Is it really possible to shrink your pores?

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Photo: Unsplash/Sylvain Reygaerts
There are countless beauty products out there promising to “minimize” your already pretty microscopic pores. But just like the notion that you have to wash your face in the morning or that facial oils cause acne, the idea that pore size is changeable is a big ol’ skin-care myth.

“One of the cute little phrases that goes around the industry is ‘Pores ain’t doors’—they don’t open and close,” says Natarsha Bimson, an aesthetician at the celeb-approved Spa Sophia in Venice, California. “Even when we steam the skin in a facial, it’s not to ‘open’ anything—it’s to soften the pores [and their contents], so they’re easier for us to extract.”

Though we’d understand if you’d heard that “open your pores” phrase, oh, a million times.

So no, you can’t “open” pores—and you can’t make them smaller either, according to Nancy Samolitis, M.D., the dermatologist and co-creator of Facile, a new clinic and boutique in West Hollywood. “It’s a myth that you can close your pores completely,” she explains. “It’s actually important that a pore stays open to allow healthy amounts of oil out to hydrate the skin naturally.”  (Yes, oil is a good thing—as if you needed reminding.)

“One of the cute little phrases that goes around the industry is ‘Pores ain’t doors’—they don’t open and close”

Genetics are the key factor that decides the dimensions of your pores (gee, thanks, Dad!)—and Dr. Samolitis stresses, “You cannot change the pores you’re genetically determined to have.” But even if your pores are on the, um, generous side, it’s not cause for despair. Most experts agree that you can minimize their appearance, even if you can’t shrink them down permanently.

How? The key, says Dr. Samolitis, is keeping them free of micro-sized detritus. “When oil and dead skin cells stick inside the pore, they can appear clogged and stretched out,” she says. Bimson adds: “Once you remove the debris from a pore, you won’t see it as much.”

And good news: There are loads of natural ingredients that are perfectly primed for a job on the clean-up crew.

Read on to discover the five natural skin-care ingredients (and some products) that’ll help keep your pores as clean and inconspicuous as possible—no, those drugstore strips are not one of them.
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Photo: Credo
Photo: January Labs

1. Salicylic Acid

It’s not just for acne-plagued middle-schoolers. Dr. Samolitis says that it happens to be one of the all-star ingredients for breaking up dead skin cells and reducing the appearance of large pores, and you can find it in lots of cleansers and toners.

Willow bark is a gentle, but effective form of salicylic acid found in nature—and lately, it’s popping up in tons of products, including January Labs’ Pure & Gentle Cleansing Gel ($32), Josh Rosebrook’s Moisturizing Cleanser ($50), and Odacité’s Mint and Green Tea Pore Purifying Toner ($38).

Photo: Indie Lee
Photo: Indie Lee

2. Glycolic Acid

“Glycolic acid is good at breaking down the intercellular glue—it helps the shedding of skin cells become a little more efficient—but it also helps to break down excess oil,” says Bimson, who recommends her clients apply it every other night.

Her preferred products include Epicuren’s 5% Glycolic Lotion Skin Peel ($32) and Sanitas Skincare’s 5% Glycotoner ($25); natural options include Intelligent Nutrients’ Detoxifying Glycolic Gel ($65)  and Indie Lee’s Clearing Mask ($60).

Photo: Credo
Photo: Fig + Yarrow

3. French Green Clay

Laurel Shaffer, founder of skin-care line Laurel Whole Plant Organics, is a big fan of clay when it comes to de-clogging. “My favorite type is French green clay. Combined with an anti-inflammatory plant, like marshmallow or licorice, it’ll really boost that action.”

Her Detox Facial Mask ($50) packs in all of these power ingredients and more, while S.W. Basics’ Hibiscus Mask ($22) and Fig + Yarrow’s Clay Mask ($18) are some other solid (and budget-friendly) options.

Photo: Kypris

4. Retinol

Seriously, is there anything retinol can’t do? Both Dr. Samolitis and Bimson named this as one of their go-tos for reducing pore visibility. As Dr. Samolitis explains: “The retinoid family [of ingredients] stimulates skin cell turnover and prevents skin from ‘sticking’ in the pores.” In other words, think of it as a de-clogger.

While prescription and spa-grade retinoids are going to be the fastest acting, there are some natural options as well, including Marie Veronique‘s Gentle Retinol Night Serum ($110) and Kypris’ Moonlight Catalyst serum ($72), which includes a plant extract that mimics the effects of retinol, sans irritation.

Photo: Laurel Whole Plant Organics
Photo: Laurel Whole Plant Organics

5. Rose Geranium and Chamomile

These two floral extracts are natural astringents, says Shaffer, who notes that they help temporarily make pores appear tighter (with a big asterisk, since as you now know you can’t actually make them smaller). “I like using them in a hydrosol form,” she says. “You can spritz it onto your skin after doing a detox mask.” Shaffer’s own Facial Elixir for oily skin ($44) is the rare bird that contain both botanicals.

Good skin isn’t just about what you put on it. Check out this skin-saving smoothie, get Elle Macpherson’s holistic summer skin tips, and find out how infrared heat is connected with a clear complexion.

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