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5 expert-approved serums to help minimize the appearance of large pores

While you can’t actually “shrink” your pores, the right ingredients can help make them less visible.

Meredith Hartle, DO
Camille Dixon headshot
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team, Camille Dixon, PA-C
featuring Meredith Hartle, DO
Updated on Jan 29, 2024 • 12 min read
Medically reviewed by Camille Dixon, PA-C
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Meredith Hartle, DO
Camille Dixon headshot
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team, Camille Dixon, PA-C
featuring Meredith Hartle, DO
Updated on Jan 29, 2024 • 12 min read
Medically reviewed by Camille Dixon, PA-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

What causes my pores to look enlarged?
More

There’s no one-size-fits-all in skincare. What works for one person may not necessarily have the same results for someone else. But it’s only natural to want the best, so our team of licensed dermatology providers reviews and assesses countless products on the market to offer a few recommendations. So here, you’ll find the products that hold up to our rigorous standards.

When you look in the mirror, is the first thing you notice the size of your pores? Have you tried to conceal them with foundation or pressed powder with little success? Ever wonder, “Why do my pores look so big?” We know the feeling. But despite their bad rap, pores are a really important part of your skin. They produce oils that are essential for keeping your skin moisturized. It’s when they become clogged with dirt and excess oil that they can cause a problem.

Dealing with enlarged pores is frustrating but finding products to shrink them shouldn’t be. Take our simple quiz to see how Custom Formulaᴿˣ can improve the look of your skin.*

The good news? Keeping your pores healthy and happy—no matter the size—can help to reduce their appearance. Face serums with ingredients that help minimize the appearance of pores can be a terrific addition to your skincare routine, especially if pore size is one of your concerns. Here we’ll explain what you need to know about caring for your pores with the right ingredients and share a few serums that our dermatology providers recommend.

The key takeaways

  • Pores play a vital role in skin health, producing oils that moisturize your skin. However, clogged pores with dirt and excess oil can be problematic.

  • Serums can be particularly effective in addressing enlarged pores by exfoliating dead skin cells and increasing cell turnover.

  • Notable ingredients in effective pore-minimizing serums include retinol, azelaic acid, BHAs, and AHAs. These components help unclog, refine, and improve the appearance of pores.

  • Beyond serums, adopting a comprehensive skincare routine—including using non-comedogenic products, wearing sunscreen, and cleansing regularly—can further help maintain pore health.

  • Curology offers personalized solutions for skincare concerns. We pair patients with a licensed dermatology provider to provide personalized advice and prescriptions for optimum skincare results.

Start your journey with Curology now!

Start your journey with Curology now!

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What causes my pores to look enlarged?

Many factors can play a role in making your pores appear larger. Among the leading culprits are makeup residue, accumulated sweat, and daily dirt and grime. These elements can lead to pore blockages, magnifying their appearance. Interestingly, our noses often have more prominent pores compared to other facial regions, making thorough evening cleansing a crucial step to keep your pores clean.

We all have visible pores—it’s a natural aspect of our skin. While they often become a focal point of our aesthetic concerns, it's important to recognize that their presence is standard. Permanent resizing isn’t possible, but effective skincare can certainly make them look less noticeable.

Our medical expert Dr. Meredith Hartle, DO, provides an insightful perspective: “The prominence of pores often stems from factors like excessive sebum production, a decrease in the skin’s elasticity surrounding the pores, and an inherent increase in hair follicle size—often a genetic trait. From a dermatological standpoint, large pores aren’t a medical issue. However, they can indeed present aesthetic concerns for many individuals.”

Several factors can cause large pores:

Your pores may seem larger due to several reasons from sun damage to age-related factors.

Sun damage

Collagen and elastin are essential building blocks of skin.¹ Too much exposure to UV rays from the sun breaks down these proteins, weakening the skin surrounding your pores and potentially causing them to look larger.

