystearic acid, and butyl avocadate. 

Meet the Dermatologists

Dr. Joshua Zeichner
Joshua Zeichner, MD

As the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research at Mount Sinai Hospital's Department of Dermatology, Dr. Zeichner has a broad interest in medical and cosmetic dermatology as well as clinical research. His specialty is the treatment of acne, as well as the cosmetic rejuvenation of the aging face. Dr. Zeichner treats general skin conditions, including eczema, rosecea, psoriasis, and skin cancer. In addition, he is well-versed in the use of Botox and dermal fillers, as well as lasers and chemical peels.

Dr. Rachel Nazarian
Rachel Nazarian, M.D., F.A.A.D.

Dr. Nazarian is licensed to practice medicine in New York and she is board certified in dermatology. She earned her B.S from Brandeis University where she took a triple major. During her last year of college she worked in Clay Cockerell’s Dermato-pathology lab and following graduation, she worked at the Ackerman Academy of Dermatopathology. Dr. Nazarian served as the Interim Practice Manager for the Department of Dermatology, facilitating many changes that improved the practice. She attended Tulane University’s School of Medicine where she completed her studies for her M.D. degree. While at Tulane, the Women’s Dermatologic Society gave Dr. Nazarian a Medical Student Awareness Research Grant. Dr. Nazarian did her internship in Internal Medicine at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, where she entered dermatology residency program which she finished at Mount Sinai. Aside from her clinical training, Dr. Nazarian has done research with a number of outstanding and world-renowned clinicians gaining valuable experience and skills. She is the author of four books chapters on Rocky Mountain spotted fever, pityriasis versicolor, vesiculobullous diseases and child abuse, as well as five peer reviewed articles. Dr. Nazarian is a frequent presenter at the annual meetings of the American Academy of Dermatology. 

Ginger King
Ginger King, MBA

Ginger King has been passionately creating beauty products from concept to finish since 1995. She is well versed in innovative concepts, creative product formulation, advanced technology applications, ergonomic package development and impactful competitive analysis. Ginger has developed over hundreds of products from hair care to skin care, and sun care to color cosmetics. Her claim to fame products include the revolutionary first to market Joico ICE SPIKER, water resistant hair glue, Freeze 24.7 Ice Shield, SPF 15 face wash and Avon Advance Techniques Color Protection series. Her Avon True Color Eye shadow and Daring Definition Mousse Mascara have also been selected as the finalists for CEW (Cosmetic Executive Women) for 2005 and 2006 respectively.

Beauty Editor

Samantha Holender is the Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she reports on the best new launches, dives into the science behind skincare, and shares the breakdown on the latest and greatest trends in the beauty space. She's studied up on every ingredient you'll find on INCI list and is constantly in search of the world's glowiest makeup products. Prior to joining the team, she worked as Us Weekly’s Beauty and Style Editor, where she stayed on the pulse of pop culture and broke down celebrity beauty routines, hair transformations, and red carpet looks. Her words have also appeared on Popsugar, Makeup.com, Skincare.com, Delish.com, and Philadelphia Wedding. Samantha also serves as a board member for the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). She first joined the organization in 2018, when she worked as an editorial intern at Food Network Magazine and Pioneer Woman Magazine. Samantha has a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. While at GWU, she was a founding member of the school’s HerCampus chapter and served as its President for four years. When she’s not deep in the beauty closet or swatching eyeshadows, you can find her obsessing over Real Housewives and all things Bravo. Keep up with her on Instagram @samholender.