While pimples are like a flashing red light, blackheads are more subtle, notifying you of their presence only when you lean in too close or use a magnifying mirror.
But blackheads are no less annoying, and they never show up to the party alone. So what are they? And, more importantly, is there a blackhead “cure”?
“Blackheads are tiny dark or black-looking bumps on the surface of the skin caused by clogged hair follicles,” explains Dr. Michele Green, a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City.
And while you might notice them most along the sides of your nose and into your “T-zone,” these annoying little spots can pop up just about anywhere.
“Blackheads can occur on any part of the body — such as the face, chest, back, arms, and shoulders,” says Green.
Blackheads get their name from the reaction that happens after oil takes up residence within one of your pores.
“Air from the outside reacts with the sebum that has collected, turning it black in color,” says Adam Mamelak, an Austin based dermatologist.
They develop for two reasons, he says:
- Your skin is making too much oil (sebum).
- Your skin cells aren’t turning over properly, clogging your pores and follicles.
“Blackheads can be prevented by cleaning your skin and pores, decreasing oil production and exfoliating dead skin cells to keep your pores open,” he adds.
Here’s a look at 13 (mostly) home remedies for blackheads.
13 ways to banish blackheads
1. Wash your face before bed
We don’t know who needs to hear this, but sleeping in makeup is a bad habit — and may be to blame for all sorts of skin issues, including blackheads.
When you leave your makeup on at night, then press your face into a pillow, it can “block pores, allowing oil and sebum to build up,” says Mamelak.
Of all the ways to treat blackheads, this is the easiest one. Too tired for a full skin care routine? Swipe your face with a micellar wipe, like Pureté Thermale 3-In-1 Micellar Wipes by Vichy ($7.99).
2. Rethink your products
Makeup and heavy moisturizers and oils can be comedogenic, meaning they tend to clog pores. “Blackheads are a type of acne known as open comedones,” explains Mamelak. (Whiteheads are closed comedones.)
Look for the term “noncomedogenic” on makeup, moisturizers, and serums to ensure your skin care routine isn’t working against you. Especially during warmer months, choose a lighter moisturizer like CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion ($13.99).
3. Pore strips
These strips work like a bandage, allowing you “to pull off the dead skin and sebum that has collected in the pore forming the blackhead,” explains Mamelak. While they’re not dangerous, he says, avoid them if you have sensitive skin.
“Strips typically use a polymer resin that get activated and binds to the dead skin cells, sebum, and oil,” he explains. “The resins have been known to cause skin irritation and even allergic reactions.”
Love the “ripping off a bandage” feeling of strips? Go with the original: Bioré Deep Cleansing Pore Strips ($9.99).
4. Vacuum tools
Once only available to the pros, vacuum suction tools to excavate pores are now available to the rest of us — but that doesn’t mean that this blackhead removal technique is one to try at home.
“Vacuum tools use suction to evacuate the dead skin cells and sebum in the blackheads,” says Mamelak. “They can create significant suction, which could be helpful with stubborn blackheads but also cause pain, bruising, and broken blood vessels in the treated area.”
5. Professional extraction
As with suction tools, you’ll want to leave the sharp instruments to the trained medical professionals, too.
A dermatologist can safely use sterile tools to remove whiteheads and blackheads, but “you should never attempt to do your own extractions,” cautions Mamelak. “Attempting to do your own extractions can cause skin infections, scarring, or irritation.”
6. Salicylic acid and other BHAs
BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) like salicylic acid “work by gently exfoliating the surface of the skin,” explains Green. “Using salicylic acid frequently can prevent the buildup of dirt and oil in the hair follicles preventing blackheads.”
Slather on a product like The Ordinary’s Salicylic Acid 2% Solution ($22.99).
Mamelak considers retinoids to be the first line of defense against acne, including blackheads. “They are powerful keratolytics, anti-inflammatory, decrease oil production, and normalize skin cell turnover in pores reducing their ability to clog pores,” he says. As a bonus, “they also have great anti- aging properties,” he adds.
When you’re struggling with clogged pores and blackheads, reach for Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1%, which used to be available by prescription only ($14.99)!
8. Skin brushes
For an alternative to chemical exfoliants, try using a skin brush. Mamelak likes them as a complement to a personalized regimen, along with masks, peels, facials, etc.
The Clarasonic Mia Prima ($99) can help you control the level of exfoliation better than a manual brush.
Hydrafacials are like a wet-dry vac for your pores, and Green says they work great for exfoliating blackheads. They use “a medical-grade hydra-dermabrasion device which cleanses, exfoliates, and infuses serums,” all in one, she explains.
Talk to your dermatologist or find a licensed aesthetician in your area who can perform them (and ask to see the gunk that’s pulled out of your pores!).
Alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic acid and lactic acid can also help blackheads. That’s because they’re effective keratolytics — meaning they break down excess skin, says Mamelak. “These acids have some added benefits, such as improving skin tone and texture, shrinking pores, and lightening dark marks on the skin,” he adds.
If you like natural skin care options, give Mad Hippie Exfoliating Serum with Lactic and Glycolic Acid a try ($55.98).
11. Clay masks
Clay masks are like scavengers for oil and dirt, soaking up the excess and helping loosen up debris in pores.
Mix up Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay ($12.90) with water or apple cider vinegar. It comes in a 1-pound jar, so use it all over your body to banish blackheads.
12. Charcoal masks
Charcoal masks work in a similar way to clay, drawing out all the gross stuff in your pores and loosening up blackheads.
Once a week, reach for Olay Clay Stick Pore Detox ($13.49).
13. Check in with your derm or aesthetician regularly
If your blackheads are relentless despite trying many of the tricks and tips here, reach out to your dermatologist or schedule a facial.
“Facials are very effective in treating blackheads,” says Mamelak. While they generally don’t prevent new ones, they’re a great addition to your skin care regimen.
3 major blackhead don’ts
1. Don’t start with harsh suction or exfoliation. Instead, start by trying to “loosen the debris in the blackhead prior to suctioning, with steam, showering, or pre-treatment serums and topical therapies,” suggests Mamelak.
2. Don’t use benzoyl peroxide. “Using benzoyl peroxide won’t work well for removing your blackheads, as benzoyl peroxide works on inflammation or bacteria that causes inflammation,” says Green.
3. Don’t pick or squeeze them! Mamelak knows you’ll be tempted, but resist the urge! (Seriously.) “Home extractions can damage the skin, lead to scarring and — worse — cause additional breakouts by spreading oil and bacteria to other areas of the skin.”
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