For something so small, pores definitely cause us a lot of unnecessary drama. The obsession with them can cause many people to pick, poke, and prod their faces in an effort to shrink pore size and clear out debris, leading to some serious skin trauma that can have lasting effects on your face. Still not sure you can keep your hands to yourself? We asked experts to pinpoint what irritating our pores really does to our skin—and what we can actually do to help make pores appear less visible.
“Most cleansers and topicals that target debris in pores tend to be irritating and potent,” explains Dr. Corey L. Hartman, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama. “If they are used too aggressively or too often, the skin will suffer inflammation, which only serves to age the skin prematurely and make the pores worse.” Meaning that in your quest for a magically poreless visage, if you’re going overboard with the harsh ingredients, you’re actually making them look even bigger and more prominent.
And, for those of you who can’t keep your fingers or extractor tools away from those blackheads, you’ll be less than pleased to know that you’re adding pigmentation problems into the mix. “If the [blackhead] is not ready to be extracted or the tool is not precise enough to extract just the plug, you can increase the inflammation, damage the surrounding skin, and cause hyperpigmentation,” warns Dr. Hartman. Not to mention the risk of digging too deep and causing bleeding and scarring.
If you want your pores to look less noticeable, you’ll need to be strategic and not automatically reach for the strongest exfoliator or sharpest tool you can find. The key to less visible, declogged pores is to treat your skin with kindness—just because something is gentle doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a serious skincare punch. According to Dr. Hartman, products that blend hydration with gentle exfoliation are actually more effective at smoothing out texture and minimizing pore appearance because they do so without drying out or weakening the surrounding skin. Dr. Hartman recommends ingredients like hydroxy acids and retinoids for exfoliation and hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and squalane for moisture.
Using a non-stripping cleanser and replacing that harsh, skin-tingling astringent with a pore-pampering gentle toner like Biossance Squalane + BHA Pore-Minimizing Toner will actually get you much closer to that smooth and clear complexion you crave. The brand new toner by the cult-favorite skincare company is an ideal blend of hydration and detoxification. It uses a mix of two different naturally derived acids: 1) white willowbark extract (a botanical source of beta-hydroxy acid) helps unclog pores and manage excess oil and 2) caviar lime extract, a natural source of alpha-hydroxy acid that can help clear away dead surface skin cells to visibly refine texture and smooth skin. A hit of sugarcane-derived squalane moisturizes and locks in hydration.
Follow that with a lightweight moisturizer containing ceramides, and you’ll “improve both the skin’s water and oil content to keep it at an optimal pH and in perfect balance,” advises Dr. Hartman. Then, of course, be sure to apply an SPF to protect against UV rays. “Excessive exposure to UV light can make pores worse,” says Dr. Hartman. “Sun ages our skin prematurely and pores are no exception. As skin elasticity decreases with age and sun exposure, pores can enlarge [over time].”