Personally, it seemed like blackheads removal was the holy grail of my teenage skincare goals:
A crusade for something that was very possibly mythical anyway.
After some research, talkin' shop with some professionals, and submitting myself to trial-and-error tactics, I've come up with a list of effective blackhead removal and prevention strategies that I hope will work for you as well as they worked for me.
So first things first: what is a blackhead, and are they all created equal?
(Hint: the answer is no).
Blackheads are essentially dead skin cells, dirt, and oil that collects in the hair follicle and forms a plug.
From there, a bump called a "comedo" forms.
If the bump stays closed, it's called a whitehead, but if the skin over the bump opens it's exposed to air and the dirt that comes with it. That's when it looks black, et voila, a blackhead is born.
(Image source: anniebeautyspa.com)
Assuming we've already got blackheads (that… is why you’re here, right?), how do we treat them?
• Wash your face twice a day
This simple piece of advice can really go a long way.
By cleansing your face regularly (but not excessively - more on that later), you can prevent or at least limit the amount of dirt, oil (natural or otherwise), and bacteria from congregating in your pores and throwing a blackhead parade.
Wash and cleanse your face first thing in the morning, then repeat the process at night before bed to get rid of any pollutants that may have latched onto your skin during the day.
This is especially important for those who are physically active since sweat is a major contributor to blackheads.
• Put on oil-free sunscreen only
Just because your skin may secrete more oil than the average person doesn’t mean you can skimp on sunscreen. The more time you spend outdoors, the more frequently you’ll need to apply sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful UV rays from your face all the way down to your toes.
Obviously, adding more oil on top of your already oily skin is a recipe for disaster, so you want to stick to an oil-free sunscreen.
• Exfoliate once or twice a week
Exfoliation removes dead skin cells that accumulate on the skin's surface and in the pores. Exfoliation regimens can range from washing with a washcloth to chemical peels so be sure to ask your skincare specialist which type of exfoliant you should use.
One thing they will all tell you for sure is to moisturize after exfoliating. Exfoliation dries the skin, and it may overcompensate by producing excess oil... and hence more blackheads.
• Use pore strips
If you ever googled "how to get rid of blackheads on nose", you know that the pore stips seem to be everyone's answer.
And if you ever actually tried using pore strips to remove nose blackheads, you know that they don’t always work as well as in the commercials... to say the least.
That said, it turns out we were actually on the right track trying to pull those blackheads out using those pore strips back in high school. But the thing is, pore strips work best on newer, developing blackheads.
Strips are a great thing to have in your tool kit to remove blackheads on your nose and entire face soon after a breakout.
• Use a clay or charcoal mask
These masks penetrate deep into the skin to draw out oil, dead skin cells, and other impurities.
Using a mask treatment once a week in addition to your exfoliation regimen can make a significant contribution to removing blackheads and keeping oil production under control.
• Consider a chemical peel
Peels containing glycolic or alpha hydroxy acids work by gently removing the top layer of skin, and though they're not traditionally a primary treatment for blackhead removal, peels can remove dead skin cells and reduce the size of enlarged pores.
• Wipe old skin cells away with a microdermabrasion brush
A microdermabrasion brush works to slough away dead skin cells from the surface. Used once a week, it can exfoliate similarly to an AHA or BHA.
Use more often than that, though, and you're looking at irritated, angry skin. Beware!
• Consider using retinoid cream for stubborn blackheads
There are several myths surrounding the use of retinoids on skin, but the fact of the matter is that the right dosage can help transform your skin by keeping blackheads out of the picture.
Their main job is to increase skincell turnover, allowing new, fresher skin cells to replace old, dried cells. Some retinoid creams are readily available over the counter for purchase, while other harsher, more hard-hitting retinoid creams require a prescription.
The latter should only be used when you’ve exhausted all other options, which brings us to our next point...
• See an esthetician or a dermatologist
First off: a skincare expert will know exactly which products will work the best to balance your skin, fight blackheads, and minimize pores. A dermatologist can also prescribe prescription retinol if needed.
Second: extractions should always be done by a professional; they have the right tools and experience to do it right.
I can't emphasize this enough:
Don't pick, squeeze, or try to extract blackheads on your own, especially deep blackheads on face or those on hard to reach places like your back and ears.
(Yes, blackheads in ears is an actual thing).
DIY blackheads removal can make the situation A LOT much worse, leaving a wound where there was once only a blackhead. Honestly, blackheads on back tend to be particularly large (I mean, huge) and you'll want to schedule a session with a professional popper to remove those safely.
(Though admittedly, the word popper isn’t exactly the correct terminology used to describe a professional dermatologist).
