- Blackheads are a result of a buildup of natural oils and debris within pores.
- They can be treated at home with topical treatments or by a professional dermatologist.
- Blackheads can be prevented by adhering to an effective daily skin care routine and a low carbohydrate diet.
What Are Blackheads?
Hair follicles, or pores, are in abundance all over the skin except for such areas as the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. Each pore contains a sebaceous gland which produces sebum, a natural oil that helps moisturize skin.
Blackheads are the result of pores that have been blocked due to a combination of oil and dead skin cells. Blackheads are referred to as comedones.
What do blackheads consist of?
Blackheads are a combination of sebum and dead skin cells that become trapped within pores. The buildup is pushed to the skin’s surface, creating a slight bumpy appearance.
How do you recognize blackheads?
Blackheads can be recognized as a raised bump with a darkened “head”; this dark appearance is caused by air exposure.
Blackheads are often confused with sebaceous filaments, which are not clogged pores. Sebaceous filaments are naturally occurring formations of sebum within hair follicles, typically prominent on the nose and forehead.
Our pores continuously produce sebum to keep the skin naturally moisturized. Sebaceous filaments appear as small grayish or white spots. When pressure is applied, sebum is released from the pores.
Use gentle cleansers to reduce the level of oil. Blackhead extraction methods on sebaceous filaments, may strip the skin of its natural oils and moisture balance.
Blackheads vs. whiteheads
Raised bumps on the skin are known as whiteheads. Whiteheads are located deeper within pores than blackheads and remain lighter in color as they are not exposed to air.
Blackheads are referred to as open comedones since the pore is left open and exposed to the air. Whiteheads are known as closed comedones – clogged pores covered by a layer of skin.
» Learn more about the difference between blackheads and whiteheads
What Causes Blackheads to Appear?
Blackheads can appear due to a combination of factors, including age, diet and lifestyle.
Skin complaints such as blackheads and acne are often viewed as a teenage concern, as individuals typically produce more oils during puberty. However, acne and blackheads can continue throughout adulthood, with research revealing the majority of acne patients are aged between 11–30 years old.
The absence of a daily skin care routine can also contribute to the development of blackheads, as it allows for oils to build up on the skin.
On the face
Blackheads on the face typically occur within the “T-zone”, this is the area of the face made up of the mouth, chin, nose and forehead.
A higher concentration of pores can be found within the T-zone, resulting in an increased risk of skin breakouts and blackheads. Other surrounding areas affected by blackheads, to a lesser degree, include the ears and neck.
Other body areas
Blackheads can also be found in the armpits, and on the back and shoulders. Wearing tight- fitting clothes can cause blackheads and acne within these areas as skin moisture is prevented from evaporating. Humid environments that cause recurrent sweating can also aggravate blackheads and acne within these areas.
How to Prevent Blackheads from Occurring
Preventative measures can reduce the risk of developing blackheads. Adopting an effective skin care routine and maintaining a low carbohydrate diet are two effective steps you can take.
There are a several lifestyle habits you can follow to help prevent blackheads. Cleansing the skin in the morning and evening can help reduce oil buildup. Additionally, exfoliating once or twice a week can remove dead skin cells that may otherwise become trapped and develop into blackheads.
Ensure that your pillowcases and bed sheets are washed regularly to prevent the transfer of oils from your hair to your skin. Additionally, keep hair away from your face to also prevent oil transfer.
Flare-ups of acne have been linked to stress. Stress induces the production of hormones that have the potential to aggravate the skin. Taking time out of your schedule to unwind—either through exercise or meditation—may help reduce the risk of breakouts.
Following up your routine with a moisturizer can also promote healthy skin, although it is important to select non-comedogenic moisturizers. Non-comedogenic products are formulated with ingredients that do not block pores.
Finding the right products for your skin can often be a case of trial and error. When using a new moisturizer, you should monitor your skin’s response over several weeks to ensure the ingredients are not causing acne breakouts or clogged pores.
Cosmetics can contain comedogenic ingredients. If you regularly wear makeup, always wash your face before bed as leaving makeup on overnight can clog the pores, leading to blackheads.
Your diet can also contribute to the formation of blackheads. Research has revealed that a low intake of vegetables, beans, grains and plant proteins can contribute to the development of moderate to severe acne symptoms.
Adding a variety of vegetables and grains to your diet will provide your body with the essential vitamins and nutrients it requires, and will help prevent acne and blackheads from occurring.
How To Treat Blackheads
Opting for professional blackhead removal ensures the treatment will be performed safely. Professional treatment options include microdermabrasion, chemical peels and laser therapy. These treatments can also help reduce scarring caused by previous flare-ups of acne and blackheads.
At-home removal treatments can also be used to clear blackheads. The use of comedone extractors and pore strips can remove buildup from clogged pores, however these methods can lead to skin irritation or damage if not performed safely and hygienically.
