Fact: We all have pores—and we’ve all been annoyed with them at some point. “Pores are simply one of those little physical things that bother many individuals, both men and women alike,” says Joel Schlessinger, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and RealSelf advisor. That said, certain habits can make them look bigger and cause skin issues, says Dendy Engelman, M.D., of Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery. Here’s what you should stop doing if you want to keep yours as unclogged as possible:
1. Picking Your Pores and Pimples
If your end goal is fewer pimples and smaller pores, quit picking, stat. “When you squeeze and stretch skin, you’re contributing to the formation of fine lines, inflammation, and irritation, all of which affect pore size over time,” says Schlessinger. “Harsh motions and pressure make the transfer of oil, bacteria, and other impurities from your hands more of a risk, which can lead to clogging.” We know it’s easier said than done, but try using a salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide spot treatment to clear up pimples instead of popping them.
2. Touching Your Face Frequently Throughout the Day
Take a moment and think of all the different things your hands and fingers touch during the day—public doorknobs, desks and tables, sink handles, your credit card. “Touching your face after the number of physical activities you use your hands for could cause oil, bacteria, viruses, allergens, and other impurities to transfer to your skin and clog pores,” says Schlessinger. There are a couple of things you can do to ease yourself out of this habit, say psychologists: Ask your family, friends, and co-workers to let you know whenever you touch your face so you’re more conscious of when you do it, and try sitting on your hands, which will make you more aware of what you’re doing with them.
3. Forgetting to Remove Your Makeup Before Bed
We know you’ve heard this before, but it bears repating: “Removing your makeup is an essential step in your skin-care routine because not doing so allows the makeup, oil, and environmental pollutants that gather on your skin all day to settle into your pores while you sleep,” says Schlessinger. “Not only does this cause breakouts and speed up the aging process, but it also contributes to enlarged pores.” Too tired to make it to the bathroom? Stash wipes by your bed for easy access.
4. Skipping Out on Exfoliation
The best way to clear pores is through exfoliation. That’s because cleansers don’t fully remove the dead skin cells that build up throughout the week. “Exfoliating once or twice a week will help remove impurities like oil and debris, prevent acne breakouts, and make your pores look smaller.
5. Wearing the Wrong Kind of Face Makeup
It’s tempting to try to cover up large pores with concealer. But anything comedogenic (a.k.a. pore-blocking) will clog your skin. So avoid applying products with waxes, oils, and butters in the formula. “I always recommend mineral makeup, especially to my acne patients, because it can be applied over skin conditions like acne, rosacea, and psoriasis without causing irritation or harmful side effects,” says Schlessinger. Many products will also label themselves as non-comedogenic, so you’ll know they’re free of ingredients you should skip.
6. Not Using a Pore-Minimizing Cream or Retinol
Pore-minimizers pack a lot more punch than you’d think. “They contain ingredients that boost the skin’s production of glycoaminoglycans, which help to firm the skin around pores, minimizing their appearance,” says Engelman. The charcoal in the formula seeps into the pores to remove any gunk. You only need to leave it on for 30 seconds before rinsing, and you just have to use it twice a week to maintain results. Meanwhile, prescription retinoids can reduce the size of pores that have enlarged as a result of clogging and sun damage. They work by dissolving the bacteria that causes acne (and makes pores swell)