What Are Blackheads?
They’re a form of acne that appears when your pores get clogged with dead skin cells and oil. When they’re exposed to the air, they oxidize and appear black. Hence, the name. Pretty straightforward, right?
What Causes Blackheads
There are many factors that contribute to blackheads.
Hormonal changes in puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, or even while taking birth control pills can trigger acne. During these periods, the skin can produce more oil or sebum, contributing to clogged pores.
Stress can cause acne flare up too. That’s because the stress hormone, cortisol, is messing up with our body. It alters how our body process carbohydrates which then contributes to acne and inflammation.
Another big one is diet- particularly dairy and foods high in sugar. Dairy products are usually laden with hormones that causes inflammation and acne flare ups. And like mentioned earlier, a diet high in carbohydrates or sugar will also contribute to the formation of blackheads.
And unfortunately, like many aspects of our skin, blackheads are often genetic. If your parents suffer from acne, most likely, you will too. If you have oily skin, chances are you are prone to having blackheads as well.
How to Prevent Blackheads
Although we cannot change our genetics, there are many ways we can do to prevent blackheads.
Having a good skincare routine is a start! Dead skin, dirt, and excess sebum can accumulate in your pores leading to acne. By helping the skin shed off efficiently, you are preventing the gunk from being trapped in your pores. Exfoliating 1-3 times per week, depending on your skin type, will prevent blackheads from forming.
Since stress can be a contributing factor to acne, finding ways to cope with it, like meditating, is beneficial. Find a relaxing hobby, travel, or be one with nature to relax and ease your mind.
And as for your diet, you may want to be mindful with what you consume. Cut back on foods high in sugar. And although not everyone will have a reaction with dairy, consuming less of it can help clear your skin. Altering your diet may be a small price to pay to achieve clearer, happier skin.
How to Remove Blackheads
Prevention is great, but what if you already have blackheads? That’s a great question. Because blackheads can stick around for months, waiting for them to go away isn’t really an option. Luckily, there are several methods that have proven to be effective.
To start off, you’ll want a salicylic acid cleanser. While it’s an over-the-counter ingredient, it’s incredibly powerful. This beta hydroxy acid (BHA) exfoliates the skin, dissolves the bonds of dead skin cells and helps remove the oils that clog it. One thing to note as you shop for cleansers is that salicylic acid is offered in different strengths, ranging from 0.5-5%. If you use the higher strength, it may be harsh on your skin, especially if it’s sensitive. We recommend either starting off with a lower strength or alternating every other day at first to make sure your skin can handle it. If your skin doesn’t respond well to it and is still irritated after a few days, it’s probably a good idea to ditch it entirely.
Made from Vitamin A, retinoid creams are another effective way to remove blackheads. The way these creams work is by increasing cell turnover. By increasing this turnover rate, it reduces the chance of dead skin cells clogging up your pores. All you need is a thin layer applied to your skin — typically at night. This is because retinoids make your skin more sensitive to UV rays. But, as we’re sure most of you know, sunscreen should always be applied before going into the sun anyway to prevent damage and aging.
Depending on the strength that you need, you can either choose over-the-counter retinoid creams or get a prescription-strength cream from your doctor or dermatologist.
We know it’s tempting to squeeze your skin- but we’re here to say, “don’t do it!” While potentially satisfying at the moment, squeezing can traumatize the skin and cause even more bacteria to enter the pore on a deeper level.
If you must do it, opt for a professional extraction from an esthetician or dermatologist. They can safely do it for you and assess if you need topical medication. They may also prescribe a skincare regimen that would help manage acne and blackheads.
But, if you like taking matters into your own hands, you may want to do more research so you do not damage your skin.
If you have done professional extractions before, you may notice that they use a facial steamer to help open up the pores. If you want to extract blackheads and whiteheads at home, you may want to use a warm towel to open up your pores or invest in an at-home facial steamer.
As for extracting blackheads at home, you may use the following tools:
These readily available tools at drugstores or Amazon can help dislodge blackheads and whiteheads (quite painfully!) Dermatologists do not recommend using these because untrained hands could press too hard on the skin, causing damage.
Pore vacuum tools can help remove blackheads by using a suction motor. However, you need to be careful using these. Some people think that they need to use the strongest suction level to effectively remove the gunk from their pores. However, that could lead to broken capillaries and skin damage.
Trophy Skin’s UltradermMD has a “Pores Mode” that comes with a preset suction level that is safe to use. With the plastic pore extraction tip, glide it on the skin in short strokes to remove excess oil, sebum, and debris that clogs the pores. Do not let the tip rest on the same spot for more than a few seconds to prevent getting suction marks.
Do not use a pore vacuum on the same day as doing a deep exfoliation such as microdermabrasion. That could potentially increase the risk of damaging your skin.
Ultrasonic Skin Spatula
Ultrasonic facial is a popular service done in spas. Think of it as a “power-wash” for your pores. It’s done on wet skin so that the ultrasonic waves can use the jets of water to jiggle the gunk out of your pores.
Ultrasonic Skin Spatula exfoliates the dead skin that may trap debris on the pores as well as dull the complexion. It is safe to use daily. As an added bonus, it also has an Infusion Mode that allows you to infuse your favorite skin serums deep into your skin.
The reality is that blackheads are something almost everyone will deal with at one point or another, and they will require proactive and preventative measures to completely banish. But with these simple measures and powerful products, you can achieve more clear, radiant skin. Ready?
Blair, W. (2020) How to Get Rid of Blackheads
Cobb, C. (2020) 12 Ways to Get Rid of Blackheads
Pai, D. (2020) How to Get Rid of Blackheads the Right Way
Santino, C. (2020) How to Remove Blackheads Properly, According to Dermatologists