- Blackheads are the result of blocked pores, typically caused by a buildup of oils and keratin (skin debris).
- Popping or squeezing blackheads can damage skin and leave a permanent scar.
- Blackhead extractors, commonly used by dermatologists, are also available for DIY at-home use.
Comedones are small bumps typically found on the forehead and chin of those suffering from acne. They are caused by a buildup of oil and keratin (skin debris) that clogs skin follicles or pores and are very common among people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds.
Open comedones, often referred to as blackheads, are black due to the presence of melanin (surface pigment), rather than dirt. Conversely, whiteheads are the result of clogged pores that are enclosed by skin.
Although blackheads often appear on the neck and face, they can also develop elsewhere, such as in and on the ears.
Should You Use an Extractor Tool at Home?
A blackhead extractor, also known as a comedone extractor, is a useful tool designed to remove skin cell blockages that cause blackheads—without causing damage. Studies have also shown that large, cystic comedones can be successfully treated with the help of a blackhead extractor.
Blackhead extractor tools are readily available online or in pharmacies, and are effective at removing both blackheads and whiteheads. However, it’s important to learn how to use this tool properly, because if used incorrectly, it can cause permanent skin damage and scarring.
For acne, a chronic inflammatory skin condition, at-home blackhead extractors should not be used, as they can harm already sensitive skin and worsen this condition.
Don’t Pop Your Comedones
Tempting though it may be, squeezing a comedo can result in its contents being pushed into the surrounding skin and increasing inflammation, which only serves to worsen the problem. It can also lead to infection and darkening of the surrounding skin.
Different Types of Blackhead Extractors
Blackhead extractors are small, simple-to-use metal tools designed to expel the debris within an open or closed comedones using a gentle but firm pressure to avoid injury.
You can purchase a kit that contains many different blackhead extractors to remove all sizes of blackheads and whiteheads.
One end of a lancet blackhead extractor consists of a very small but sharp point used to gently pop the tip of a blackhead, and the other end has an extractor for removing sebum and dead skin. Lancets are best suited for larger blackheads and whiteheads and must be used with care and precision.
A spoon extractor is a small spoon-like tool with a hole at its centre. Designed to push the contents of a clogged pore to the surface, it fits snugly over a comedo for just this purpose.
For reaching difficult areas like the crevices in the ear or the side of the nose—both common problem areas—extractors with an angled loop are designed to help remove closed comedones with greater precision.
A smaller loop is effective on both whiteheads and blackheads, and ideally suited to expel smaller whiteheads that appear ready to pop.
A longer, flatter loop is ideal for pressing blackheads out as well as for minimizing irritation or skin damage to the surrounding area.
The “eyelet” end of an eye loop blackhead extractor effectively surrounds a blackhead, applying slightly heavier pressure which is best suited for larger comedones.
Other Extraction Methods
While a blackhead extractor can be an invaluable tool for effectively achieving a blemish-free complexion, it is not the only option available for DIY comedo extractors.
Blackhead tweezers are curved, have a sharp point at their end, and are made to remove extra stubborn blackheads. With the tines open, the curved parts gently press down on the sides of the blackhead, and when squeezed together, they pinch the skin just below the comedone opening to successfully drive out the contents.
This method has been proven highly effective at curing acne, with an 85-99% rate of success.
Best used after using steam to loosen blackheads, pore vacuums can be an effective way to extract blackheads.Try your vacuum on the lowest setting first however, as a suction level that is too high can cause bruising.
Tips for At-Home Blackhead and Whitehead Extraction
Cleanse and exfoliate first
Always wash your face first and exfoliate to remove any remaining residue before beginning any treatment.
Steam or shower
Use a facial steamer to open up pores in preparation for an effective extraction. If you don’t have a steamer, just take a hot shower.
Disinfect your blackhead extractor
Use a general disinfectant or rubbing alcohol to clean your extractor tool prior to use.
Use gentle pressure when using your blackhead extractor. If the blackhead resists removal, use cotton swabs rather than your extractor to apply pressure.
Use an antibacterial toner post extraction to keep bacteria at bay and prevent infection.
Use an exfoliant several times a week to thoroughly rid your face of dead skin cells, dirt and makeup. Avoid harsh scrubbing. Exfoliators containing alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy acids are good for combination and acne-prone skin.
Topical acne treatments that contain active ingredients such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide effectively kill bacteria and reduce oil production in areas susceptible to blackheads. You may even see improvement within days.
Don’t use toothpaste on your skin
Although people have been applying toothpaste to comedones and pimples for years, there is no evidence that it is effective, but it can cause dryness and irritation, making it counterproductive.
If you’ve tried many methods and are still getting blackheads, it may be worth booking a professional extraction facial. An aesthetician will steam your skin to loosen the oil in your pores and then use a blackhead extractor to squeeze out the contents of your comedones.
A professional chemical peel every 4–6 weeks may also work well to dissolve dead cells and unclog pores.
Blackheads are a very common skin complaint. There are very practical and simple measures that you can take at home to treat and reduce their likelihood of appearing.
A good skin care and exfoliation routine removes excess oil and dead skin cells and should be the cornerstone of any attentive regimen.
Although it can be damaging to pop or squeeze comedones, a blackhead extractor, when used correctly and with caution at home, can eliminate blocked pores.
There are a variety of different blackhead extractors available online and in pharmacies. For persistent and severe blackheads, it’s best to seek the assistance of a professional.
- Wise E.M., Graber E.M. (2011). Clinical Pearl: Comedone Extraction for Persistent Macrocomedones While on Isotretinoin Therapy. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3225139/
- Rathi, S.K. (2011). Acne Vulgaris Treatment: The Current Scenario. Indian Journal of Dermatology. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3088940/
- Tsukayama A., Yoshinaga, A. (2019). Studying the efficacy of a new radical treatment for acne vulgaris using a surgical technique. Journal of Dermatological Treatment. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30706730
- Mitchell, L. (2017). University of Utah Health. healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2017/06/pore-vacuum.php