Prioritize your skin’s health by shielding it from the harmful effects of sun exposure. Always ensure you apply a reliable sunscreen, such as our Curology Sunscreen, which offers broad-spectrum protection, keeping your skin protected and pores in check.

Excess oil production²

People with oily skin types may notice large pores, too. This is because oil glands produce oil (aka sebum) inside each pore. If you experience excessive oil production, your pores may appear larger due to the large amounts of oil they release.

Taming excessively oily skin can be a challenge, but not an impossible one. Discover expert-approved tips to control oily skin and learn how to regulate sebum production to achieve a balanced complexion.

Genetics

You don’t have control over your genes; unfortunately, they may have contributed to the development of larger pores. 

Age

Those essential building blocks, elastin and collagen? Well, they break down as you age, reducing your skin’s elasticity³ and potentially causing your pores to widen as a result.

Where do serums come in? Dermatology experts explain

When it comes to skincare, serums are powerhouse products designed to deliver a high concentration of active ingredients. They’re particularly effective in addressing specific skin concerns thanks to their targeted formulations. 

So, if enlarged pores are a concern for you, where do serums fit into the picture?

Dermatology experts highlight the significance of serums in managing enlarged pores. These elixirs can be especially potent when packed with the right active ingredients. Our in-house expert Dr. Meredith Hartle mentions, “Ingredients that help decrease sebum and unclog pores such as tretinoin, azelaic acid, and BHA exfoliants may help.” Such ingredients are integral in formulations that aim to reduce the appearance of enlarged pores.

The magic of serums lies in their ability to target and treat. Some serums are specially formulated to combat the appearance of large pores. How do they achieve this? Depending on the active ingredient, they can increase cell turnover, which promotes the shedding of the outer layer of dead skin cells, and exfoliate away the debris that clogs pores, refining your skin’s texture and appearance.⁴ 

Serums act as specialized tools in your skincare arsenal, providing targeted treatment to minimize pore appearance. By selecting serums infused with ingredients that regulate sebum production and unclog pores, you’ll be well on your way to achieving smooth skin.

Ingredients to look for in pore-minimizing serums

When diving into the realm of serums, you need to pinpoint the right ingredients to achieve your desired skincare outcome. If you’re looking to minimize the appearance of pores, exfoliation and hydration can help.

Exfoliation aids in removing dead skin cells, promoting skin cell turnover, and unclogging pores. Proper hydration ensures your skin retains its elasticity, reducing the likelihood of pores appearing stretched or enlarged.

Exfoliating serum ingredients

Retinol: Retinol, a form of vitamin A, helps make pores appear smaller by encouraging your skin to produce new cells, shed old ones, and thicken the outer layer.⁵ This smooths your skin's surface, potentially making your pores less noticeable and improving your overall skin quality.

Azelaic Acid: A multitasker, azelaic acid assists in clearing out sebum⁶ and dead skin cells that could be enlarging your pores’ appearance.⁷ 

Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHAs): BHAs, prominently salicylic acid, are saviors for those struggling with excess sebum and dead skin cells. They delve deep into pores, clearing out unwanted debris.⁸

Hydrating serum ingredients

Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs): While AHAs offer exfoliating benefits, they also play a role in moisturizing your skin and improving skin hydration.⁹ This dual action can help your skin achieve a smoother texture and a radiant glow, while also refining the appearance of enlarged pores and ensuring they remain clear of buildup.

If you’re not sure what ingredient is best for you, or you’re seeking a tailored approach to skincare, Curology offers high-quality ingredients, meticulously chosen and personalized to align with your unique skincare needs. Dive into a customized skincare journey* with Curology.

5 serums that may help minimize the appearance of enlarged pores

Your choice of serum can have a significant impact on the appearance of your pores. While it’s essential to choose a product that addresses your specific concerns, it’s also crucial to consider your skin type and overall skincare needs. Here’s a list of our top picks based on their ingredients and their respective category winners.

1. Best overall: Skinceuticals C + AHA

  • What we liked about it: A powerful concoction that works to minimize the appearance of blemishes.