Home remedies may also be effective, such as the topical application of tea tree oil and manuka honey. However, for more severe blackheads these methods are unlikely to produce effective results.
Over-The-Counter and Prescription Treatments
Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments typically contain milder ingredients than prescription treatments and are beneficial for those with mild symptoms.
Prescription treatments are usually reserved for moderate to severe acne, due to the strength of their ingredients and the potential side effects.
Creams, masks and other topical products
Face masks are popular skin care products that can help remove impurities from the skin and reduce the appearance of blackheads. Clay is often used as a main ingredient for its absorbent and detoxifying properties.
Other options include peel-off masks, which remove buildup from pores. However, these types of masks can cause irritation and damage skin, especially when used too often.
Exfoliating products are also beneficial to treating blackheads. They remove excess oils and skin debris from the face, using either chemical exfoliants such as salicylic acid or natural microbeads made from fruit shells.
Chemical exfoliants can vary in strength – mild formulas can be used daily, while those with higher concentrations of exfoliating ingredients such as glycolic acid and alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) should be used a maximum of once per week.
Exfoliants can be found in scrubs that are washed from the face, or serums that are left on the skin to gently exfoliate throughout the day.
Additionally, creams formulated with active ingredients to target blackheads can be used under a daily moisturizer. Since they are only applied to the affected areas, these types of creams can be especially useful for those concerned about skin dryness and irritation from the use of blackhead products.
Ingredients to look for
When using either OTC or prescription treatments, look for salicylic acid, alpha-hydroxy acid or benzoyl peroxide. These ingredients break down dead skin cells that can block pores.
Charcoal, tea tree oil and clay are ingredients often found within gently formulated creams and masks formulated to clear blackheads.These ingredients help to purify the skin and remove oil buildup from pores.
You may need to experiment with different ingredients to find which ones work best with your skin type. Once you have determined which products work best, you can create a skin care regime that will help to keep blackheads at bay.
Professional Blackhead Removal Treatments
Stubborn blackheads may require professional treatments to completely remove them. These treatments can include microdermabrasions, chemical peels and laser therapy.
Microdermabrasion is a treatment that removes dead skin cells from the face with a handheld abrasive device which sands and exfoliates the skin using a stream of fine crystals and a vacuum.
This exfoliating process can release blocked pores, making it a suitable treatment for blackhead removal.
Chemical peels involve the application of exfoliating chemical solutions to affected areas of the skin. Ingredients may include salicylic and trichloroacetic acid. These chemical solutions remove damaged skin cells, while encouraging the regeneration of new skin.
At-home chemical peel products are available, however, they are not as effective as a professional treatment performed by a qualified dermatologist and often contain much lower concentrations of chemical solutions.
A form of laser treatment, known as photopneumatic therapy can be used to treat blackheads. This treatment combines the use of a laser with a gentle vacuum. The vacuum helps to remove skin debris and excess oils, while heat from the laser penetrates deep into the skin, stimulating the growth of new, healthy skin cells.
Laser treatment can also be used to reduce the appearance of scarring caused by previous flare-ups of blackheads and acne.
At-Home Blackhead Treatments
If you have a mild case of blackheads, you may be able to treat them effectively at home using removal tools, pore strips and the use of natural home treatments, using ingredients such as honey and tea tree oil.
Manual removal tools
Blackhead extraction tools, also known as comedone extractors, are small metal tools with various sized loops designed to extract blackheads. The loop is placed around the blackhead and pressure is applied, resulting in the extraction of the buildup within the pore.
Pore strips are small pieces of fabric that contain an adhesive which adheres to the skin. Pore strips are left on blackheads for a set amount of time to allow the adhesive to harden. After 10–15 minutes, they are peeled off gently, extracting blackheads in the process.
The use of pore strips is often discouraged by dermatologists, due to their lack of effectiveness in completely removing debris from pores; they are not effective in treating deeper blackheads.
Home remedies and treatments
Natural home remedies can also be used to remove blackheads. Manuka honey has been shown to have antibacterial and antioxidant effects when applied to the skin. It also reduces the appearance of blackheads and helps soften them up for easier removal.
When to See a Dermatologist
If you have tried at-home treatments for a number of weeks and your symptoms have not cleared, it is recommended that you consult a dermatologist for advice and professional treatment.
Additionally, if you experience blackheads in areas of sensitive skin, such as the ear canal or around the eyes, visiting a dermatologist will ensure that these areas are treated safely and effectively. Attempts to treat these areas at home may lead to scarring or infection.
Blackheads can occur in various areas of the body and are caused by a buildup of oils and dead skin cells within the pores. Following an effective skin care routine and avoiding carbohydrate-rich foods may help prevent blackheads from appearing, while at-home methods and professional treatments can be used to eliminate existing blackheads.
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