Let’s get something straight: You cannot get rid of your pores. Love them or hate them, they’re a structural layer of your skin that are always going to be there. So, please, ignore any masks or strips that promise to “erase” or “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. If they bother you, they’re probably wider, deeper, or more prominent than they should be, and that’s probably because they’re clogged or not as tight as you’d like. Good news: You can do something about that.
If you have large pores, there are probably a few things going on. First, pore size is genetically determined, so there’s a certain amount you can’t do. But allow me to move on to what you can do: You can unclog them, shrink them, and generally make them retreat back to the point 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?”
Which brings me to the two ways you can deal with your pores: By unclogging them, a.k.a. getting rid of all the gunk that’s making them look bigger, and by tightening them. So, yes, and you can effectively shrink them back to their normal, pre-stretched state with the right treatments. Which, lucky for you, I’ve meticulously laid out, below.
How to Unclog Your Pores
Reach for the acids
Yes, the idea of dousing your face in acid seems terrifying, but 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—which, in turn, will keep them from stretching. And no, these aren’t the kind of acids that’ll burn your skin off.
“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. Basically, the stuff in your pores is a stage-five clinger, and acids are an intervention.
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 the dry- and sensitive-prone), while BHAs penetrate deeper to remove dead skin cells clogged in pores (i.e. blackheads), making them especially excellent for oily, acne-prone skin.
If you’re not sure of 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 10 minutes, and then apply the rest of your skincare products on top.
How to Tighten Your Pores
Commit to a retinoid
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 is the result of 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 week of dry, flaky skin after you initially start it, but stick with it or it doesn’t work!), you want use a gentle formula, like Avene Retrinal .1 Intensive Cream. Just smooth a pea-size dollop over your totally 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.
If you’ve got ultra-dry, sensitive, or rosacea-prone skin, though, you’ll want to mitigate irritation and build up your 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, and then, only if you’ve had zero irritation thus far, apply it every other night indefinitely.
Wear sunscreen, always
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., dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology in New York. Slather on a minimum of SPF 30 every single morning—no, your foundation with SPF 15 in it doesn’t cut it—like my ride-or-die favorite for acne-prone skin, CeraVe Sunscreen Face Lotion.
“Lasers are a fantastic way to address pore problems,” says Dr. Nazarian. She prefers the less-invasive 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 hassle. Of course, it’s costly (around $300 per session, and you’ll need at least three of them, though the results are permanent), so make sure to consult with your dermatologist to determine what treatment is best for your skin…and your wallet.
And if all else fails, or the above just sounds like a lot, may I present: an editor-approved foundation or foundation product—we’ve got it all, whether you’re all about a BB cream, full-coverage foundation, SPF tint, you name it—that’ll leave your skin looking its best. Because, honestly, there’s no skin concern that really great makeup can’t handle.