A few months ago, I got my first facial. I’m a big believer in at-home skincare, but figured that the only thing better than putting on a mask and lying around in my apartment was lying around in a spa with somebody else applying a mask to me. It was nice; I get why people like it. However about two-thirds of the way through, I was jarred to life when the facialist told me, after several painless extractions, that my pores were clear—”but you’ll still see them, because they’re pretty huge.”
...Is that not the rudest thing you’ve ever heard?
Here’s the thing about pores: they’re yours. Redness, hyperpigmentation, excess sebum production, etc. are all face concerns that can be corrected to an extent. But “pore shrinkage” is a big ‘ol myth. Some people are born with tiny baby pores, and some people—ME—are born with pores that can double as serving bowls for chip dips. You can clean ‘em out, you can dress ‘em up, but you can’t shrink 'em.
In the hopes of dealing with my massive facial craters, I consulted my deskmate and work wife Emily Ferber. “I really want something that’ll cover them up,” I said, but she shuddered. “Those ‘finishing primers’ are no good. I don’t want something on my face that’s expressly meant to fill up my pores,” she said, as a gentle ray of Western sunlight glinted off of her poreless face. Fine advice, but not reassuring.
Emily is not wrong about wanting to protect her face, especially because filling in your pores for vain purposes is not good and will make everything worse. Silicone and alcohol, for example, are popular pore-smoothing ingredients—and for many people, they’re also red flags. The common misconception is that pore products are skincare products, when in reality, they’re just incognito makeup with occasional skincare properties. Treat them as such.
So I ignored the advice of my colleague in pursuit of something that would smooth out my face a little bit, but keeping in mind that it shouldn’t, you know, destroy my skin. I was introduced to “blurring” products, which are already a little off-putting—am I really interested in obscuring my face? The one my mother loves so much? Yes, kind of. I spent some time sourcing creams, lotions, and tonics that would give me the genetic appearance of Emily Ferber. The offerings are plenty, and the secret is finding something with a consistency that works for you. My favorites are below, according to their weight:
Light: Erborian Bamboo Matte Lotion
Erborian’s Bamboo Matte Lotion has the consistency of iced tea, which is why it’s bananas how well it works as a skin finisher. (This is not one of those creamy, soft formulas—but I’ll get to those!). The key is a mattifying powder suspended within a moisturizing bamboo water mixture. I apply it with my fingers, but feel free to use it as you would any toner.
Light-Medium: Benefit Porefessional Matte Rescue
A little heavier (and less liquid-y) is Benefit’s Porefessional Matte Rescue, a punny, teal gel that’s cool to the touch. Oily skin havers need only apply a little, as the formula is pretty wet. But for my normal-combination skin, a medium amount applied all over the face does a great job of smoothing out imperfections and preserving a little natural dew where it counts. A lot of pore-focused products are intended as primers for makeup, but Matte Rescue works best as a last step. Rub a little on your cheeks, nose, and forehead, and go about your day.
Medium: Estée Lauder Idealist Pore Minimizing Serum
Idealist is more viscous than Matte Rescue, but sinks in immediately. While Idealist is labeled as a pore minimizer on the bottle, the formula is designed as a general problem corrector that addresses redness and flakiness. Great for me, whose skin can at times resemble a war torn battlefield. (Foxholes and all!)
Heavy: Kiehl’s Micro-Blur Skin Perfector
“Holy grail” is one of those overwrung phrases in beauty writing that I try not to use—so consider Micro Blur the vintage Alaïa skirt of pore products. The texture being that kind of peanut butter consistency you might be acquainted with, far removed from bamboo water or pore gel. But the finish is so damn smooth and clear. And the hero ingredient, Lipo Hydroxy Acid, gets at the pore bacteria to exfoliate ever so slightly. Best applied under makeup for peak porelessness—but it works pretty well without, too.
Alternatively: You could simply love thy pores, as I am learning to do. In the meantime, makeup helps.
Photographed by Tom Newton.
A good peel can help, too. Poreless editor Emily Ferber has suggestions on the best exfoliants for sensitive skin.