  • Ingredient shoutout: Vitamin C, glycolic acid, and lactic acids that help promote collagen production and accelerate skin cell turnover for a smoother complexion.¹⁰

2. Best Budget Pick: Versed Just Breathe Clarifying Serum

  • What we liked about it: This affordable serum targets the primary causes of enlarged pores without breaking the bank.

  • Ingredient shoutout: Niacinamide and zinc, a powerful duo that combats pore congestion and regulates excess oil production.¹¹

3. Best for deep exfoliation: Paula’s Choice RESIST Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment 4% BHA

  • What we liked about it: Specifically formulated for those looking to deeply penetrate the skin, addressing stubborn pore congestion.

  • Ingredient shoutout: Salicylic acid that dives deep into pores, helping ensure a smooth and clear complexion.¹²

4. Best vegan option: Biossance Squalane + 10% Lactic Acid Resurfacing Night Serum

  • What we liked about it: A cruelty-free option that not only exfoliates but also offers skin hydration benefits.

  • Ingredient shoutout: Lactic acid for gentle exfoliation and squalane for deep hydration.¹³

5. Best for nighttime use: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum

  • What we liked about it: An AHA/BHA blend that works to help resurface the skin for an improved appearance.

  • Ingredient shoutout: Glycolic, tartaric, lactic, and citric acids¹⁴ paired with salicylic acid for comprehensive exfoliation.

When selecting a serum, always consider your unique skin needs and remember that consistency is key. Pair these serums with a balanced skincare routine to achieve the best results, and when in doubt, consult a dermatology provider!

What else can I do to reduce the look of my pores?

Serums aren’t the only way you can keep your pores healthy. These are small changes you can incorporate into everyday life to address large pores:¹⁵

Use non-comedogenic products. Non-comedogenic products are specifically formulated not to clog your pores. When you’re buying makeup and skincare products, check the labels and seek out products that won’t contribute to buildup. It may help to opt for oil-free products, too.

With Curology, you can rest easy. We prioritize your skin health, ensuring all our products are non-comedogenic. Plus, our dermatology providers are on hand to guide and consult with you on the best skincare choices.

Wear sunscreen. Remember when we said UV rays can break down collagen and elastin around your pores? Chalk that up to one of the many reasons you should wear SPF every day. Curology’s Sunscreen is a mineral sunscreen without pore-clogging ingredients that minimizes the appearance of a white cast so you can face the day with confidence. Remember to wear SPF 30 or higher! 

Wash your face twice a day. Cleansing your face can reduce the amount of buildup on your skin and in your pores. If your skin can handle it, strive to wash your face morning and night with a gentle cleanser (we’ve got a great cleanser at Curology) and warm water to help reduce oiliness and prevent clogged pores. 

Exfoliate regularly. Dead skin cells can accumulate and block pores. Incorporate exfoliation into your skincare routine to remove these cells and provide a fresh, clean slate for your other products.

Avoid touching your face. Your hands come into contact with various surfaces throughout the day, picking up dirt, oil, and bacteria. Transferring these to your face can clog pores. Cultivate the habit of keeping your hands away from your face unless they’re freshly washed.

Professional treatments. Consider professional treatments like facials, microdermabrasion, or chemical peels. These treatments can be tailored to address enlarged pores and improve skin texture.

The journey to minimizing the appearance of pores is a consistent and holistic approach to skincare. By following these steps and using the right products, you’re setting the foundation for healthy skin.

How Curology can help

Concerned about large pores, acne-prone skin, excess sebum, or persistent buildup? Curology was founded by dermatologists and boasts a team with more than 100 years of combined experience. Become a Curology member* and be paired with a dermatology provider who can help you learn how to minimize the appearance of pores with advice and a personalized prescription formula designed for your unique needs.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology.

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Sign up for Curology to join the four out of five patients who are more confident in their skin after 12 weeks!*

FAQs

Should I apply serum on open pores?

