- Blackheads can be controlled with a proper skin care routine.
- Blackheads can be treated using products that contain salicylic acids, retinoids and alpha-hydroxy acids.
- At-home and professional treatments are available to remove blackheads.
- Some blackhead treatments can potentially irritate and damage skin.
What Are Blackheads?
Blackheads, or comedones, are skin follicles or pores that have become clogged due to a buildup of oils and dead skin cells. They can appear almost anywhere on the body, although they most commonly appear on the face.
What causes blackheads?
The causes of blackheads vary among individuals. Genetics and puberty are often major instigators of blackheads and acne, but they can also be triggered by the ingredients within cosmetics and skin care products. An inadequate skin care routine can also promote the development of blackheads.
Deep blackheads cannot be removed through cleansing and exfoliating, as the buildup extends much deeper within the skin. Blackheads that become deeply embedded can be more difficult to treat.
Deep blackheads often leave pits in the skin upon removal, which may become infected or cause scarring. Therefore, it is advisable to have deep blackheads treated professionally, using sterile removal tools.
Blackheads and your skin type
While acne and blackheads are often associated with oily skin, these common skin conditions can develop on all types of skin.
acne and blackheads are often associated with oily skin, these common skin conditions can develop on all types of skin.
When treating blackheads, different treatments are selected depending on skin type. Those with oily skin should use gel-based and bar cleansers, while those with dry skin should opt for lotions and creams.
It is important to know and understand your skin type to ensure you select products that work in harmony with your skin type to avoid further breakouts or irritation.
Anti-Blackhead Skin Routine
Blackheads can be kept at bay by adopting a skin care routine that incorporates daily cleansing and regular exfoliation.
Use a gentle cleanser in the morning and evening to help remove oils that can build up on the skin. Cleansing the face more than twice a day is unlikely to improve blackheads; instead skin is at risk of drying out.
Exfoliating removes dead skin cells that can otherwise become trapped within pores. Additionally, exfoliation can help smooth and soften the skin, giving it a brighter appearance. Exfoliants should only be used once or twice a week to avoid damaging and irritating the skin.
Use a mask
Avoid comedogenic skin care or makeup products
Comedogenic products, such as cocoa butter and lanolin, enable the production of blackheads by blocking pores. If you suffer from blackheads it is essential to select skin care products that are noncomedogenic: those with almond or apricot kernel oil are both good choices.
Ingredients to Look For
Ingredients that are especially effective at targeting blackheads include salicylic acid, retinoids and alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs). They can often be found in skin care products and topical creams developed to treat acne and blackheads.
Salicylic acid is effective against blackheads and can be found in cleansers and serums. When applied to the skin, it penetrates clogged pores and dissolves the buildup. Salicylic acid has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, which can be beneficial in reducing the appearance of blackheads and acne.
Retinoids are used in acne treatments as they also have anti-inflammatory properties and are used to break down buildup within pores. They are an effective acne treatment, especially when used with benzoyl peroxide.
AHAs, including glycolic, lactic and citric acid, are also found within skin care products. They exfoliate the skin, removing dead skin cells and unclogging blocked pores. Research published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science demonstrates that AHA treatments are effective in rapidly reducing blackheads.
How to Get Rid of Blackheads
There are several ways to remove blackheads. Depending on which part of the body is affected, common methods for removal include blackhead extraction tools or exfoliants.
On the nose
Blackheads can be removed from the nose using a blackhead extractor tool called a comedone extractor. This handheld tool, which has a thin metal loop, is placed on the area of skin directly surrounding a blackhead. When pressure is applied, the buildup is forced out of the clogged pore.
Alternatively, using exfoliating cleansers with active ingredients that target acne and comedones can be used on the nose as part of your skin care routine.
On the lips
Comedone extractors should be used with care for blackheads that appear around the sensitive lip area. Limiting the use of cosmetic products on the lips can also be beneficial, as many cosmetic ingredients, such as lanolin and cocoa butter, have been linked to aggravating symptoms of acne.
On the cheeks and chin
Much like the nose, blackheads that appear on the cheeks and chin can be treated with gentle cleansers, face masks and exfoliants. Similarly, blackhead extraction tools can also be used within these areas.
The skin within the ear is sensitive and can become easily damaged through attempts to remove blackheads at home. Apply cleansers to the affected area with a cotton swab to help treat blackheads, however for those closer to the ear canal, it is advisable to visit a dermatologist for professional extraction.
A metal tool called a comedone extractor can be used to remove blackheads that appear on the back, shoulders and chest. This is a metal tool with a loop designed to be placed around the blackhead; when pressure is applied to the skin, the blackhead is released.
Help reduce friction and sweating that can cause blackheads in these areas by wearing loose-fitting clothes.
Opting for a professional blackhead extraction ensures the procedure will be performed hygienically and without damage to the skin usually by using a comedone extractor.
Comedone extractors can also be purchased for home use. When using these tools at home, it is important to ensure that they are sterilized and are used correctly. Applying too much pressure to the skin can cause damage, especially within areas of sensitive skin, such as the ears and around the eyes.
DIY Blackhead Remedies
At-home chemical peels can be performed using over-the-counter products which typically contain ingredients such as AHA and glycolic acid. As with all home treatments, care must be taken to ensure the skin does not become irritated.
