If there’s one skin ailment that knows no bounds, it’s blackheads. They don’t discriminate against skin type, they’re stubborn to fix, and they tend to multiply if treated incorrectly. While they won’t necessarily wreck your foundation application, they can put a damper on no-makeup makeup days and generally contribute to an uneven complexion. Not to mention, because they’re so tempting to squeeze out, they can also lead to scarring on the skin. All of this being said, the fight against blackheads doesn’t have to be a losing one. The name of the game on the quest to clearing blackheads is prevention, but if you find yourself past the point of no return, we’ve rounded up a list of blackhead-busting tips to keep in your back pocket. Keep scrolling to learn how to remove blackheads effectively.
What Are Blackheads?
To treat your blackheads, it’s helpful to first know what they are and why they form. Blackheads are open comedones (aka the technical term for acne). They form when the hair follicles on the skin are blocked by dead skin cells and sebum, enough to create a wide opening. When this excess sebum and dead skin get a whiff of air, they become oxidized, thus giving blackheads their dark color. (FYI: whiteheads are the opposite—clogged pores that are closed comedones.) While blackheads are technically a form of mild acne (they’re just of the un-inflamed type), they can lead to inflamed acne if not treated properly.
What Causes Blackheads?
Blackheads can appear on the face, chest, back, and arms, and look like tiny dark bumps that sit on the surface of the skin, but what are the factors that lead to this? Excess sebum production, for one. Though blackheads can form on anyone from dry to sensitive skin types, they’re most common among those prone to oil. Oil buildup, when combined with dead skin cells, paves the way for a blackhead to rear its head. Also, some people believe that diet (specifically, consuming dairy and carbs) can play a role in the formation of blackheads, though there’s no scientific research to back this claim up.
How to Treat Blackheads
Now that we know what they are, are you struggling with blackheads? From the ingredients you choose to the practices you implement into your skincare routine, there are ways to get rid of them. Keep reading to learn solutions.
Use a Salicylic Acid Cleanser
Salicylic acid is one of the most celebrated ingredients when it comes to warding off acne-causing bacteria, and since blackheads are a form of acne, it can be effective at ridding them, too. Salicylic acid is a type of BHA (beta hydroxy acid)—a chemical exfoliant that rids excess oil on the top layer of the skin. New to the ingredient? Try adding a salicylic acid cleanser to your morning and nighttime routine. Or, if you’re looking for more of a two-in-one product, try a salicylic acid face scrub, which will provide both types of exfoliation: physical (from the scrub) and chemical (from the acid). Just beware of over-exfoliating if you go this route—one to two times a week should suffice.
Wear Non-Comedogenic Products
Comedogenic ingredients (meaning, ingredients that clog pores) should be nixed from your routine if blackheads are a concern. Some of these ingredients include raw coconut oil, beeswax, lanolin, and palm oil, to name a few. Instead, look for products labeled “non-comedogenic” in both skincare and makeup.
Avoid Sleeping in Makeup
Besides the fact that sleeping with your makeup on can cause inflamed breakouts, it’s a recipe for blackheads—even if you’re using noncomedogenic products. That’s because the more time that makeup, dirt, oil, and dead skin cells are left on the skin, the more opportunity they have to clog pores and lead to both mild forms of acne (think: blackheads and whiteheads) as well as more serious types (like acne flare-ups). Try a micellar water to remove your makeup if you have dry skin—it’s gentle, non-irritating, and can be used to remove makeup quickly, which is helpful on nights you’re eager to get some shuteye.
Try a Blackhead Mask
Looking for a temporary fix for blackheads that are taking up real estate on your nose? Try a blackhead mask. While they won’t get rid of ‘em for good, blackhead masks offer a short-term solution that get rid of pore-clogging toxins. Look for masks that contain kaolin clay or charcoal, two ingredients that swallow the excess oil and dead skin cells that can lead to blackheads. Also, products with sulfur in them can help, as the ingredient works as a drying agent to clear excess oil.
Even if you have oily skin, moisturizing regularly is a must to help maintain balance between the drying products you’re using and the moisture levels of your skin. Not to mention, avoiding moisturizer if you have oily skin can trick your skin into thinking it’s dry, which can backfire and cause it to produce even more oil to compensate for the lack of moisture. To make sure you’re using a moisturizer that won’t contribute grease to your already-oil skin type, opt for an oil-free one that’s in gel form. Another way to ensure your skin is hydrated is to use a silicone patch to lock in moisture, like the SiO Beauty Eye & Smile Lift ($20). These patches are designed to not only ramp up hydration and encourage the skin to retain moisture, but they have the added benefit of minimizing the look of fine lines and wrinkles, too.
Use a Retinoid Cream For Severe Blackheads
Over-the-counter retinoids are effective at speeding up the cell turnover—aka the rate at which skin cells shed. This can be particularly helpful for those struggling with blackheads, as it eliminates one of the main causes: dead skin cells. When using topical retinoids, it’s important to choose the right strength, so a visit with your dermatologist is always a good idea if you’re looking to add it to your daily routine.
How to Prevent Blackheads
You can keep blackheads at bay by following a proper skincare routine. This means using the right cleanser for your skin type (gel or foam formulas for oily or acne-prone skin, and creamy washes for those with dry skin), regularly moisturizing, using a blackhead mask when necessary, and swapping out your pore-clogging skincare products with non-comedogenic options. And whatever you do, resist the urge to pop your blackheads. Not only can this cause damage to your skin and lead to scarring, but it can introduce more bacteria to the skin and cause other forms of acne.
We know it can feel like an uphill battle when it comes to dealing with blackheads, and even though they put up a fight, there are ways to get rid of them. Be sure to wash your face daily with a salicylic acid face cleanser, especially if you’re pimple-prone or your skin produces excess oil. Masks that call out oil-absorbing ingredients like charcoal or clay as their hero ingredients can also be beneficial for healing blackheads and other types of acne. If you find your skin really needs some TLC, you can also pay a visit to your esthetician for a pore-clearing facial. Finally, keep your skin moisturized no matter your skin type. Blackhead-fighting face masks can strip the skin of moisture but maintaining proper balance will ensure you can keep using your treatments without having to worry about your skin drying out.