Also, keep in mind, most skincare regimens for acne and/or blackheads can take anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks to take effect.
During this time, your dermatologist will monitor your progress and make adjustments as needed.
Yaay! We've managed to get them under control! What do we do now?
Maintain the results, obvi.
What To Do To Keep Blackheads at Bay?
• Pay attention to your diet
There is an opinion that foods that increase blood sugar levels may contribute to excess oil production and clogged pores. Dairy products have also been named as a culprit.
This may be another topic to discuss with your skincare professional. Eating healthy is always a priority, but everyone is different. You want to make sure you're not cutting out any foods that your body actually needs.
• Don’t go overboard in your daily face-washing ritual
That’s right. Washing your face more than twice a day can actually lead to clogged pores and ultimately blackheads.
Paradoxically, when you remove too much oil too quickly, your skin’s natural reaction will be to release even more oil to make up for what was lost.
However, there is an exception to the rule: you can wash and cleanse your face an extra time or two if you either sweat excessively or had a rigorous workout.
• Avoid using excessively hot water
We know what you’re thinking – if hot water is good enough to kill germs residing on pillowcases, blankets, and bedsheets, then why can’t I douse my face in scalding hot water?
Hear me out.
Even though steaming is a legitimate face-cleansing practice, you never want to directly introduce hot water (over 104°F or 40°C) on your skin.
Hot water opens up your pores, making the blackhead removal process a lot easier for expert pore cleaners, but it takes time for your pores to return to their original state. In the meantime, any particles that make their way onto your face – either by direct contact via an object (a pillow, for instance) or the air – will find a permanent home in your pores.
The ideal face washing temperature for water is anywhere between 96 and 104°F (37 to 40°C).
• Change your pillowcases frequently
Whether you realize it or not, your pillowcases are the perfect breeding ground for dust mites and bacteria.
Every time you rest your head on a pillowcase, you’re adding more sweat, drool, and dust into the mix. Eventually, your seemingly clean pillowcase is overrun by an infinite number of pore-clogging particles.
If you’re not using a pillow protector between the pillow and its case, it's best to wash both your pillowcase and pillow every week to kill whatever allergens and bacteria are being harbored.
• Drink plenty o’ water
One of the simplest ways to block excessive oil production and blackheads from sprouting up is by increasing your water intake.
There’s no magic behind water’s acne-clearing properties – the more water you consume, the more toxins you’ll flush from your body, thereby improving your overall skin health.
• Take your makeup off before going to bed
Do I really need to explain further?
Keeping your face plastered in foundation and powder not only dispels any anti-aging efforts by rubbing it into any nearly invisible cracks and wrinkles, but it also pushes it deep into any open pores.
Plus, sleeping with your makeup on means disregarding your face-washing ritual, meaning dirt gets mixed with your makeup to create a nasty concoction that leads to acne breakouts and blackheads.
• Use microfiber cloths on your face
Not all face washcloths are made the same.
Cloths and towelettes can be made of an abrasive material that will end up scratching and damaging your skin. They might also leave tiny fabric residue that gets mixed into the pot of dust, makeup, and oil.
When it comes time to remove makeup or dry your face after a quick wash, gently dab your skin with a microfiber cloth. These cloths work well at removing dirt, oil, and grime while gently exfoliating your skin.
They also do not tamper with the pH levels in your skin which should remain somewhat acidic.
• Check labels on your OTC skincare products to make sure they're noncomedogenic
Remember those comedo we were talking about earlier?
(It's that dirt/oil/dead skin cell plug that accumulates in your pores to create a blackhead).
Well, "noncomedogenic" means that the product won't cause comedo.
So yeah. That's what you want.
• Get an air purifier for your bedroom
So far, we’ve listed all of the brushes, towelettes, and products we can possibly use on our faces to keep our pores as free of blackhead-causing gunk as possible, but what about the ambient air in our bedroom?
When we shut down, our pores are open to their fullest extent, and whatever airborne pollutants are floating freely in your room will likely land on any exposed part of your body.
With an air purifier, you’re ensuring your bedroom air is as free of inflight particles as humanly possible. To get the best results, look for an air purifier with a filter that’s able to trap up to 99.9% of particles as small as 0.3 microns in size (i.e. small enough to trap dust mites, their waste, and mold spores).
To Wrap It All Up...
Beautiful, blackhead-free skin is a side-effect of a more important endgame: healthy skin.
Adopting a regular skincare regimen isn't just to make sure our skin looks amazing (although who doesn't want that!?), but because when we take care of ourselves, inevitably we glow from the inside out.