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How to Unclog and Shrink Pores for Good

As a firm believer that skincare is the best makeup of all, enlarged pores are the bane of this beauty editor’s existence. But even being fixated on your pores doesn’t mean they get any easier to maintain. Pores can be so sensitive, which is why it’s crucial to proceed with caution at every stage of your skincare routine. Here, celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleauand dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, M.D., at Schweiger Dermatology Group, break down exactly how you can get rid of these pore problems once and for all.

To Unclog

Exfoliate. Rouleau swears by manual extractions as the best way to clean pores effectively (sorry, facial cleansing brush). “To get blackheads and clogged pores clean, you must get extractions from an experienced esthetician on a regular basis, ideally monthly,” she says.

Do mechanical exfoliation at home. But there are steps you can take at home to gently resurface your skin and prevent dead cells from clogging your pores. Gentle (key word!) brushes are Nazarian’s solution. She recommends using a soft mechanical brush or a gentle over-the-counter skin scrub and making sure your skin is washed with warm water and a mild cleanser beforehand. “Scrubbing too hard will only irritate and inflame the skin, causing it to look red and puffy. Go slow, and play nice with your pores.”

Use salicyclic acid. Rouleau maintains that salicylic acid is the best ingredient for penetrating the pore lining and helping to keep it clean. “It’s a keratolytic beta hydroxy acid (BHA) famous for its ability to smooth the skin without causing irritation and reduce acne-causing bacteria and oil.”

Soothe with steam. If you’re going to work on your pores, it might be best to open them with some steam action first. “The heat that the steam produces will raise the temperature of the skin, softening the hardened oil in the pore for easier extraction and deep cleansing,” Rouleau says.

To Shrink

Get chemical peels. If your skin’s too sensitive for harsh physical exfoliants and scrubs involving beads and grains, chemical peels can help to smooth the surface of your skin with less irritation. Rouleau explains that chemical peels minimize the appearance of pores by helping to remove dead skin cells which clog them.

Use retinol. Retinols are Vitamin A-based topicals used for their anti-aging and anti-wrinkle properties. But Nazarian says that they can also plump skin by increasing collagen production and decrease oil gland production and size, which in turn can help pores appear smaller. “Since black-heads can exacerbate the size of the pores, topical retinoids for acne can also help clean them out to even out skin texture and allow pores to close up,” she adds.

To Banish

Use sunscreen. “In every way that collagen helps to support smaller pores, and adds plumpness to skin, the sun breaks it down and can make pores larger and in some ways “baggier” by decreasing elasticity,” says Nazarian. With this in mind, it’s ideal to protect skin with daily sunscreen.

Try a laser treatment. “Lasers are a fantastic way to address pore problems,” says Nazarian. Her favorite non-ablative lasers (meaning they’re less invasive) are Fraxel and Laser Genesis. Fraxel smoothes out the top layer of the skin like a gentle-sandblaster while stimulating an increase in collagen. Laser Genesis is a much milder way to do the same thing, working to smooth out the skin and stimulate deeper layers of the skin for a plumping effect. Because Laser Genesis is so much milder, it would require several more treatments.