How to Prevent and Remove Blackheads

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

What are blackheads?

Despite their appearance, blackheads aren't due to the skin being dirty. Blackheads (also known as open comedones) are a type of clogged pore. They can occur on their own or sometimes along with acne. Blackheads form when dead skin cells combine with excess sebum and dirt in the pore lining. Once this combination reaches the opening of the pore at the skin's surface, it oxidises, turning black. Blackheads tend to arise in your T-zone (forehead, nose and chin), particularly around the nose area as it has more hair follicles and produces more oil than other parts of the face.

How do blackheads form?

Excess sebum production inside the skin's pores makes it difficult for the sebum to reach the surface of the skin resulting in blocked pores. As the flow of oil clogs up, it mixes with accumulated dead skin cells that haven't exfoliated as efficiently as they should, narrowing the 'exit' of the pores so that the sebum cannot be secreted naturally. If the pore is still slightly open, the combination of excess sebum and dead skin cells is exposed to oxygen, which oxidises the mixture and turns it black, forming a blackhead. Excess sebum production can be caused by hormones, diet, ingredients in cosmetics products, medical conditions and medication.

What is the difference between blackheads and spots?

Spots and blackheads are caused by clogged pores. This occurs when a hair follicle is clogged with sebum, dead skin cells and bacteria. Spots form when the hair follicle is completely sealed, blocking the sebum and dirt in the hair follicle from reaching the surface. As a result, the size of the spot may increase. If the pore is clogged but not sealed, the sebum and dead skin cells in the pore can reach the skin's surface. When it comes in contact with air (oxidisation), the sebum turns black forming a blackhead.

What is the difference between blackheads and whiteheads?

Blackheads are open comedones (clogged pores) which look like tiny black dots. These black dots are essentially blocked sebum that has become oxidized, causing it to turn black. Whiteheads are closed comedones, referred to as such because they're covered (closed) with a thin layer of skin. Because of this skin covering, the sebum cannot reach the surface which causes its flesh-toned, bumpy appearance.

What to do about blackheads?

Prevention is the best cure when it comes to blackheads. Following a simple 3- step skincare routine will help keep skin healthy and prevent blackheads from forming.

  1. Cleanse: Use a water-soluble, mild cleanser to remove pore-clogging dirt, makeup and oil from the skin's surface.
  2. Exfoliate: Follow with a well-formulated BHA exfoliant. Exfoliants with salicylic acid (BHA) ensure that dead skin cells are removed and penetrate deep into the pores, preventing pores from becoming clogged.
  3. Hydrate: Finish with a well-formulated day cream (with a minimum of SPF 30) and night cream that suit your skin type. Keeping skin balanced helps prevent excess sebum production.

This is what you shouldn't do

If you're looking for a safe way to remove blackheads, be careful with what you see on the internet - some of the advice can actually make the problem worse. You should never do these things:

  • Squeezing spots and blackheads: when you squeeze spots and blackheads, you can actually damage your skin. Sometimes this damage is permanent, causing 'squeezing' scars. Not to mention the bacteria on your hands. When this comes into contact with your skin, it can make spots and blackheads a lot worse.
  • Removing blackheads with a needle: many websites recommend using a needle (sometimes in combination with a comedone extractor), but this can cause serious (and permanent) damage to your skin. Furthermore, a needle can cause additional problems if it is not sterile. Always visit a beautician or dermatologist who will safely remove your blackheads.

Should I use a scrub?

Scrubbing is never a good idea. The vast majority of scrubs contain hard, coarse particles that can damage your skin. This can lead to irritation and increased sebum production, which in turn can lead to more spots and blackheads. In addition, blackheads are too deep in the pore to be able to remove them with a scrub. If you do use a scrub, you will only remove the upper part of the blackhead and not the underlying cause. Instead of a scrub you can use an bha- salicylic acid. BHA exfoliants remove dead skin cells without damaging the skin and can penetrate into the pores. Still want to scrub? Then try The UnScrub . This mild cleansing scrub removes makeup, SPF and dirt, but unlike other scrubs, it contains no hard, coarse particles just fine, flexible jojoba balls. They dissolve slowly so won't damage your skin.

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