A blackhead is something nobody wants, especially on his or her face. Blackheads can make you feel self-conscious and unattractive. Even the word blackhead is ugly! So what is a blackhead?
A blackhead is similar to a whitehead: an annoying clogged pore that can appear on the face, back, ear, etc. When that icky stuff (oil and dead skin debris) is exposed to air, it oxidizes and turns black, forming an “open comedo” – more commonly called a blackhead.
What causes blackheads?
Many factors contribute to the formation of blackheads and acne, including:
- Overproduction of oil (sebum), especially during puberty
- Oily skin products like sunscreen and makeup
- Greasy hair touching the face/neck/back
- Greasy foods
Unfortunately, the most significant cause of blackheads is a genetic predisposition. That’s right, some people are destined to have more blackheads than others. But don’t worry, there are lots of things you can do to remove blackheads and even prevent them. Keep reading for some helpful tips.
Safe blackhead removal
The two most important things to remember when removing blackheads are cleanliness and heat. To prevent infection and irritation, it is vital that everything you are using/touching is clean. Always use a warm washcloth (or steam) to heat the affected area. The heat will open up your pores and the gunk inside will start to loosen up. If you decide to remove a blackhead yourself without the use of tools, follow the steps below.
Let’s imagine you have a blackhead in the most annoying area – your inner ear:
- Wash your hands
- Wash your inner ear with a gentle face wash and pat dry
- Soak a washcloth in lukewarm water and apply to the affected area for a few minutes
- Using a tissue or cotton ball, swipe the area with alcohol
- Using either latex gloves or a layer of tissue on your fingertips, apply pressure to either side of the blackhead
- Make sure to wash the area again when you’re done
- Note: it’s not a good idea to use this method on deep blackheads because it can cause scarring or make the blackhead worse. And remember never to scratch or pick at your blackheads.
There are many other ways you can expunge blackheads:
- Comedone extractor: This is a small, inexpensive tool (image on right) made for removing blackheads and whiteheads. Make sure your face is clean before you start. Place a lukewarm washcloth on the affected area for a few minutes then pat dry. Use the extractor according to instructions. If you can still see black gunk when you’re done, place a tissue between your skin and your fingers and gently squeeze it out. Follow up the treatment with a BHA (salicylic acid) exfoliant. Although comedone extractors can provide a quick fix, these tools won’t give you longtime results. Plus, there’s really no value compared to a professional treatment.
- Acne products: There are countless acne products lining the shelves of every pharmacy, grocery, and convenience store. It’s always smart to consult a dermatologist before you use a new product, but here’s some advice to get you started:
- Do not use pore strips – they don’t work and they can irritate your skin
- For spot treatment (like the sides of your nose) look for products that contain:
- Niacinamide (B3) – this ingredient decreases oiliness and improves the shape of your pores, making it harder for debris to get trapped
- Papain (papaya enzyme) – this ingredient helps exfoliate the skin
- Toners are skin products that improve skin tone, restore your skin’s pH balance, and close pores. Look for products containing Totarol.
- In regards to moisturizers, look for products that are oil-free and contain Hyaluronic acid, a deep hydrator
- Another option is a Kaolin-based mask, a treatment that draws out skin debris, absorbs excess oil, and closes up your pores; doctors recommend doing this twice a week for best results
- Professional removal: If you suffer from lots of blackheads, don’t think you’re up to removing them on your own, and want to give your face a fresh start, consider getting a facial. A facial is a procedure performed in a spa by a trained esthetician during which all blackheads are removed. The best part about a facial is that the tools and products used are far superior to those you can purchase at a store. Facials usually cost around $80 and are a great option to freshen your face before a vacation or wedding.
- Dermatologist: If you continue to suffer from blackheads after trying several other methods and are looking for a long-term solution, consider visiting a dermatologist. These doctors might even be able to give you a facial for less than it would cost at a spa. Plus, a dermatologist can prescribe pills or topical creams and give you advice tailored to your skin. It’s always helpful to get an expert’s opinion.
How to prevent blackheads
The best way to get rid of blackheads is to prevent them from ever developing. First of all, be careful with the skin products you use. Do not use products that contain the following ingredients, because they can actually contribute to the body’s production of oil:
Wash your face no more than two times each day with a gentle cleanser. Look for the phrases “oil-free,” “water-soluble,” and “salicylic acid-based” when purchasing face wash. Salicylic acid acts as an anti-inflammatory and an antibacterial. When washing, use a washcloth to exfoliate your skin and scrub away dead skin cells. Be careful not to scrub too hard, or you may irritate your skin further. Don’t use bar soap on your face (the ingredients in most bar soaps can contribute to the formation of blackheads).
Following the above tips is sure to start you on the road to clearer, healthier, more beautiful skin. In addition, make sure to get plenty of Vitamin C and stay hydrated for radiant skin. Avoiding greasy foods and wearing oil-free sunscreen will also lessen the chance of acne outbreaks. And remember, it’s always a good idea to visit a dermatologist before you begin skin treatment or if you have any questions. Click here if your skin problems include more than just blackheads or if you have questions about acne symptoms.