Ask the Expert: How Do You Get Rid of Blackheads?
Are you squeezing your skin in order to get rid of blackheads? Stop the habit before it continues to wreak havoc on your skin. Picking at your skin and squeezing blackheads is not only a bad way to approach blackhead removal, it can also cause scarring and other acne issues down the road. Interested in learning how to remove blackheads the right way? We turned to our team of experts to find out.
WHAT ARE BLACKHEADS?
Acne blemishes come in many forms—pimples, papules, and whiteheads, to name a few—but for many of us no blemish is as bothersome as a blackhead. Unlike puss-filled whiteheads and pimples, blackheads—as the name implies—appear as tiny black dots on the skin’s surface. The bumps can be slightly raised or flat with the surface of the skin and its darkened color is thanks to oxidation. With blackheads the clogged pore remains open to the air around it and when that air comes in contact with the dirt, oil, and other impurities clogging that pore, it turns the clog brown.
WHAT CAUSES BLACKHEADS?
Blackheads, also called open comedones, are caused when excess oil mixes with impurities on your skin’s surface—think: dirt, makeup, sweat, dead skin cells—and clogs a hair follicle or pore. Since the comedone remains open to the air, this clog oxidizes and gets its tell-tale black coloring. There are many factors that lead to clogged pores—and subsequently blackheads—including excess oil, hormonal changes, genetics, not exfoliating enough, poor skin care habits, and more.
They can pepper your entire complexion including your nose, forehead, chin, and even your cheeks—basically anywhere there is a pore, there is an opportunity for it to become clogged. No matter where you have blackheads one thing is for certain they are hard to get rid of and oh-so-tempting to touch.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHITEHEADS AND BLACKHEADS?
According to dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, and Skincare.com consultant, whiteheads and blackheads are similar, but are not to be confused as one in the same. “Whiteheads and blackheads are cousins,” he says. “Blackheads have a wide opening so you can see the dark, oxidized clog, whereas whiteheads have a tiny opening so they just look more like skin-colored bumps.”
SEBACEOUS FILAMENT OR BLACKHEAD?
See clogged pores on your nose that are more grey-ish or tan in color? Those may be sebaceous filaments which are often confused with blackheads. Sebaceous filaments are hair-like formations that help with the flow of oil in the pore and everyone has them. If you have an oily complexion or enlarged pores they can be more apparent and can look like a clogged pore. But, unlike blackheads, you can’t get rid of them.
WHAT NOT TO DO WITH BLACKHEADS
Blackhead removal is a tricky subject. On one hand, it feels almost satisfying to use your fingers to squeeze the blackhead out of its pore—after all, pimple popping videos get so many views for a reason. But, on the other hand, squeezing the gunk out can cause some serious complexion consequences including scarring, infection, and worsening the blemish.
Simply put, don’t pick at your skin. Even if it seems like a quick squeeze is all you need to clear your pores and remove blackheads, just don’t. Instead follow some of the tips below:
HOW TO REMOVE BLACKHEADS
See a Dermatologist
First off, the best way to remove blackheads is to see a dermatologist. Your dermatologist is equipped with tools that make extractions and blackhead removal possible in a sterile environment.
Stay Loyal to Your Skin Care Routine
A major contributing cause of clogged pores—and blackheads by default—is a lack of proper skin care. Each morning and night be sure you are cleansing your face in order to remove excess oils, impurities, and product buildup. Staying loyal to your skin care routine is the best way to get results, see clearer skin, and avoid getting blackheads in the first place
Use a Clay Mask
Incorporating a deep-cleansing clay mask into your routine a few times a week can make a lasting impression on your overall complexion, as well as target blackheads. “Clay has both skin-calming and oil-absorbing properties, making it useful both for patients with inflamed or sensitive skin, as well as oily or acne-prone skin,” says Dr. Zeichner. Luckily, there’s plenty of detoxing clay masks to choose from. Check out some of our favorites, here.
Board-certified dermatologist, and Skincare.com consultant, Dr. Karen Sra recommends mechanical removals, like microdermabrasion, to remove blackheads. Microdermabrasion is a series of non-invasive treatments that exfoliate the skin for a softer, more even-looking complexion. Microdermabrasion can offer a slew of benefits, including the removal of built-up dead skin cells.
Editor’s note: Depending on the situation, microdermabrasion might not be the best solution for you. Consult with your dermatologist first to see if it’s a viable option.
Exfoliate your Skin
If microdermabrasion is out of your budget, you can still exfoliate with potent products. “At home, I recommend daily exfoliation with a good cleanser specifically formulated for acne-prone skin,” says dermatologist, and Skincare.com consultant, Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali. “[Cleanse with] a Clarisonic brush two to three times a week to supplement.”
Try a Pore Strip
While we don’t recommend turning to pore strips often—Dr. Bhanusali warns that overdoing it with them can lead to excess oil and more breakouts—here and there they can be a great tool to help you with blackheads.
Reach for Salicylic Acid
One of the most well-known FDA-approved acne-fighting ingredients is salicylic acid, and both Dr. Bhanusali and Dr. Zeichner recommend using it for beating blackheads. “Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that exfoliates dead cells from the skin's surface,” Dr. Zeichner says. “This essentially keeps your pipes clear and allows oil to freely flow out of the follicles.” The results can make your skin feel smooth, too. “Salicylic acid is great for softening the skin and giving you that tight, firm feeling after cleansing,” says Dr. Bhanusali. Dr. Bhanusali does, however, offer a word of caution. “Salicylic acid can be very drying so I usually have my patients with mild to moderate acne use it two to three times a week,” he explains.
Reach for Topical Retinoid Creams
In addition to salicylic acid, many people may experience positive results on their blackheads by using retinol products. For those who aren’t familiar with retinol, it’s a form of vitamin A that helps prevent hair follicles from clogging. You can find the ingredient in a number of over-the-counter topical acne products, be it gels or creams.
Editor’s note: For best practices, the Mayo Clinic suggests applying topical retinoid creams at night three times a week, then daily as your skin becomes more comfortable with it. Keep in mind that retinoids are strong and can cause sun sensitivity, so it’s important to wear a broad-spectrum SPF of 15 or higher every day, and reapply at least every two hours.
Don’t Forget to Moisturize
No matter what skin type or concern you have, moisturizing is a non-negotiable step—especially when incorporating products that target blackheads. These products can be notorious for stripping the skin of its natural oils, probing even more issues beyond blackheads. Reach for non-comedogenic moisturizers that can lock in your skin’s moisture and won’t clog pores. If retinoid creams are too drying for you, layer them with a richmoisturizer formulated for your skin type.
Remember to have patience. Acne, whether you have a few pimples and blackheads or hard-to-treat cystic acne, doesn’t go away overnight. Having patience is key when hoping to get rid of acne and blackheads. While you wait consider covering up with non-comedogenic foundations and concealers which can help to blur the appearance of imperfections on your skin’s surface. The more patience you have as you care for your skin, the better.
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