- Blackheads are caused by a buildup of oil, dead skin cells and debris
- Blackhead extractors are specially designed tools to expel this blockage with minimal damage to skin
- These tools are routinely used by dermatologists and can also be purchased in store for at-home use
Blackheads and whiteheads develop when sebum (oil) and dead skin cells become trapped in hair follicles. This results in a hard plug that is slightly raised and gives skin a rough texture and appearance. They usually form on the face, particularly the nose and chin, but can also develop on the back, chest, shoulders and even in ears.
Both types of blemishes fall under the category of comedonal acne. Whiteheads are closed comedones with a thin layer of skin over top; blackheads are open and dark in color due to oxidation resulting from exposure to the air.
Comedonal acne is noninflammatory, and as such, is not associated with infection, pain or discomfort.
What Is a Blackhead Extractor?
A blackhead or comedo extractor is a tool constructed of stainless steel, specifically designed to safely expel the material lodged within pores.
There is a range of extractors to choose from to suit your needs; you can also purchase one online or in store at a relatively low cost.
Should You Use an Extractor Tool at Home?
If you have just a few blackheads or if they develop occasionally, yes, using an at-home extractor can be an efficient and cost-effective solution.
However, if you have widespread moderate to severe blackheads, microcomedones (larger than 2–3 mm) or if the blackheads are accompanied by inflammatory lesions, your best option is to seek professional advice and treatment.
Before attempting to extract your blackheads, it’s important to know how to use these tools properly, otherwise, you can permanently damage your skin.
Can I Pop Blackheads?
If you experience the occasional blackhead, you could try and squeeze it – if you use clean fingers and only apply gentle force.
However, Cutibacterium acnes bacteria are normally present on skin and manipulating the lesion in this manner can spread this bacteria and increase the risk of comedones progressing to inflammatory acne – with swelling, redness and worsening lesions in the form of pus-filled pimples. This could lead to postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) and scarring.
As well, it is not recommended for widespread blackheads as this greatly increases these risks.
Different Types of Blackhead Extractors
Blackhead extractors are small, simple-to-use metal tools designed to expel the blackhead debris by using a gentle but firm pressure. When using an extractor, it is important to use care and precision to avoid damaging your skin or triggering an infection.
You can purchase one tool or invest in a kit that contains several types of extractors to address varying sizes of lesions.
An extractor with an angled loop is designed to help remove blackheads with greater precision, for difficult-to-reach areas such as the crevices in the ear or the side of the nose.
The eyelet end of an eye loop extractor can effectively surround a blackhead and apply a slight pressure on the lesion; this type is best suited for larger comedones.
A longer, flatter loop is ideal for expressing blackhead matter as well as for minimizing irritation or skin damage to the surrounding area.
One end of a lancet has a very small but sharp point designed to gently penetrate the tip of a blackhead; the other end has an extractor for removing sebum and dead skin. Lancets are best suited for larger blackheads.
A smaller loop is ideally suited to expel smaller blackheads.
This extractor is spoon-shaped with a hole at its center and is designed to fit snugly over the blackhead. Using a light pressure, the plug is pushed out to the skin’s surface.
Other Extraction Methods
While a blackhead extractor can be a valuable tool in the treatment of blackheads, there are also other effective extraction methods available.
Blackhead tweezers have sharp curved tips to squeeze and release the contents of a comedone; this method is commonly used by professionals.
Blackhead vacuums can be used regularly to clear pores of debris and oils to prevent blackheads from forming. They can also be effective in removing existing ones.
For best results, use steam first to soften blackheads and allow for easier extraction.
Tips for At-Home Blackhead Extraction
- Sanitize: Disinfect your blackhead extractor as well as your hands beforehand
- Cleanse and exfoliate: Before treating blackheads, cleanse and exfoliate to remove the topmost layer of grime and debris to make extraction easier
- Steam or shower: Warmth and steam can effectively open up pores. Afterward immediately apply a thin layer of rich moisturizer to form a protective shield to retain this heat; this softens plugs and enables easier extraction
- Be gentle: Use caution when using an extractor and don’t use force; if blackheads resist, continue to use steam and heat to soften the contents and try again
- Protect: Apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment to help heal and prevent infection
Blackheads form due to an accumulation of dead skin cells and oils within pores. You can prevent blackheads from reoccurring by following some simple and effective steps.
Cleanse: Opt for a gentle cleanser that is formulated for your skin type. This is especially important for oily skin as this type is most prone to blackheads. Wash both morning and night to remove excess oils.
Exfoliate: Exfoliate 2–3 times a week to slough off dead skin cells and debris. Consider salicylic acid which penetrates deeply to clear pores of debris and oils or glycolic acid which loosens the bonds between skin cells to exfoliate dead skin cells and stimulates skin cell turnover.
Dermatologists also use extractor tools to treat blackheads, and it is well advised to seek treatment from a licensed professional to avoid damaging or scarring your skin or risking infection.
Employing the same technology but using a surgical method, one study demonstrated significant success after repeat treatments with a success rate of 85%–99% among participants.
Salicylic acid chemical peels are another effective option as this agent can clear pores of plugs and slough away dead skin cells; microdermabrasion exfoliates dead skin cells and resurfaces the outer layer of skin to help eliminate blackheads.
Blackheads form when oil and dead skin cells become trapped within pores and form hard plugs. These blemishes are a form of noninflammatory acne but can become infected if left untreated when acne-causing bacteria propagates.
Blackhead extractors are an effective solution to remove these blockages. You can opt for one tool or purchase a kit containing several types of extractors to suit your needs.
To prevent blackheads from forming, cleanse twice a day and exfoliate 2–3 times a week to prevent debris from accumulating within pores.
Use caution when removing blackheads, whether by squeezing or extracting with a tool, otherwise you can cause inflammation, infection, skin damage and scarring.
For widespread cases or microdomes, it’s best to seek professional care.
- Bhatia A et al. Propionibacterium acnes and chronic diseases. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK83685/
- Rathi SK. Acne vulgaris treatment: the current scenario. Indian J Dermatol. 2011;56(1):7-13. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.77543
- Tsukayama A, Yoshinaga A. Studying the efficacy of a new radical treatment for acne vulgaris using a surgical technique. J Dermatolog Treat. 2019;30(8):802-808. doi:10.1080/09546634.2019.1577948
- Arif T. Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015;8:455-461. Published 2015 Aug 26. doi:10.2147/CCID.S84765