07/05/2012 10:30 am ET Updated Sep 21, 2017

Can You Shrink Pore Size? A Top Dermatologist Explains The Possiblities

With a slew of blackhead-obliterating products on the market that claim to do everything from shrink pore size to make pores all but disappear, what's really possible? Can you actually shrink pores or just make them look smaller? What makes them bigger?

For this week's edition of Beauty Myths, we spoke with New York dermatologist and author of "Skin Rules" Dr. Debra Jaliman to get clarification on all things pores.

"Certain products that have retinol [a derivative of vitamin A and well-known acne fighter and anti-ager] can make pores appear smaller," says Dr. Jaliman. "The way they work, as do other prescription strength retinoids, is to increase cell turnover so they unclog the pores, making them appear smaller."

The important language here is that they "appear smaller," but is there anything you can do to physically make them smaller? "Prescription Accutane [which targets severe acne] shrinks pores during the time you are on the medication, as it shrinks the oil gland and dries the skin out," says Dr. Jaliman. "When you stop taking Accutane, often the pore goes back to the original size. You can shrink pores permanently with non-ablative laser treatments such as Medlite and Genesis and multiple Fraxel sessions, which shrinks pores while also increasing collagen production."
Now that we're more clear on what's realistic in terms of shrinking pores, we're curious to know if there's anything we're doing to exacerbate pore size. "Pores can increase in size from sun damage, because you damage the collagen and elastic tissue which is the structural support for the skin," says Dr. Jaliman. "Without the support, the pore expands." 
We'll also admit to popping a pimple here and there, but how bad is that for pore size? "If you pop a pimple or blackhead incorrectly you can damage the pore and enlarge it. Best to do it with a sterile needle after steaming, clean with alcohol before and use a comedone extractor with even pressure. Then apply a topical antibiotic."

Conclusion: Products that contain retinol can unclog pores and make them look smaller. Prescription Accutane shrinks the oil gland, physically making the pore smaller. It will return to its original size once you go off the medication. In-office laser treatments permanently shrink pores.

For Beauty Myths, we've enlisted the help of pros to help debunk and demystify some of the most popular advice out there. Do you have a myth you'd like us to investigate? Let us know in the comments below.

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