How To Minimize Your Pores, According to Dermatologists

We went straight to the experts, face in hand.

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. So, please, ignore any masks or strips that promise to "eradicate" your pores—unless they take off a layer of your skin, this won't happen—and focus on what you can do about your pore problems. For example, if your pores are visible and bothering you, your pores are probably wider, deeper, or more prominent than you'd like. Which is likely because your pores are clogged, or not as tight as you'd like. Fortunately, you can do something about that.

Pore size is genetically determined, so there's a certain amount you can't change. However, you can unclog your pores, shrink them, 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 (unless, as previously mentioned, you want to take a whole layer of your skin off), you can minimize their appearance until everybody's like, "Pores? What pores?"

This brings us to the two ways you can deal with your pores: By unclogging them, a.k.a. getting rid of all the gunk in your pores that's making them look more prominent; and by tightening them. So, yes, you can effectively shrink your pores with the right treatments. Which, lucky for you, we've meticulously laid out ahead.

How to Unclog Your Pores

Acids

No, these aren't the kind of acids that'll burn your skin off—but, yes, the idea of dousing your face in acid seems terrifying. Still, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) are the holy grail of ingredients when it comes to penetrating and "cleaning out" your pores. In turn, this will keep your pores from stretching. 

"AHAs and BHAs dissolve the connections between your cells and the surface of your skin to essentially 'unclog' pores," says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

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

If you're unsure which acid to try, start with the cult-favorite Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid, which is a miracle in a bottle, and incredibly gentle for even sensitive skin. Just dab it over your clean, dry skin every other night, let it sink in for ten minutes, and then apply the rest of your skincare products.

How to Tighten Your Pores

Retinol

Further proof that retinol is freaking amazing: Not only does the vitamin A-based topical 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, which leads to smoother skin, fewer breakouts and blackheads, and tighter pores.

Because retinol can be irritating at first (you'll likely have a week of dry, flaky skin after initially starting it, but stick with it), you want to use a gentle formula, like Avene Retrinal .1 Intensive Cream. 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, three times a week for three weeks. Then, only if you've had zero irritation at that point, apply it every other night indefinitely.

More Retinols We Love

Sunscreen

If the fact that one in five Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime doesn't make you want to slather on the sunscreen (and it absolutely should), maybe the fact that sunscreen has pore-minimizing effects will sway you.

"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—no, your foundation with SPF 15 doesn't cut it—like a Marie Claire favorite for acne-prone skin, CeraVe Sunscreen Face Lotion.

More Sunscreens We Love

Lasers

"Lasers are a fantastic way to address pore problems," says Dr. Nazarian. She prefers the less-invasive, like Laser Genesis, over the Fraxel laser, which zaps microscopic holes into the skin to resurface deep acne scars and uneven pores.

Laser Genesis is much milder—it stimulates the skin's deepest layers to smooth and plump your complexion with minimal pain, so you get the results of retinol, sunscreen, and acids all at once, without any of the hassles. But, of course, it's costly (around $300 per session, and you'll need at least three of them, though the results are permanent). So, consult with your dermatologist to determine what treatment is best for your skin and wallet.

The Best Pore Minimizing Products

If all else fails, or the above sounds like a lot, may we suggest an editor-approved foundation? Whether you're all about a BB cream, full-coverage foundation, or SPF tint, a formula that'll smooth out the appearance of pores and leave your skin looking its best. Because, honestly, there's no skin concern that really great makeup can't handle.

Ruby was the beauty editor at Cosmopolitan, where she covered beauty across print and digital. Her work has appeared on The Zoe Report, Fashionista, and StyleCaster. Follow her on Instagram.