Yes, you can apply serums on larger pores that appear to be open. However, it’s essential to ensure that the serum is non-comedogenic and designed to address pore concerns. Serums containing ingredients like salicylic acid, niacinamide, and retinol can be particularly effective for this purpose.

Do pore shrinking serums work?

While no serum can shrink pores permanently, certain serums can effectively minimize the appearance of enlarged pores by exfoliating your skin, increasing cell turnover, and regulating oil production. It’s important to choose serums with ingredients known to address pore-related concerns and to use them consistently.

What serum should I use to shrink pores?

Look for serums with ingredients like retinol, salicylic acid, niacinamide, azelaic acid, and alpha or beta-hydroxy acids. These ingredients help unclog, refine, and improve the appearance of pores. Always consult with a dermatology provider before incorporating new products into your routine.

What’s the best product for enlarged pores?

The best product for enlarged pores will depend on your unique skin type and concerns. For many, products containing salicylic acid, niacinamide, or retinoids are effective. Always choose non-comedogenic products to avoid clogging the pores further.

How do you close open pores with face serum?

While you cannot close open pores, you can reduce their appearance. Use serums formulated to exfoliate the skin, regulate oil production, and increase collagen production. Consistent use can help refine skin texture and make pores less noticeable.

Can you actually reduce pore size?

You cannot change the genetic size of your pores from their original size. However, you can minimize their appearance by keeping them clean, exfoliating regularly, using non-comedogenic products, and incorporating ingredients that boost collagen production.

How can I tighten my open pores?

Regular exfoliation, sun protection, using products that boost collagen and elastin, and avoiding comedogenic products can help tighten the appearance of pores. In addition, professional treatments like microdermabrasion or chemical peels can also offer more immediate results in refining the skin’s texture. Always consult with a dermatology provider for personalized advice.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Ganceviciene, R., et al. Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermatoendocrinol. (2012, July 1).

  2. Lee, S.J., et al. Facial Pores: Definition, Causes, and Treatment Options. Dermatol Surg. (March 2016).

  3. Ganceviciene, R., et al. Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermatoendocrinol. Ibid.

  4. Mukherjee, S. et al.Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clin Interv Aging. (2006)

  5. Mukherjee, S. et al.Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clin Interv Aging. (2006)

  6. Szymańska, A., et al. Long-term effect of azelaic acid peel on sebum production in acne. Dermatol Ther. (January 2022).

  7. Sieber, M.A. and Hegel, J.K.E. Azelaic acid: Properties and mode of action. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. (2013, November 13).

  8. Moghimipour, E. Hydroxy Acids, the Most Widely Used Anti-aging Agents. Jundishapur J Nat Pharm Prod. (Winter 2012).

  9. Moghimipour, E. Hydroxy Acids, the Most Widely Used Anti-aging Agents. Jundishapur J Nat Pharm Prod. Ibid.

  10. Tran, D., et al. An antiaging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. (2014, December 19).

  11. Tran, D., et al. An antiaging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  12. Moghimipour, E. Hydroxy Acids, the Most Widely Used Anti-aging Agents. Jundishapur J Nat Pharm Prod. Ibid.

  13. Huang, Z.R., et al. Biological and Pharmacological Activities of Squalene and Related Compounds: Potential Uses in Cosmetic Dermatology. Molecules. (2009, January 23).

  14. Fivenson, D.P. The mechanisms of action of nicotinamide and zinc in inflammatory skin disease. Cutis. (January 2006).

  15. American Academy of Dermatology Association. What Can Treat Large Facial Pores?. (n.d.).

Camille Dixon is a certified Physician Assistant at Curology. She received her Master of Medical Science in Physician Assistant Studies from Midwestern University in Downers Grove, IL.

Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.

*In a clinical trial of 150 Curology patients using a leave-on formula. Self-reported.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

**Restrictions apply. See website for full details and important safety information.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
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Camille Dixon, PA-C

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