At-home products typically contain weaker ingredients than those in professional chemical peels. For moderate to severe blackheads, a professional chemical peel may be necessary to treat the problem.
Are DIY blackhead treatments effective?
While there is evidence to show DIY treatments of blackheads can be effective, they should be performed with care, especially when using chemicals such as salicylic acid and AHAs.
DIY treatments that contain exfoliating ingredients should only be used once per week, especially for those with dry skin types.
Blackhead Treatments You Should Avoid
Some blackhead treatments can damage or irritate skin, such as the application of pore strips and solutions containing benzoyl peroxide.
Pore strips are a popular skin care product used in the removal of blackheads. However, it has been argued that pore strips are only able to remove the top layer of the blackhead, allowing for further buildup to remain deeper within the pores.
Additionally, overuse of pore strips can result in damaged skin, especially when used incorrectly to treat sebaceous filaments which are often mistaken for blackheads. Everyone has sebaceous filaments; they consist of small strands of oil and dead skin cells, are white or yellow in color, and are most commonly seen on the nose and forehead.
Blackhead Treatments During Pregnancy
Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy can have a great impact on skin. If, while pregnant, you develop blackheads and seek treatment, there are certain medications you should avoid.
Oral retinoids should be avoided during pregnancy, due to their potentially harmful effects on developing fetuses. However, research published in Dermatologic Therapy found that topical acne treatments, such as salicylic acid can be used safely during pregnancy.
It is advised to avoid chemical peels as their safety has not yet been determined.
Preventing Blackheads from Returning
Once blackheads are successfully treated, take preventative measures to avoid the return of clogged pores and ensure your skin remains clear.
Maintain a skin care routine that includes daily cleansing and weekly exfoliating. Additionally, avoid oily, comedogenic skin care products that can cause blocked pores.
Blackheads are a common skin complaint that can occur over most of the body,, regardless of skin type. Removal can be performed through a variety of treatments, both at-home and by professional dermatologists.
A daily skin care routine can help remove blackheads and prevent future blackheads from forming, while moderate and severe cases are best suited to professional treatments and medications.
Ingredients such as salicylic acid and retinoids found in various skin care products have shown positive results in treating blackheads. Conversely, comedogenic cosmetic ingredients such as fruit oils and fats should be avoided.
Blackhead treatments that can damage skin or cause irritation should be avoided in favor of more effective and safe methods.
- Wolkenstein, P. , Machovcová, A. , Szepietowski, J. , Tennstedt, D. , Veraldi, S. and Delarue, A. (2018), Acne prevalence and associations with lifestyle: a cross‐sectional online survey of adolescents/young adults in 7 European countries. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol, 32: 298-306. doi:10.1111/jdv.14475
- Degitz, K. and Ochsendorf, F. (2017), Acne. JDDG: Journal der Deutschen Dermatologischen Gesellschaft, 15: 709-722. doi:10.1111/ddg.13278
- Rodan, K., Fields, K., Majewski, G., & Falla, T. (2016). Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Plastic and reconstructive surgery. Global open, 4(12 Suppl Anatomy and Safety in Cosmetic Medicine: Cosmetic Bootcamp), e1152. doi:10.1097/GOX.0000000000001152
- Levesque, A. , Hamzavi, I. , Seite, S. , Rougier, A. and Bissonnette, R. (2011), Randomized trial comparing a chemical peel containing a lipophilic hydroxy acid derivative of salicylic acid with a salicylic acid peel in subjects with comedonal acne. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 10: 174-178. doi:10.1111/j.1473-2165.2011.00566.x
- Leyden, J., Stein-Gold, L., & Weiss, J. (2017). Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne. Dermatology and therapy, 7(3), 293–304. doi:10.1007/s13555-017-0185-2
- Kolli, S.S., Pecone, D., Pona, A. et al. Am J Clin Dermatol (2019). doi.org/10.1007/s40257-019-00423-z
- Kim, S. J., Baek, J. H., Koh, J. S., Bae, M. I., Lee, S. J. and Shin, M. K. (2015), The effect of physically applied alpha hydroxyl acids on the skin pore and comedone. Int J Cosmet Sci, 37: 519-525. doi:10.1111/ics.12244
- Fisk, W.A., Lev-Tov, H.A. & Sivamani, R.K. Curr Derm Rep (2014) 3: 29. doi.org/10.1007/s13671-014-0071-4
- Dréno, B. (2015), The changing faces of acne. Br J Dermatol, 172: 1-2. doi:10.1111/bjd.13933
- Edward M. Jackson (1996) Benzoyl Peroxide: An Old Drug with New Problems, Journal of Toxicology: Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology, 15:1, 43-45, DOI:10.3109/15569529609044451
- Anna L. Chien, Ji Qi, Barbara Rainer, Dana L. Sachs and Yolanda R. Helfrich J. (2016) Treatment of Acne in Pregnancy. Am Board Fam Med, 29 (2) 254-262; DOI: doi.org/10.3122/jabfm.2016.02.150165
- Pugashetti, R. and Shinkai, K. (2013), Treatment of acne vulgaris in pregnant patients. Dermatol Ther, 26: 302-311. doi:10.1111/dth.12077
- Lee KC, Korgavkar K, Dufresne RG Jr, Higgins HW 2nd. Safety of cosmetic dermatologic procedures during pregnancy. Dermatol Surg. 2013 Nov;39(11):1573-86. doi: 10.1111/dsu.12322